“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

You’re really into this person you’ve been dating. Things seem to be going well – you share the same values, have great chemistry, and can truly be yourselves around each other. But then they drop a bombshell – they cheated in a previous relationship.

Your mind starts racing. Can you trust them not to do the same to you? Does this reveal something fundamentally flawed in their character? Or was it simply a mistake that they’ve learned and grown from?

Infidelity is one of the most betraying and painful experiences a person can go through in a relationship. The violation of trust can cause tremendous emotional damage and make it extremely difficult to move forward, even if you want to.

So how do you navigate being with someone who has cheated before? Is it even possible to rebuild that trust? Let’s explore what the experts recommend.

Getting the Full Story

The first step is to have an open and honest discussion with your partner about what happened. Don’t let them off the hook with vague explanations or flimsy excuses. You deserve to know all the details – when the infidelity occurred, what led up to it, how their previous partner found out, and how they responded in the aftermath.

Relationship experts advise asking them to share more details so you can gain insight into both their thought processes and actions regarding cheating behavior. This can help you make an informed decision on whether you want to stay in the relationship.

Perhaps it was a fleeting indiscretion from immaturity and poor impulse control when they were much younger. Or maybe it revealed deeper character flaws and a pattern of deceit that should raise red flags. The circumstances matter, so get the full story.

Evaluating Their Level of Accountability

How someone owns up to their past mistakes can be very telling about whether they’ve truly learned and changed. Are they making excuses and blaming others? Playing the victim? Or do they take full responsibility for their hurtful actions?

“If they are blaming their ex, saying things like ‘she made me cheat,’ that’s a bad sign,” says Hartman. “He’s the only one to blame for his actions. You need to make sure he knows that and has learned from the experience.”

A person who has done the work of honest self-reflection can articulate what poor choices they made, why it was wrong, the consequences of their actions, and how they’ve grown as a person. Someone still making excuses is likely not ready for a truly committed relationship.

Looking for True Remorse

Related to accountability is genuine remorse and regret over their past infidelity. A person who has cheated but doesn’t seem to have much emotional investment or sadness about how they betrayed their partner’s trust is concerning. That could indicate a lack of empathy and emotional intelligence.

A person who has fully reckoned with the weight of their betrayal will never take that lightly or dismiss how deeply it impacted others. Their remorse is an important part of showing that they’ve learned invaluable lessons.

Recognizing Signs of Real Change

Of course, remorse alone isn’t enough. You’ll want to look for solid evidence that this person has taken concrete steps and made real changes to ensure they never betray a partner’s trust again in that way.

Signs that someone has genuinely learned from their infidelity include:

  • An increased level of communication and openness in the relationship
  • More maturity in how they handle difficult situations
  • A willingness to be vulnerable by discussing past mistakes
  • Actively demonstrating trustworthiness over time
  • Maybe they went to counseling to overcome their commitment issues or insecurities that led to the infidelity. Or they’ve implemented strict personal boundaries to protect the sanctity of their relationships. The key is that their transformation goes beyond just words – you need to see action and a fundamentally different way of being in a relationship.

Setting Clear Boundaries for the Relationship

Even once you’ve evaluated their past, level of accountability, remorse, and actions towards change, there’s still an important final step – establishing clear boundaries and guidelines for your relationship going forward. This gives both of you a mutually agreed-upon understanding of what behaviors constitute infidelity or a violation of trust.

This could cover everything from boundaries around friendships with others, following each other on social media, texting habits, expectations around alone time and nights out, levels of transparency and open communication expected, and, of course, clear definitions of physical and emotional infidelity.

Having these boundaries discussed and agreed to upfront can go a long way in preventatively safeguarding your relationship and ensuring you’re on the same page about protecting the trust.

Focus on the Present

In psychology, we often talk about “staying in the present” as a way to prevent unproductive rumination and anxiety about the past or worrying about the future. This mindset is useful when you’re in a relationship with someone who has cheated before.

Yes, their history is relevant and shouldn’t be ignored. The lessons, growth, and patterns from their previous relationships do shed light on their mindset and ability to cultivate a healthy partnership. But dwelling obsessively on those past transgressions will prevent you from truly getting to know the person they are now.

Look for signs that they’ve genuinely learned from their mistakes and worked on developing qualities like honesty, integrity, and commitment. Do their current actions and how they treat you align with those positive changes? If you focus too much on their previous indiscretions, you might miss the personal growth happening right in front of you.

Be Ready to Walk Away

Researchers at the University of Denver (DU) conducted a study on infidelity. They analyzed data collected over five years by psychology professors Galena Rhoades, Howard Markman, and Scott Stanley. This data tracked the relationship history of 1,600 individuals. The study found that people who cheated in a previous relationship were three times more likely to cheat again in a future relationship.

Some people never truly change, despite their insistence otherwise. And you may reach a point where the lack of trust and the constant fear of being cheated on again becomes emotionally exhausting and damaging to your self-worth. That’s okay – you’re not obligated to endure a situation that’s toxic for your mental health.

Forgiveness and rebuilding trust is a two-way street. If you’ve made a sincere effort, but your partner continually violates your boundaries, shows dishonest behavior, or falls back into toxic patterns from their past, it may be time to walk away for your own well-being. Know your limits; don’t let guilt or playing the “redemption” card trap you in an endlessly painful cycle.

Be Patient with Yourself

Overcoming the devastation of infidelity doesn’t happen overnight. It’s normal to feel triggered, anxious, or overwhelmed at times as you’re trying to move forward. Have self-compassion during rough days by focusing on self-care, not self-criticism.

Rebuilding trust and intimacy is a rollercoaster ride, with both parties experiencing ups and downs. She may vault ahead, feeling secure and reinvested, only to get broadsided later by unearthed doubts. He may become impatient with the pace of healing, even though he created this mess.

That’s why professional counseling is so vital throughout the journey. Therapists can help you process setbacks from a centered, solution-focused place. They’ll equip you with coping techniques for when unsettling feelings resurface. And they can mediate if conflicts over the pace of rebuilding trust turn explosive.

Most importantly, be patient and compassionate with yourself. Don’t berate yourself on tough days or question whether you’re strong enough. Healing happens through radical self-acceptance. Remind yourself that overcoming such a massively traumatic breach of trust requires grit and resilience. And be proud when you’ve forged those virtues for yourself.

When you’re working through such an emotional roller coaster, lean on friends and loved ones for perspective and advice. But set boundaries if their negativity becomes toxic and unproductive.

Some friends may insist, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” and pressure you to kick this person to the curb immediately. Their protectiveness stems from not wanting to see you hurt again. However, dismissing all chances of changing behavior doesn’t help your particular situation.

Others may go the opposite route of rationalizing away heinous actions: “Well, if you hadn’t been working those crazy hours, he wouldn’t have cheated.” Don’t lend any credence to blatant excuse-making.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for whether you should date someone who has cheated before. It depends on evaluating the full context of the situation and this person’s specific journey. 

Reconciling after infidelity is one of the most grueling challenges a couple can face. It takes an abundance of personal work, professional guidance, patience, and humility from everyone involved. While statistics don’t favor cheaters staying faithful, exceptions can occur with the right commitment.

But if you do decide to move forward after evaluating the above factors, understand that rebuilding trust takes an incredible amount of work, vulnerability, and patience from both people. You’ll have to be prepared for natural feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and needing reassurance as you work through it.

Don’t be afraid to enlist professional help from a couples counselor if needed.

By Kyle Brady

Kyle Brady is a seasoned author with a profound understanding of relationships and the complexities of human interaction. With a keen insight into the dynamics of trust and fidelity, Brady specializes in guiding individuals through the challenging terrain of suspicions and infidelity. Through his work, he empowers readers with knowledge on catching cheaters, fostering healthier connections, and reclaiming personal integrity.

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