The 10 Traits of serial cheaters that you need to know about — ópenhouse (2023)

DatingRelationshipsToxic Relationships

Written By Louise Rumball

In Episode 10 of the OPENHOUSE Podcast, Louise & clinical psychologist Dr Tari Mack explored the big, and sometimes, painful, question - why do people cheat and what are the top 10 traits of serial cheaters that you need to know about? To go deeper into this topic in a fresh, fun and real podcast, stream theepisode on Spotify here or Apple Podcasts here.

So, perhaps you’ve been cheated on or perhaps you’ve been the cheater, or both. Either way, have you ever wondered why the person you ‘loved’ or you yourself falls into these patterns time and time again? Is it a personality trait or a reflection of the situation itself? Can we predict cheating before it happens?

Cheating is something that happens everywhere, all over the world, every single day. This doesn’t make it acceptable, but as we start to become more conscious of ourselves, and our patterns, we can start to more closely look inwards to understand why we do the things we do - as well as understanding why our partners act the same way too.

Each and every one of us has ingrained characteristics and patterns of behaviour that are not likely to change - and for those of us who cheat repeatedly, or have partners who do so, there are deeper challenges going on at the same time.

We asked Dr Tari Mack ‘who is most likely to cheat?’ and she explained that there are two key personalities which have been found to be common amongst repeat cheating offenders. And while there are many reasons that people cheat (An analysis revealed eight key reasons: anger, self-esteem, lack of love, low commitment, need for variety, neglect, sexual desire, and situation or circumstance) those who REPEATEDLY cheat are likely being driven by something deeper.

If you’ve found your partner to display narcissistic and / or sociopathic tendencies this is a major red flag and a tell-tale sign of pointing out a repeat cheater - someone that may cheat on you again, and again and again because it is part of their personality style.

Here’s the OPENHOUSE 101 run down on narcissism and sociopathy - because trust us, they can hide anywhere!

Both narcissism and sociopathy are personality traits.

Narcissists are highly self-involved, in fact, so self-involved that they ignore the needs of those around them and everything is secretly about them. They disregard others or their feelings and don’t realise the effect that their behaviour has on others. They are often in superficial relationships and avoid intimacy but often they are wildly charming, attractive and successful too. They say all of the right things, they do all of the right things and they make you feel like this is everything you could have ever wanted. Over time, however, the truth of their behaviour starts to shine through.

Sociopaths, like narcissists, disregard others or their feelings,and in addition to this lack empathy for their wrongdoings. What this means is that they really don’t feel that bad or upset if you are upset. To achieve personal gain, they can be found to exploit and manipulate those around them. Basically, how can they use you to get what they want?

In fact, a lot of narcissists are sociopaths. Yes, that’s right, it is possible for a person to have traits of both (not ideal, we know). Traits of deceitfulness, manipulation and lack of remorse with zero empathy for their impact on others has been found time and time again in chronic cheaters.

So how do we find ourselves in these relationships? Whether someone is a narcissist or a sociopath, or indeed both - these characteristics pair well together. And these ‘chronic liars’ lure us into a false sense of security at the beginning with their words and their gestures. We get so much validation and attention (otherwise known as LOVE BOMBING) from serial cheaters at the beginning but before we know it, when we’re already in too deep, things start to shift.

Attention and words are so easy and it’s important to keep an eye on their behaviour over time. As Dr Tari says, “Integrity means your words match your behaviour.” Read on to find out the top 10 things you should look out for to identify a serial cheater before it’s too late.

Here are 10 therapists backed signs of someone that may be a serial cheater

  1. We do not believe that ‘once a cheater, always a cheater’ because self-development, self-reflection and therapy can help people understand why they cheated, so that they can break the cycle and ensure that it never happens again. However, often serial cheaters may actually admit to the fact that they have cheated in previous relationships - and if they do, they will discuss it BUT always have an excuse or have to justify it. Think “It was the exes fault or it was a bad relationship that should have ended way before it did”.f they’re not transparent or don’t tell you what they’re doing, or provide you with information that you feel like is fair and reasonable in a relationship, then this is a red flag that they aren’t 100% communicative and that they might be likely to cheat on you. This is a pattern of behaviour that will think to be acceptable. The truth is, in a partnership, it is not, and any sort of lying or withholding information is a red flag.

  2. They lie about things or, for example, they say they’re going to be somewhere at a certain time but they’re not. They’ll call you at a certain time but they don’t. When someone says they are going to do something, it is really important that their actions align with their words. Because, to be able to trust someone’s words when they re-assure you that they are happy with you, happy in the relationship and not needing to look elsewhere for validation and stimulation, it can help you trust their word.

  3. Those who cheat can be driven by many things (An analysis revealed eight key reasons: anger, self-esteem, lack of love, low commitment, need for variety, neglect, sexual desire, and situation or circumstance) but what is often overlooked is that these types of people often cheat repeatedly for the short term chemical hit, risking the potential damage it may do to their relationship. This will be most likely to be seen in compulsive individuals - particularly people who have issues with drinking gambling or substance abuse too.

  4. If you bring up something in the relationship that you’re upset about or you bring up a feeling they’re going to minimise it, they’re going to get defensive. They’re not really interested in your experience of the relationship. And, they’re not interested in your feelings or your perspective. Lack of empathy and lack of remorse are more often associated with personality disorders like ‘The Dark Triad’ and narcissism and sociopathy that are often more likely to cheat.

  5. Are you with someone where nothing is ever their fault. Particularly when you enter into conflict - are there excuses for everything and there is always a justification for why they acted the way that they did. If this lack of accountability is in your relationship, this could be a danger sign for the long term because they will often feel like they had reasons to do whatever they wanted to do.

  6. Serial cheaters often are able to get away with what they do because they have everyone wrapped around their little fingers. They can be incredibly attractive and can be sweet, charming, sexy and know how to say all of the right things and do all of the right things but underneath it they will have a deep fear of commitment so they continue to self sabotage every time intimacy becomes too real. This can often tie back to childhood and what they learnt about love from their parents. Often, they will be very adept at dating and relationships and know exactly how to make you feel they are the one for you - but underneath it all, if narcissism or a personality disorder is not present, emotional unavailability might. They may not let you as close as you want to be, or they continue to hold you at arm’s length. This level of emotional unavailability does not necessarily increase the likelihood of cheating but a relationship rock solid against cheating will have strong, emotionally available foundations from both parties, without the risk of self sabotage.

  7. If they’re talking about cheating or someone else cheating, and they downplay it or minimise it, this is a red flag. Often they will have excuses for why people have cheated on their partner (well, he / she was clearly unhappy or that other person cheated on them first). Alternatively, maybe they also have had justifications on why cheated - either on you - or on someone in their past relationships. There is little accountability and they don’t communicate the severity of the problem and how it has impacted them, or their partner - present or past. The truth is, cheating is highly destructive, damaging and disrespectful and it should be treated as so.

  8. Listen to how they talk about other people, especially exes because, for serial cheaters, often other people and exes are always the problem. Serial cheaters lack self-awareness and personal accountability. They don’t take responsibility for their behaviour. Their behaviour can help you understand how they treat, view and respect others in terms of how they speak about them.

  9. Serial cheaters often find it difficult to be with one partner. At OPENHOUSE, we understand that monogamy is not for everyone - but we believe that, whatever your approach to monogamy, infidelity is an entirely different thing. For those who cheat constantly, often their relationships will be driven by a need for sex, attraction, chemistry and excitement - and maybe it never gets to a deeper level. This isn’t to say that people in deep, emotional relationships don’t cheat either - they sure do, but someone who gets bored with monogamy quickly may pose a red flag.

  10. For many people who cheat on their partners, often they go through a ‘reassignment of feelings’ which is known as “projection” . This is a psychological process where your partner places their guilt or insecurity onto you. An example would be an unfaithful partner who constantly accuses you of flirting, cheating, or seeing other people, when actually, they are only concerned about this because they know that it is possible because they have been doing this too.

In Episode 10 of the OPENHOUSE Podcast, Dr Tari taught us that “Cheating often happens when you look outside yourself and a relationship for something. A healthy relationship is not a mechanism for you to be fed constantly. You need to feed yourself and if you haven’t learnt to do that you look to other people to get these old wounds, these unmet needs made”.

For serial cheaters it’s not about deep love or caring connection, it’s often about dominance and control. These 10 points are all key things to look out for to ensure that you can avoid being in a situation where you fall for someone who has cheating as part of their dating repertoire.

Louise Rumball & Dr Tari Mack go deeper into:

  • The psychology of cheating;

  • Why do people cheat;

  • The top 10 signs that someone is a serial cheater;

  • The top 4 reasons that people cheat;

  • Does your partner have narcissistic and sociopathic tendencies;

  • Is ‘one time a cheater, always a cheater, true?’

  • The connection between cheating, self-esteem, communication, and validation;

  • How much of a role does sex play in cheating?;

  • The impact that cheating in our childhood can have on us; and

  • How and why cheating goes back to often many years, or even decades, before the event itself happens.

Louise Rumball


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