Once a Cheater Always a Cheater and other "Truisms"

Social or cultural truisms are those sayings that we learn, seemingly subliminally – as in we couldn’t pinpoint who taught us - from when we are very young.  Some of them are just plain stupid like “a watched pot never boils”.  Do the experiment –the same pot of water will boil in exactly the same amount of time whether you watch it or not!  Now go below the words and get the “message” behind the truism – if you divert your attention to something else while waiting for something to happen it may appear to happen faster – or it may not.  It will depend on what you choose as your diversion.  But be truthful – how many of you believe this truism without ever really having examined it closely? Since social psychologist, William J McGuire developed Inoculation Theory in the early 1960’s, it has been shown in numerous studies that believing cultural truisms can essentially “innoculate” a person against arguments counter to that truism later on.

In working with couples where there has been an affair there are a couple of cultural truisms that really get in the way of healing if either person in the couple believes them to any degree.  They are “Once a cheater always a cheater” or “The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour” or any variations on those themes such as ”You can’t change a leopards spots”.  The message behind all of these truisms is that people don’t really change – if they are capable of doing something even only once, they are capable of doing it again and more than that will do it or are guaranteed to do it.  Once you believe any of these truisms you will notice all the evidence that supports them and disregard the contrary evidence. For example you will remember all the people who took up smoking again after having given up rather than the ones who successfully gave up and still do not smoke.

So are these truisms true or not? No they are not – they are as true as the “watched pot”.  We can make them true by believing them and therefore acting them out or we can make them untrue by learning how to do the opposite and seeing the evidence. Learning how to do it differently involves resetting the benchmark for honesty in your relationship, understanding the affair from every angle and how it has affected both of you in your relationship.  The cheater has to make amends for what they have done in the way that the betrayed wants and you both need to be open to the possibility that you can change as an individual and change your relationship and get some help to do this.  Then you need to make the changes and follow through consistently to provide the evidence that it is real. Your renewed relationship and the honesty that comes with it will provide the best evidence that “once a cheater is not always a cheater”.