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6 Subtle Signs of a Serial Cheater, According to Therapists

How can you know if you’re dealing with a serial cheater?

In the dance of love, the cornerstones of a happy relationship are still good-old trust and mutual respect. Maintaining a healthy connection demands active engagement and awareness.

It’s important to understand and recognize subtle signs of potential issues to know if you met the right person who brings value to your life, or keep looking, or stay by yourself, whatever feels more fulfilling—as long as you’re mentally sane.

Unfortunately, we’re living in a world where monogamy seems to no longer be the trend. With more temptations than ever, relationships can easily be affected.  If you’ve been having a hunch, or have casually wondered about their whereabouts, it might be worth looking into.

But where do you start?

We have a certified therapist by our side, so we can dive into the twisted world of serial cheaters and explore why they act the way they do. By the way, if you’re familiar with the signs but think you can save them, just run to a therapist.

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Let’s see the subtle signs that you can notice in the demeanor of a serial cheater.

1. Narcissistic traits

Therapists explain that those characteristics may come from serious mental issues such as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The main points are grandiosity and entitlement, translated as an exaggerated sense of self-importance and the constant need for validation while they expect special treatment from others and exploit individuals to achieve their goals.

You can notice a lack of empathy reflected in not caring about the feelings or needs of others.

They can act like the world is theirs, and the people around, including you, are just non-personal characters ready to satisfy their wants and needs.

Here, you can also notice patterns of deception, such as consistent lying. Narcissists get along well with being pathological liars too, as they really believe what they say at the moment. Even more than the people around them, they are lying to themselves.

The underlying issue may come from a fear of abandonment, leading to desperate actions to avoid being left alone, so they often elaborate stories or excuses to cover their tracks.

This is also a sign of a real diagnosis, such as borderline personality disease (BPD), which makes them swing between idealization and devaluation, or antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), which matches the pattern of constant lying, using aliases, and using others for personal pleasure, violating their rights.

2. Impulsivity and boundary issues

Seeking excitement in novelty and various risky behaviors is for sure the trigger attitude for the act of cheating itself. Engaging in behaviors that provide a temporary sense of gratification but lead to negative consequences is just another disorder.

There are many impulse control disorders, for example, Kleptomania or Pyromania, so good luck with considering them charismatic, non-conformist, and artistic.

They may invade personal spaces or ideas without taking into consideration the limits of others. They can cross boundaries, such as having friends of the opposite gender whom they have inappropriately close relationships with, and yes, they may gaslight you into thinking that’s ok.

3. Past relationship patterns

They have a history of cheating. If you hear a story about them cheating on their partners before, it’s very likely they are going to repeat the experience. People who cheated before are three times more likely to do it again than those who never did it before.

However, even if from the outside it’s clear to see, we know that when you’re involved with someone, it’s natural to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.

We’re going to let this fact out here, but of course, every individual is different, and people can evolve with proper help and their own desire to become better.

Another pattern to follow is the tendency to have short relationships, marked by frequent breakups and reconciliations.

Go deeper, ask more about the reasons, and see if they did their part of the work when the relationship finally ended: if they managed to learn something about themselves and constantly work on becoming better, if they realized they were a part of the problem and decided to change that, or even if they did their healing part from being emotionally abused.

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4. Inconsistency in behavior

They present a sudden change in their behavior without clear reasons. You may notice inconsistencies or gaps in their stories and explanations. These signs can be indicators of serial cheaters, but it’s important to see the overall context, so seek open communication and address any concerns in a relationship.

Even if it doesn’t signal for sure a cheater’s behavior, inconsistency indicates issues in their attachment style, such as avoidant or anxious attachment. This is going to present difficulties in maintaining a stable and committed relationship.

Their mood swings may come from unrealistic expectations, as they tend to idealize their partners quickly and want them to be perfect. Once the initial attachment wears off, they become easily disillusioned and dissatisfied.

5. Emotional distance and manipulation signs

You will sense when a person is emotionally detached or unavailable. They avoid being emotionally intimate and vulnerable. Meanwhile, they may use gaslight to make you doubt your own perceptions and reality, and they can use charm and flattery to manipulate others and get what they want.

Of course, we come to another heavy conclusion: low self-esteem. They feel worthless and inadequate for a real connection, so they seek validation. Once they have it from you, new places and people must be explored. This, along with using infidelity as a way to escape their sadness and emptiness, is just the cue of a chronic depression they may not even be aware of.

6. “It’s not that deep”

They may act like cheating isn’t a big deal. You should already know their opinion about monogamy and commitment. You should know the limits of your own relationship if it has been clear since the beginning that cheating is a deal-breaker for you. Don’t allow them to gaslight you with their non-conflictual attitude that lacks empathy.

When you see they are in a mental cage of their own sick beliefs, it’s better for you to go away and realize this is not someone who shares the same vision and principles. No need to lament; just remember who you are and what you want.

If you want to be a peaceful human and stay away from negativity, you should see the serial cheater’s behavior as a way of expressing themselves. Our therapist explains that there’s a lot of trauma underneath all those reckless impulses, intimacy avoidance, and low self-esteem.

cheater therapy
Photo by Daniel Suhre from Shutterstock

This is the reason they keep staying in a relationship, but they also maintain the will to look for something else and experience new things with new people. They are weaker than you think, and they are lost when they wreck the relationship and don’t have access to their partner anymore.

We know how deeply relationships impact our emotional health. So being vigilant, but not scared to connect, can work as a safeguard against pain and distress. You can recognize early warning signs that allow you to address concerns before they escalate, and congratulations! This is how you foster emotional resilience.

Remain objective in identifying manipulative behaviors and see the deception patterns early on. You can think of it as a proactive approach that can keep you away from psychological damage and help you make informed decisions about your relationships.

Paying attention to the dynamics of your relationship not only gives you hints about your partner but also empowers you to gain self-awareness with valuable insights into your behavior and emotional triggers, building your ability to form healthier relationships in the future.

It’s crucial to point out a serial cheater because infidelity is not just you being a crybaby for some months and finding someone better when you manage to trust humanity again. There are significant risks you can be exposed to considering your physical health, such as STIs and STDs.

If you’re familiar with the signs, it’s up to you if you think you can work it out. Indeed, maybe you can communicate, and if the serial cheater is aware of their self-sabotage behavior, they can deal professionally with the issues.

There’s a lot of change that needs to be done and a lot of pain is going to unfold. Keep in mind that in most cases, they may lie and say they want to change, but reality shows something else.

Set boundaries for yourself, set a limited time to observe their behavior, and meanwhile, be ready for any outcome. Give yourself time to get ready to leave if no progress is made, or you can indeed be surprised and see the real part of the person uncovered by all the trauma and some emotional availability rising.

If you are already in a relationship with a toxic someone, stay tuned for another series of articles on how to deal with it.

For the moment, we can give you a suggestion for a personal development book on how to leave a cheater and gain a life. However, don’t hesitate to look for professional help and not take their actions personally, as it has nothing to do with you.


Read next: Times It’s Okay to Flirt With Other People (and When It’s Not)

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