Study Finds Something Upsetting About People Who Cheat on Their Partners

They do it again.

Specifically, they're over 3.5 times more likely than their noncheating counterparts to cheat on their partner another time.

Research presented by University of Denver grad student Kayla Knopp helps confirm the old adage "once a cheater, always a cheater." It also suggests that cheating is cyclical for both the cheater and the unhappy partner whose trust has been broken.

What the study found: Knopp surveyed 484 unmarried 18-34-year-olds and found that cheaters were 3.5 times more likely to cheat in their next relationship. Those who'd been cheated on were also more likely to experience infidelity with future partners. 

The patterns weren't limited to cheating, as physically aggressive behaviors like "yelling, shouting, pushing and shoving" were found to be three times as likely to occur in future relationships for the aggressors and five times as likely to re-occur for the targets.

Knopp told the conference, "We like to think that we can learn from our experiences and our mistakes, especially when it comes to love," but the research demonstrated people really can't do that very easily. The extreme numbers further indicate that current approaches in psychology towards helping people break patterns of negative behavior are inadequate, especially when it comes to relationships.

Why does this happen? Previous research has suggested that cheaters are good at rationalizing the implications of their infidelity away, while psychologists told LiveScience that philanderers are likely to be optimistic about their ability to control risky situations as well. Both of these factors could contribute to future cheating. Other research has suggested that personality factors like sexual anxiety, risk-taking and "propensity for sexual excitation" (being easily aroused) are associated with cheating in relationships, so there may be certain kinds of people who have a greater propensity to cheat.

Why this matters: Cheating is relatively common, affecting up to 25% of all committed relationships in the United States. Relationship violence is too, with 29% of women reporting at least one abusive relationship. Of those, 94% involved emotional abuse.

Finding ways to help the wrongdoers break old habits could save their victims from a lot of heartache and in many cases physical harm. Knopp's research indicates many people may not understand the scale of the problem and admitting there's a problem is the first step towards a solution. 

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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