Three women open up about dating a serial cheater

·9-min read
Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images
Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images

Ever been in a romantic relationship with a cheater? Well, you're not alone. According to a 2018 study in the Netherlands, between 18% and 25% of Tinder users are already in a committed relationship — meaning a quarter of swipers could be cheats. And in 2020, Ashley Madison, the dating network for extramarital affairs, reached a whopping 70 million registered users.

Even without the statistics, we all know someone that’s cheated or been cheated on, and it could even be something that’s affected us in our own relationships. But there are so many reasons why people cheat: whether it’s that they’re feeling unappreciated in the relationship, their sexual needs aren't being fulfilled, or they’re struggling to keep the romantic spark alive.

We can’t condemn every single person who cheats and cheating doesn’t automatically make you a bad person. But what about the repeat offenders — those with a long history of infidelity, who just can’t help themselves from stepping out on their partners with multiple other people? And, importantly, what’s it like to actually date these people?

I dated a serial cheater

“I was just one of the pawns in his game, someone who catered to his stupid ego and made him bold”

Well, in answer to that second question, being with a serial cheater is exhausting and it can completely mess you up. All of their lying and sneaking around can get you to a space where you question your self-esteem and even your sanity.

I say all this because I happened to be one of these unfortunate souls, in a relationship with a man who confused this emotional and psychological torture for the word “love”. He wasn’t just cheating on me with one or two people but with thirteen others and promising all them relationships, too. I was just one of the pawns in his game, someone who catered to his stupid ego and made him bold.

By being in a relationship with him and putting up with his behaviour, I gave him power over me and it took me another five months to claim it back, by breaking up with him and getting a piece of my life back.

The psychological profile of a serial cheater

Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images
Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images

It’s an extreme example, but my experience isn’t one in a million — other people have suffered at the hands of compulsive cheats. But what makes someone capable of repeated betrayals of trust? When I ask Callisto Adams PhD, founder of HeTexted.com and relationship expert and coach, what compels people to repeatedly cheat on their partners, her answer actually seems quite logical.

“Cheating often happens due to low self-esteem, due to the need for emotional or sexual fulfillment, a way of coping mechanism or defending mechanism due to problems within the relationship, childhood traumas,” Callisto explains.

According to her, cheating can be learned behaviour, picked up in developmental years from seeing and hearing parents or people around them go through relationship difficulties as well. However, it's important to note that Callisto's comments aren't defending compulsive cheaters. While individuals have no control over the trauma that they experience in their upbringing, as adults they have to take accountability for their actions and work to recognise negative patterns in their own relationships.

Why is it so hard to leave a cheating partner?

So know we know a bit more about the profile of a serial cheater, what about the type of person who ends up in a relationship with them? And what causes them to look the other way when

According to a 2017 study, 12.7 percent of committed couples in the US – more than one in ten – stayed together after one partner engaged in a long term affair. But research from the same year also suggests that once individuals have cheated, they are three times more likely to do so again. All of this is to suggest that, among the couples that decide to stay together through infidelity, there will likely be partners who go on to cheat repeatedly and equally partners who decide to stay throughout multiple affairs.

If you love someone and you believe them to still love you, it makes sense that you might want to stay in the relationship and hope that your partner’s indiscretion is their last. But this only scratches the surface when we look at the real reasons people stay with serial cheaters.

According to Callisto, individuals might opt to stay in this kind of relationship more because of how they feel about themselves rather than anything to do with their cheating partner. “It’s the hope that the partner won’t do it again, the low-self [esteem], the thought that there are no better options, and the thought that [the person cheated on] deserves what is happening to them,” she succinctly explains.

Why don’t serial cheaters just try open relationships?

Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images
Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images

One has to wonder, what’s stopping serial cheaters from ethically pursuing their desires by embracing polyamory or an open relationship – particularly as it slowly becomes less stigmatised.

Well, in Callisto’s opinion, the psychological profile of a serial cheater isn’t always compatible with polyamory: they don’t just want to have multiple relationships, they want control and exclusive commitment from each partner. “In polyamory, non-exclusivity is required from both parties,” she explains. “[Individuals] who cheat in monogamous relationships seek [sexual and emotional] exclusivity from their partner, but they’re not willing to be exclusive themselves.”

In short, where polyamory is a two way street based on trust and communication, these serial cheaters would rather have all the relationship variety and excitement that comes with ethical non-monogamy without the hard work and transparency.

Real women’s stories of dating serial cheaters

It goes without saying that everyone is different and no one situation with cheating could ever be the same – but we know that it doesn't exactly feel good to be on the receiving end. In fact, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, confirmed what many of us know to be true from personal experience: a partner’s infidelity can have a seriously negative impact on our mental health, including anxiety, depression and distress.

In order to explore the psychological impact of being cheated on repeatedly, three real-life women delve into their own experiences with partners who betrayed their trust on multiple occasions or with more than one other person. From how they found out, to whether they managed to make their relationship work afterwards, these women get candid about what it’s like to date a serial cheater.

Pamela, 32

“They called me apologising – what I didn’t know about that apology was that they had cheated on me with four people”

A year ago, after I’d been living with my partner for four years, we started having some issues that led to us not talking for two weeks. This ultimately resulted in them leaving the house we shared to stay elsewhere, without telling me where they’d gone. A week later, they called me apologising. What I didn’t know about that apology was that they had cheated on me with four people.

I thought they were seeking my forgiveness for having left without an explanation, so when they finally explained that they had cheated, and the circumstances around that, I was so devastated. It ripped me to shreds. They begged for us to stay together if they started therapy, which I agreed to. But it felt like that didn’t work at all because, after a month, they cheated on me with someone else.

When we started couple’s therapy, we turned a corner. We are still in a relationship and we’re mostly happy but in response to my partner’s repeated cheating we’ve agreed to have threesomes with an outside person if they ever feel the need to have sex with someone else.

Riley, 27

“He started showing me photos of other girls he wanted to have sex with”

My ex boyfriend was someone I would describe as an “emotional alpha male”. You know, these guys who want to control things but still have this soft spot in them that they give you access to. Above all, he was honest and caring – everything in the world to me. I still haven’t moved on since we broke up.

Our problem started after I had gone to a party with my friends. We got really drunk and I ended up flirting and later sleeping with someone else. I couldn’t lie to my boyfriend’s face, so I told him. Before I knew it, he started spiting me by showing me photos of other girls he wanted to have sex with and then going ahead and sleeping with them. I was wallowing in the guilt that I caused him to be that way.

He was constantly guilt-tripping me whenever I tried bringing up his infidelity. This lasted for two months and I decided to break it off to keep my mental health in check.

Zwanga, 29

“I couldn’t leave him because of a fear of being alone”

This guy I once dated was a serial cheater and he knew how to play games. He used to give me all the time with him I needed, so it wasn't that bad – except the fact that he wanted our relationship to be very secretive and private. The first few weeks into our relationship, I came across a woman's Twitter account he was following and my instincts made me suspect there was something more between the two of them. When I asked him, he totally denied it to the point that he even swore on his daughter's life and his mother's grave.

It turns out, the woman behind that Twitter account was his girlfriend and she reached out to me after seeing a picture of me in his car. We began texting and she also found out that he was engaged to someone else and had been cheating on her with several other people. I confronted him, and he denied everything while crying.

In the 7 or 8 months we dated, I felt like I couldn’t leave him because of a fear of being alone. My advice to girls like me is to never settle and never agree to be made someone else’s little secret.


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