Life is messy, and infidelity can touch even the strongest of relationships—after all, we’re human, and we all make mistakes (though that doesn’t make it any less hurtful when it happens). Cheating doesn’t make someone a bad person. But an isolated, one-time betrayal by a partner who feels terrible about it is very different than a years-long affair or decades of habitual cheating by a partner who’s simply addicted to the thrill.
Some people, it seems, might just be incapable of monogamy, and if those folks are also stuck on the high of betrayal, chronic cheating is the name of their game.
So how do you spot a compulsive cheater before getting caught in their web?
If there were a foolproof answer to that question, whoever came up with it would be a millionaire by now, but there are some common characteristics that many compulsive cheaters share. “There are psychological characteristics that are more prevalent and revealing about the personality traits of people who cheat,” said psychologist Dr. Ildiko Tabori.
Here’s what to watch for…
1. They’re hooked on drama.
If your partner seems bored by happy, stable relationships, run the other way.
“People who cheat prefer to ride an emotional roller coaster rather than find joy in emotional stability. They get an adrenaline rush from the figurative bumps and bruises that cause strife and turmoil with their significant other and their second significant other because it leads to the intoxication of making up again and again,” says Dr. Tabori.
2. They’re unhappy.
Most people who are highly satisfied with their relationship and whose needs are being met don’t want to cheat, says Dr. Tabori.
Both physical and emotional needs are important in relationships, so if either gets lost in the shuffle, trouble can arise—though of course, a more responsible course of action when a person is unhappy is often to be honest about it or to end the relationship if they can’t get their needs met, instead of having an affair and lying to a person who loves them.
3. They’re afraid of being alone.
According to Dr. Tabori, cheaters often deeply fear abandonment and seek out their second relationship as something of a security blanket against physical or emotional loneliness. This often ends up being a counterintuitive move, because if and when the affair explodes, they’re a lot more likely to be left behind by partners they’ve betrayed.
4. And they can be very opportunistic.
Joshua Forman, partner and matrimonial attorney at Chemtob Moss & Forman, has seen his fair share of brutal divorces over affairs, and he’s seen some sobering realities among the couples he’s worked with.
“Some people do change, but as a whole, if someone cheated on you before you got married, a leopard doesn’t change their spots,” he says about compulsive philanderers. “They might get good for a couple months, but it’s not the kind of thing that changes. The personality traits of someone who is dishonest in work or in other areas spills over into personal life.”
According to Dr. Tabori, compulsive cheaters are often in positions of power, and can be very calculating about when they decide to strike.
“One is more likely to cheat when opportunity arises, not simply when they are away from their significant other, but when the opportunity to prey upon a potential mate presents itself. People who cheat will look for opportunities where the potential mate may be in a vulnerable state, such as after a break-up or divorce. When the preyed-upon is in a more vulnerable state, they are more likely to be open to and engage in the cheating behavior because they miss the feeling of being loved and are not emotionally grounded enough yet to set secure boundaries.”
The best thing to do is stay aware and be kind to yourself.
This probably goes without saying, but it’s important to remember that if your partner doesn’t stay faithful to you, it’s fully up to you in how you want to handle it, and the fact that a chronic cheater has hurt you isn’t your fault. You might choose to stick around, but you’re also more than justified in ending the relationship. Just like there are all different kinds of relationships, there are all different kinds of infidelity, and sometimes the motive or frequency matters a lot more than the cheating itself.
That said, if you find yourself in a relationship with a person who’s essentially addicted to the high of betraying you, it might be ideal to cut ties. Life is too short to be with a partner who makes you feel less than awesome!
This article was originally published at Self. Reprinted with permission from the author.