Are Cheaters Repeaters?
The secret is out: The man you married broke those vows, and everyone -- from your mom to your hairdresser to the entire Lifetime network -- is telling you never to trust him again. Conventional wisdom says once a cheater, always a cheater. But is that really always true? Does infidelity lurk deep in one's genetic makeup, or can a guy slip up once and then bring himself back from the brink?
"When I remarried, I swore I wouldn't get cheated on again," says Phoebe, 44, a mother of two in Portland, Oregon. "I knew the signs. But 10 years and two kids into our marriage, my second husband had a midlife crisis and took up with a younger coworker. We went into counseling and he moved out, but two years later, we still felt we were supposed to be a family, and we got back together.
"I don't think of it as remaining in the marriage after his affair," she says. "I look at it as, we got married twice, with a long, difficult break in the middle. I don't fully trust him now, but he understands why I check up on him the way I do, and he keeps his life an open book for the sake of our marriage. He didn't like being single. So whatever he has to do to work through the depression and other issues that made him act out, he's willing to do."
Phoebe's experience highlights an important point, according to Joel Block, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Broken Promises, Mended Hearts: Maintaining Trust in Love Relationships (McGraw-Hill, 2001). "An affair is often the collusion of temptation -- and vulnerability makes you all the more open to temptation -- and opportunity." Phoebe's husband was vulnerable because of his midlife crisis, and both temptation and opportunity appeared in the form of an enthralled coworker with a crush.
What's interesting, he adds, is that Phoebe's husband isn't necessarily the one they have to watch. "Now she's the vulnerable party," he points out. "She's hurt. And the person to have an affair is the one who was wronged in the first place. A sense of loss is the most common basis of an affair, and she lost her pride."
Still, the fact that they're processing their problems with a counselor is a good thing. "It's necessary to go through a legitimate healing process," Block says. "The affair doesn't tell you anything about the future of the marriage. What happens after the affair -- that's the predictor of the couple's success or failure."