The toll that infidelity can take on the foundation of a committed relationship cannot be understated. Serial cheaters, or individuals with a history of repetitive and compulsive infidelity, however, can introduce an additional layer of complexity to an already murky issue.
This is because serial cheating cannot be blamed on isolated lapses in judgment. Instead, it indicates a dangerous pattern of behavior that can have emotionally devastating consequences for multiple people involved, including the cheater.
While it is certainly not necessary to empathize with an individual who compulsively participates in such problematic behaviors, trying to understand where their actions stem from can shed light on the deeper issues at play—introducing opportunities for forgiveness and maybe even reformation.
Here are three common themes that feature in most serial cheating stories.
1. A Troubled Past and Feelings of Inadequacy
Serial cheaters often carry the scars of a tumultuous history, and their infidelity can be traced back to unresolved issues from their past. These individuals may have experienced traumatic events, dysfunctional family dynamics, or abandonment in their formative years, perhaps resulting in feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, or a deep-seated fear of rejection.
Serial cheating becomes an opportunity to seek validation and external affirmation. Engaging in multiple relationships can temporarily fill the void left by past emotional wounds, providing a sense of worth and fleeting feelings of attraction. The thrill of a new romantic conquest can act as a potent distraction from their inner turmoil, however transient, leading to a cycle of infidelity.
The idea that infidelity is linked to a difficult past has scientific backing. For instance, research published in Personal Relationships investigated the connection between parental infidelity and the offspring’s infidelity behaviour. Here’s what the study found:
- Parental infidelity was linked to a higher likelihood of offspring engaging in infidelity.
- Individuals who experienced parental infidelity held more positive beliefs about infidelity, often reinforced by the fact that they received mixed messages about infidelity from their family.
In essence, experiencing early relationship trauma like witnessing parental infidelity can lead to insecure attachment styles, resulting in trust and intimacy issues that may drive individuals to seek emotional or physical connections outside of their committed relationships.
For some, infidelity becomes a coping mechanism to address emotional distress, offering momentary relief or the illusion of control.
2. The Comfort of Being Detached Versus the Comfort of Connection
A 2021 study published in Personality and Individual Differences found a link among attachment anxiety, fear of being single, and infidelity within romantic relationships. The findings revealed that individuals with higher attachment anxiety, which typically involves concerns about abandonment and a strong desire for emotional closeness in relationships, tend to experience a heightened fear of being single. This fear appears to arise from a deep-seated worry about the possibility of being abandoned by a partner or having to face the uncertainties of being unattached.
Interestingly, this fear of being single doesn't exist in isolation; people with attachment anxiety may turn to infidelity as a strategy to reduce the risk of experiencing the very abandonment they dread.
In other words, individuals falling into this category often harbor an intense fear of loneliness. Yet, like all humans, they yearn for meaningful relationships and seek validation and attention from those around them. However, when they enter into a relationship, they frequently exhibit emotional detachment as a coping mechanism to deal with their fear of vulnerability and the fear of being truly known by others. Additionally, the proximity of a close relationship entails confronting one's insecurities, a challenge not adeptly handled by many.
Cheating, therefore, offers a semblance of security. It allows them to maintain control over their emotions and evade the necessity of addressing their own insecurities while simultaneously preserving emotional distance.
3. Impulsive Behavior and a Lack of Self-Awareness
Impulsivity is a pivotal factor in the behavior of serial cheaters. A 2018 studyfound that individuals who are more impulsive are also more likely to have positive or accepting attitudes toward infidelity. They may be more lenient or less restrained when it comes to their opinions about infidelity in relationships, thus explaining why some individuals are more prone to engage in infidelity or accept it in their relationships.
These individuals tend to act on their desires and cravings with little thought about potential consequences of their actions. They are always in the pursuit of thrill, excitement, and novelty in relationships.
The prospect of clandestine affairs and engaging in forbidden relationships holds an irresistible allure for them. The secrecy and risk involved in such affairs provide an intense adrenaline rush that is incredibly stimulating for serial cheaters.
Furthermore, this impulsive behavior often coexists with a lack of self-awareness. Serial cheaters may not fully comprehend their motivations or the underlying emotional factors driving their actions. They become trapped in a cycle of pursuing immediate gratification without taking the time to introspect or reflect on the deeper reasons behind their behavior.
Cheating can trap you in a never-ending loop. If you or your partner find yourselves trapped in the cycle of infidelity, it is important that you remind yourselves of the possibility of change and healing. It begins with recognizing and taking responsibility for your behavior, driven by a genuine inner desire for change, rather than merely seeking to preserve a relationship. It’s a path that demands commitment to self-awareness, healing, and ongoing personal growth.