Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

Alison Bell

When she confronted her guy, he told her that he still loved her and it was "no big thing." Pam isn't so sure about that. "I thought we were in a committed relationship," she says.

Infidelity comes in many forms, from a few stolen kisses to an e-mail romance to a full-blown affair. But no matter how it happens, it hurts if you're the one who's been cheated on. When it happens to you, chances are you'll experience a range of emotions, from anger to hurt to "Why me?"

Your Cheatin' Heart
Your first question is likely to be, "Why did this happen?"

People cheat for many reasons, some of them more hurtful than others. They may be bored with the relationship, or they may have fallen for someone else. Or maybe they simply can't resist temptation. They may even be trying to make their partner jealous.

Gender plays a role, according to David M. Buss, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Dangerous Passion (Free Press, 2000). He studied the infidelity track records of thousands of young adults and discovered that men tend to cheat out of the desire for sexual variety. "They go for immediate gratification," says Buss, "especially if the risks are low." For example, if they don't think they're going to get caught.

Women, on the other hand, usually stray because they are "unhappy in the relationship and are looking to see if they can do better on the mating market," he says. He believes that the feminine impulse to shop around may be a holdover from the cavemen days when the men folk were often killed off during hunts and it paid to have a back-up on deck.

The only way to find out why your partner strayed is to ask. The answer, as well as his or her post-cheating attitude (begging your forgiveness versus shrugging it off) will help you sort through your tumbled emotions and decide whether to stand by your philandering squeeze or shout, "Next!"

Weighing the Sins
Before you make a hasty decision to bail out of the relationship, consider the gravity of your partner's transgression. Let's say your significant other kissed another guy or gal. While this is hurtful, he or she stopped short of intercourse. And while it may be some consolation if the romance turns out to be limited to an exchange of torrid e-mails via the Internet, don't forget that cybersex can be hot, maybe even hotter than the real thing. In fact, women are likely to be even more upset by their partner's having an emotional connection with another woman. Men are just the opposite. According to Buss, "When a woman's partner has an affair, the first thing she wants to know is, `Do you love her?' Men want to know, `Did you screw him?'"

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