What to Do with a Serial Cheater
by Willard F. Harley, Jr.
A few years ago, a man came to my home with a document that he wanted to give me. It was entitled, “How to Seduce a Woman.” He had spent most of his adult life cheating on his wife, and had recorded what he had learned in this manuscript. But after reading some of my articles on the suffering that cheating causes a betrayed spouse, he was convinced that what he had been doing was very wrong, and had decided to leave his life of cheating behind. He had confessed all of his affairs to his wife, had shown her what he had written, and was about to destroy it, but he thought that I might somehow find his experiences valuable in helping serial cheaters change their ways.
I never saw this man again, so I’m not sure if he was able to completely overcome serial cheating, but his report demonstrated to me that he, like most serial cheaters, went about his business of cheating with skill and careful planning. He learned from his successes and failures and became so proficient that he felt that he could seduce almost any woman, even my wife, Joyce, if he chose to do it. I didn’t want to challenge him on that point.
A couple once came to me with a tragic, yet somewhat humorous story. The husband had been playing baseball and was hit by a ball that broke his jaw. As he lay in the hospital with his jaw wired shut, a woman came to visit him. It was someone with whom he had been having an affair. Unable to talk, he tried to explain with hand motions that it was not a good time for her to visit him. But then, a few minutes later, another woman appeared. She was also having an affair with him. It didn’t take long for the two women to figure it out and as they were arguing with each other, his wife entered the room. Neither of the women knew that he was married. His wife learned for the first time that she was married to a serial cheater.
What is a Serial Cheater?
I define a serial cheater as a married person who willfully and deliberately has had more than one extramarital romantic relationship.
Most of the over 10,000 cases of infidelity that I have witnessed have not involved serial cheating because these unfaithful spouses were not trying to have an affair. A friendship with someone of the opposite sex unexpectedly turned into a romantic relationship and once it happened, they felt that it couldn’t be stopped. But when it was over, most of them saw it as a terrible mistake. They certainly didn’t want to repeat that ordeal, so they learned how to avoid affairs in the future by following the extraordinary precautions that I recommend.
But serial cheaters don’t regard an affair as a mistake. For them, it’s an achievement – something they can be proud of doing. So the difference between most of the cases of infidelity that I have witnessed and serial cheating is a matter of initial intent. Serial cheaters intend to cheat before the onset of a relationship, while most unfaithful spouses do not intend to have an affair until they have fallen in love.
While serial cheaters all intend to cheat, they vary greatly in their ability. The man who came to my house was an accomplished cheater. According to his claim, he could seduce just about any woman. But most serial cheaters are not that good at what they do. They try to hook up at bars, shopping centers, and even church with just enough success to keep them going. But to help these people avoid the embarrassment of multiple rejection, and even lawsuits, websites, like Ashley Madison, provide some help by bringing cheating spouses that are not very skilled together. These men and women find it to be an easy way to cheat without having to develop much talent.
The man who brought me his manuscript would never have signed up on a cheater’s website. His goal was to seduce rather than simply to have an affair with a willing partner. For him, it was the challenge that gave him a great sense of accomplishment once the relationship was consummated. And then, he would move on to his next challenge. He would choose his affair targets one at a time.
For other serial cheaters, however, the challenge is to accumulate partners. Instead of moving on after an affair to a new partner, they add them to the list. One man I counseled had eleven partners at the time he was caught, none knowing about the others.
Is Everyone with a History of Multiple Affairs a Serial Cheater?
In the classic affair, a friendship begins innocently enough, with each person simply enjoying the other’s company and conversation. As emotional needs are being met, innocently, the romantic love threshold is eventually breached, and the couple find themselves in love with each other. In some cases, emotional needs like conversation or recreational companionship are not being adequately met in marriage, so a spouse looks to others to meet that need. They don’t think that they’re at risk for having an affair: They simply want someone to talk to. In other cases, emotional needs are being adequately met in the marriage, but the spouse has allowed another person to meet that need, and they find that they enjoy having their needs met by two people.
After the affair is over, however, and they remain married, there are some who don’t learn from the mistakes they made when they had their first affair. They continue to have close friendships with those of the opposite sex, allowing these friends to make the massive Love Bank deposits that trigger the feeling of romantic love. Their first affair is thought to be an aberration, having nothing to do with friendships and the emotional needs that they fulfill. So they remain vulnerable for more affairs that they usually have.
Are these misguided people serial cheaters? Since I define a serial cheater as someone who intends to cheat before a relationship develops, by my definition, they are not. You may ask, what difference does it make? If affairs are with intent or through sheer stupidity, if they continue in marriage, they have the same effect: unimaginable suffering for the betrayed spouse.
While it’s true that multiple affairs multiply the devastation, if a couple still want their marriage to survive, I’ve found that the prognosis depends on whether or not the affairs were intended.
Since intent to have an affair is often more difficult to prove than the affair itself, serial cheaters may try to claim that the affair was not intended. In some situations, intent is clear, such as with those whose affairs are aided by a website like Ashley Madison, or a dating website where they lie about being married. But in other cases, like affairs with friends of the opposite sex, it’s not as clear that the friendship begins with intent to have an affair. Accomplished serial cheaters, like the one who gave me his report, almost always begin an affair as a friendship. So how can intent be proven or disproven in affairs with friends?
There are many physical and emotional disorders that are determined by a person’s reaction to a cure. For example, if a doctor is uncertain as to what is causing a lung infection, he will prescribe an antibiotic medication that will attack what he thinks is the cause of the infection. If the infection is healed, it’s evidence that he was correct in his diagnosis.
The same can be said of whether or not a person is a serial cheater. Since intent is the deciding factor, if an unfaithful spouse follows our plan to avoid the temptation of an affair, it’s likely that their affairs were not intended and the prognosis for their marriage is very good. But if they resist any attempt to avoid temptation, it’s likely that they are serial cheaters making the prognosis very bad.
How to Deal with Multiple Affairs
The program that I offer at Marriage Builders to survive an affair is designed for those who value a monogamous marriage. When these people have an affair, they know that it was a mistake, and they want help to survive the affair and restore the marriage to a mutually passionate and caring relationship.
But when some of these people had their first affair, they did not know about the Marriage Builders program. Their betrayed spouses were often given misguided information about forgiveness, trust, and unconditional love that failed to emphasize the necessity of conditions that would guard their unfaithful spouses’ Love Bank from outside threats. As a result, they yielded to yet another temptation.
When these people see our program for the first time, they understand the mistakes they made in trying to recover from their past affairs. By following our program, in spite of their multiple affairs, they never have another affair again.
I recommend extraordinary precautions to eliminate the conditions that made their affairs possible. They are to have absolutely no contact with any of their affair partners, requiring a change of employment if they worked together and relocate if they lived nearby. I warn them to avoid friendships of the opposite sex because that’s where most affairs begin. They are to create reciprocal transparency (a betrayed spouse is more likely to cheat after discovering their spouse’s unfaithfulness), giving each other free access to social network accounts, smart phone messaging, and any other way they communicate with others. They are to avoid being apart overnight, and to blend their lives with their spouse’s, completely eliminating, in particular, what I call the unfaithful spouse’s secret second life, where they had previously lived beyond their spouse’s radar. Finally, they are to create a marriage of passion and romance – meeting each other’s emotional needs and avoiding Love Busters.
When I offer this program to serial cheaters, however, they usually don’t follow it because they don’t believe in monogamous marriage. Their secret second life is so valuable to them that they resist any effort to hold them accountable for what they do. They argue that it’s demeaning or cruel to subject them to their spouse’s scrutiny. They want to continue using the skills they had learned in seducing others. They regard flirting and other attempts at seduction as God-given rights or abilities. It’s considered to be a valuable part of their essence and “who they are” which ultimately defines “who they are,” indeed – serial cheaters.
That being said, even yet, some of the serial cheaters I’ve counseled have become faithful. When I find serial cheaters who can set aside their objections, willingly eliminate the conditions that made their affairs possible, and are willing to follow extraordinary precautions for the rest of their lives, they are changed men and women.
In the case of the man I counseled with eleven partners at once, he gave up his job working as a trainer in a fitness center. That was where he met most of the women who he seduced. After leaving that career for a new career where he met very few women, he was able to reduce his temptation considerably. With his life an open book for anyone to see, and following our program for surviving an affair, he never cheated again and his marriage was fully restored.
So whenever the spouse of someone with multiple affairs asks me what he or she can do to help save their marriage, I must tell them that the procedures we recommend will work for those who want to stop cheating. Our program will help them achieve that objective. But if they don’t want to follow our program, I have to assume that they will continue to have affairs for the rest of their lives. And their spouses should assume the same thing. To avoid the suffering that comes with infidelity, I encourage them to divorce as soon as possible.