Psychological insights on relationships: rejections, breakups, making relationships happy, unhealthy dynamics, and general psychology.

Do Cheaters Ever Change?

People can change, but most often they don’t. In this text, I will explain the psychological background of why cheaters can change and why you will only see changes in a small number of them. For most people who cheat, unfortunately, cheating will recur, as I said, for psychological reasons.

Three people talking about cheating

In short: People who cheat generally won’t change because the psychological-emotional world is a fundamental part of us and, therefore, very difficult to change. They can change if they have a solid internal motivation (love for someone, inability to continue on the old path, and changes in life circumstances), decide, force this new direction, and perhaps undergo psychotherapy.


Why Do People Cheat?

Why the Inner Emotional-Psychological World is Extremely Hard to Change

Who you are today and who your partner is are personality traits that have been built and nurtured for a long time. Considering that we are born with certain traits (it is not fully known which ones, except that we supposedly are born with a certain amount of energy and temperament), we form the rest of our lives around them. And we form through testing. A person tries different behavior models in childhood and uses those that work best.

Woman

Let’s say we try to be charming, blackmail, have tantrums, and use all other options available to us until we find a model that works well for us. Which model works well depends on the circumstances. For example, someone with indifferent parents might have to rely on themselves. Someone with very attentive parents will get things quickly and probably practice asking for what they need.

  • One of my clients told me how he knew from a young age that if he had tantrums, his parents would leave him alone, and his brother would have to do everything their parents asked of him.

Now, although this seems unrelated to the topic, it has a lot to do with it because if someone, like my client, learns that they can manipulate their parents, they will later manipulate friends and partners. When it comes to cheating, they know that people are easy to manipulate and will always end well for them.

The essence is that the traits we practice and that serve us well in life, we later use similarly in various aspects of life. It is essential to mention that a person tests how to get what they want in the simplest and fastest way.

Testing what works or doesn’t work is very complex and happens at the earliest stage of life. When we find something that works well, we practice it for the rest of our lives. That is why these traits become so ingrained in us (because they have been practiced for years) that they become a core part of us. They become us. We become them.

Therefore, when we talk about changes in people, we are talking about changing the core part of a person. And that core part is practiced to get what we want in the quickest and easiest way.

  • Example: Someone manipulates people very well. Part of them is the skill of manipulation. Why would they change anything if this manipulation works so well for them? Someone else gets things through strictness, and it works well for them. Why would they change something when this has always worked, they are skilled at it, and in most cases, they get what they want?
A beautiful woman thinking Why Breakup Is So Hard To Bear

Therefore, people can indeed change, but severe personal motivation is needed for change, which I see as usually having to be negative. If we have options (e.g., getting what we want through manipulation), why would we practice other traits, like doing the job ourselves?

Only when we run out of options can we accept and practice other traits. And the longer we practice them, the more they become part of us.

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Positive Results We Get

Now, we are talking about people getting positive results. However, no one said that a person should get results that seem positive from the outside. It’s more about positive results in the inner world. When a person feels their emotional-psychological needs are met.

  • Let’s put it this way. Someone is lazy. Their emotional-psychological need is to work less. If they manage to convince someone to work instead of them, they will be satisfied (positive result). Even if they can’t convince anyone and the work remains undone, they will still choose to satisfy their inner emotional-psychological need (to be lazy) rather than satisfy external needs (clean house).

A clean house is a positive result, but to a lazy person, it is less positive than successfully resting and doing nothing.

When we say that people want to get positive results, we mean psychological-emotional results and satisfying their ego’s needs.

How Cheating Starts and What Happens Before Cheating

Why Cheaters Can’t Change

four woman

Deep-rooted personality traits:

We just talked about deep-rooted personality traits: Jealousy, laziness, empathy, flexibility, pessimism, etc. As we said, these and dozens of other personality traits are practiced for years and, therefore, hard to change.

Hypothetically, such personalities can change if they decide to change and stick to it long enough (several years).

Habits and Behavior Patterns

Cheating can be a normal behavior, a habit, or even an addiction. A person may be used to cheating and think that it is their way of solving problems. Breaking such a cycle is very difficult.

Moreover, consider how hard it is to change a simple habit adopted six months ago (like drinking coffee in the morning). How hard do you think it is to change a character habit practiced for a lifetime that has mostly brought good (emotional-psychological) results?

Since habits can change, a person could stop cheating with long-term work on changing this habit. People who want to change one habit or addiction often manage to replace it with another, more acceptable one.

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Lack of Motivation for Change

As I said, a strong motive for change is needed. A strong motive appears less often, at least rarely strong enough for a person to decide to change their core traits.

If a person does not have a strong motive, they will not try to change things.

A strong motive is usually negative, but it can also be positive in some cases. A strong motive must be an internal interest, so to speak. External interests and motivation have little influence.

A person could change if they have the right internal motivation. This would mean realizing the consequences of their actions or finding a fundamental and big reason why it is necessary to change something in themselves.

Lack of Awareness or Acknowledgment of the Problem

People who cheat or do other harmful things are sometimes unaware of what they are doing and, more often, do not want to admit what they are doing. There is no room for change because if someone needs to know what needs to change, they will not change anything.

Black woman with closed eyes

And yes! Do not be deceived. No matter how present and obvious the facts are, people use mechanisms to protect their egos and not appear so bad. Even when there is clear evidence that someone cheated, they might say it wasn’t them. It was some old version of themselves. Now they have changed and would never do it again. Or they might rationalize it or something else.

Also, some people do not see their behavior as problematic and, therefore, see no reason to change it. The fact that someone’s behavior is complicated according to your criteria does not mean it is difficult according to theirs.

Therapy can help people become aware of their behavior and its consequences. Some authority could make a person aware of what they are doing and how much they are hurting people, leading them to change their patterns.

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Social Environment Can Be a Problem

There are environments where cheating is normalized or even encouraged. There are more liberal environments, environments with more freedom for some groups of people, or environments where everyone does it. People like to be accepted in their social circles, which implies being similar to them. People in some circles can even be ostracized if they do not cheat.

Separation and isolation from such environments are obvious solutions for someone who cheats. If a person is under the influence of others (because everyone does it) and cannot resist the influence, they would have to prevent external influences. In my country, there is a saying: “Opportunity makes a thief.” Therefore, one should not put themselves in situations where they might cheat.

Psychotherapy

Psychological Problems

Low self-esteem, fear of intimacy or attachment issues, self-destructiveness, the need for conflict, the need for aggression towards oneself, and low self-confidence are just some psychological problems that can cause people to cheat. For example, someone with low self-confidence might think having more partners will improve things. Or someone prone to destroying all the good they have might cheat because it is an excellent way to ruin their relationship.

Psychological problems are deeply rooted, and people are usually unaware of them.

These problems require long-term therapy and self-work to overcome. And there is actually a lot of chance for change if they are identified and seriously worked on. Once recognized, the person realizes they are ruining their life.

Lack of Consequences

This is another reason why someone may continue cheating. If a partner never punishes the person for cheating, there is no external pressure to attempt to change.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the text, people always choose the easiest and simplest path to get things done. Why would they change if it is easy/easier for them to cheat? Cheating should be made as difficult as possible for them.

Man and woman breaking up

Hypothetically, if a partner seriously punishes the person for cheating and threatens them for any future cheating, or if they hang that sword over the relationship and the partner is aware that if they break the rules, the sword will fall on the relationship, they might try hard enough not to cheat that it becomes a habit.

Revenge Against the Partner

Again, from my professional experience, many people harbor resentment towards their partners that they either don’t want or can’t express. As a result, they turn to cheating. If the relationship or marriage has been problematic for a long time, but there are reasons why the partners can’t confront the issues, this can be:

  • Relief
  • Passive aggression
  • A way to show resistance

The obvious solution here is to improve the relationship and gain the confidence to express what bothers them. Perhaps if a person is given the right to complain and confront, they might choose this path rather than cheating.

Can unhealthy relationships become healthy?

Personality Disorders

Angry woman

These are more common than you might think, especially since many people carry parts of these disorders within them. Personality disorders that make people prone to cheating include:

  • Narcissistic: An inflated sense of self-importance, need for admiration, lack of empathy, and the belief that everything belongs to them. Their need for attention and admiration drives them towards cheating because they need everyone to admire them.
  • Sociopathic: Disregard for others, lack of remorse for their actions, manipulation, and disregard for rules. Simply put, rules don’t apply to them, not even their partners.
  • Borderline: Emotionally unstable, fear of abandonment, impulsive, intense, and unreliable. Due to these traits, they quickly engage in sexual relationships with new people.
  • Histrionic: A strong need for attention and dramatic expression of emotions. They are often in search of excitement and can be very seductive. When they are in a phase of needing attention, they usually attract it through sexualization of themselves.
  • Paranoid: Deep mistrust of others. They take preventive measures because they believe they will be hurt and betrayed.
  • Passive-Aggressive: Since they express hostility and negative emotions indirectly, cheating is often used to express frustration or feelings of injustice in the relationship.

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Why They Can Change and Stop Cheating

Three people talking

The Possibility of Personal Growth and Development

People certainly have the capacity for personal growth and change. Change usually happens faster when a person decides to work with an authority in that field, such as a counselor or psychotherapist.

If a person decides to change on their own, they need persistence, a well-thought-out plan on how to change, returning to the right path even when they fail, self-discipline, etc. For this, they need motivation and determination.

However, such changes are rare, and most people simply lack the willpower or sincere desire to change. This is why most people’s lives always look the same.

The Impact of Therapy and Support

Psychology of relationships

As I always emphasize, the quickest results are achieved with the help of a good therapist. They possess not only the necessary tools for change, but also the knowledge to ask the right questions for the person to better understand themselves. Therapists can also help a person develop healthier patterns.

However, therapy cannot change core personality traits unless the person themselves engages in and is involved in changing themselves. The outcome of therapy depends on the person and their genuine commitment.

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Change Due to Life Circumstances:

Parenthood, the death of a loved one, facing the serious consequences of cheating, or finding true love can motivate a person to change their behavior. All of these can be an initial catalyst, and if the person continues to practice new patterns, they can become part of them.

In this sense, external motivation is successful if its influence lasts long enough.

People who do not believe in this type of change argue that these changes are temporary and that a person can revert to old patterns once the initial emotions or stresses subside.

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The Power of Love and Commitment

Couple in love

Although it sounds romanticized, the truth is that the love and commitment of another person can motivate someone to change their behavior and become a better person. The trust and love that a person receives can result in gratitude and the need to reciprocate. Adopting the traits of another person as well. Demonstrating that there are better patterns that will enrich a person can be very effective.

This is why one of the best therapies is family therapy, in which family members (or at least one member) are committed to the person’s change.

Also, when people realize they can lose someone they genuinely love, they might be motivated to change.

However, many believe that if a person has already betrayed their partner once, there is a high probability that they will do it again, regardless of their current emotions. According to this hypothesis, we always revert to our established patterns.

This is described in the story of the frog and the scorpion, where the scorpion asks the frog to carry it across the water. The frog refuses because it fears the scorpion will sting it, but the scorpion says, “Of course I won’t. I’ll be grateful.”

However, once it is carried, the scorpion stings the frog anyway. In its death throes, the frog asks, “Why?!”, and the scorpion replies, “Well, I am a scorpion. It’s in my nature. I always do that.”

So, yes, people who cheat can change, but it requires much effort and time that they rarely do. Challenges (which will always appear) don’t make things easier. Dee

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