You've probably heard this saying: "A cheat once, a cheat forever," but how much truth is in it? According to studies, people who admit to cheating are more likely to cheat in their next relationship. Thus, if you're dating someone who has already cheated in the past, it's natural to get worried.
But our mistakes do not completely define us. What separates those who continue to lie from those who use their mistakes to start healing? This lies in their willingness to cultivate relational self-awareness. Relational Self-Awareness means understanding yourself in the context of close partnerships. This includes understanding our relationship beliefs, shaped by our upbringing, cultural influences, various personality traits, and life experiences. Without RSA, we are stuck in a cycle of repeating our past mistakes.
If your partner was a cheater, it's important to assess their commitment to practicing self-awareness in the relationship.
Low RSA Story #1: The Blame Game
You can often hear people say, "My ex-girlfriend/boyfriend was insane. Anyone would cheat on them in this toxic relationship. I was unhappy, so it was natural for me to seek happiness elsewhere."
However, true relational self-awareness involves taking responsibility for your actions and using them as opportunities to grow as a person and heal. By blaming an exceptionally difficult partner or a toxic relationship, this person refuses to include the episode of infidelity in the overall picture of their life.
By not learning from their mistakes, they risk repeating the same behavior in future relationships.
Low RSA Story #2: The Shame Game
Sometimes when we come across a mistake or transgression, it can be difficult for us to discuss it because it creates a feeling of guilt and makes us believe that we are inherently bad people. In these cases, we can avoid the topic altogether and just try to move on.
However, just as blaming others can hinder personal growth, this sense of shame when we blame ourselves completely also prevents us from integrating our mistakes into a larger understanding of who we are as individuals.
By breaking up an experience and calling it something dangerous, we inadvertently keep it alive and allow it to potentially cause further upheaval and toxicity.
High RSA Story: Self-Compassion Meets Accountability
In her previous relationship, Kathy made a painful mistake by cheating. When the truth came out, she felt overwhelming shame and embarrassment about her actions. To understand why she betrayed her partner's trust, she actively engaged in self-improvement, such as therapy, reading articles and books on this topic, and joining support groups. Through this process, she began to discover unresolved issues within herself that made her vulnerable to this behavior.
Now she's fully prepared to live differently. She has learned to open up to her partner when she is upset so that resentment or toxicity does not build up between them. She actively practices healthy boundaries and has developed a deep understanding and acceptance of her own sexuality. She acknowledges that this part of her past may upset her partner, and she's willing to have an open and ongoing discussion about it. She wants to assure her partner that her self-awareness and humility serve as a safeguard against repeating past mistakes.
Understandably, being in a relationship with someone who has a history of cheating can be troubling and cause fear or anxiety. However, it's important to approach this topic or this conversation without blaming or judging each other, as this can force your boyfriend/girlfriend to act defensively and prevent you from gaining the reassurance you need. Your goal should be to create a healthy environment where both of you can stand side by side and answer the question, "How can we help each other prioritize respect, safety, and honesty?"
You can use the following questions while discussing your or your partner's infidelity. They may help you build an atmosphere of trust and comfort.
1. How deeply do you regret your past infidelity / past mistakes?
2. Do you think you're responsible for your actions?
3. To what extent have you forgiven yourself?
4. What did you learn about yourself from your mistake?
5. How do you personally define and understand loyalty?
6. How committed are you to actively practicing and maintaining fidelity in our relationship?
7. What measures do you want to take to maintain your honesty?
8. When do you feel the strongest connection with me? Conversely, when do you feel the least connection?
9. To what extent do people in your life, such as family, friends, and co-workers, support and reinforce your commitment to loyalty?
10. How can I provide support to help you stay loyal?
Addressing these important questions together can help set a clear path forward, ensuring both of you feel secure and confident about the future of your relationship.