My Reformed Cheater's Quickie Guide To Fidelity

by Rebecca Santiago

As a general rule, the public does not look kindly upon cheaters — not even repentant has-been cheaters like me. How many times have you heard a mother, sitcom or otherwise, smugly intone, "Once a cheater, always a cheater"? Statistics about our kind aren't too promising, either: a study presented at the American Psychological Association's annual convention earlier this year found that people with histories of infidelity are 3.5 times likelier to cheat in future relationships. Great.

The shrink I was seeing when I cheated on my ex thought I was being too hard on myself for my infidelity, but honestly, I still feel like I deserved to suffer for cheating. And oh, did I suffer. I punished myself for years before I learned to sit quietly with what I'd done, and spoiler alert: moving on from something like that doesn't come easily, either. Suffice it to say that I am fully conscious of how I hurt my ex-boyfriend, our relationship, and myself. Please believe me when I say that I do not ever, ever, ever intend to cheat again.

But... well, who with the slightest presence of moral fiber in their body actually enters a relationship with the intent to cheat? And although I've never been seriously tempted to stray in my current relationship, I'm aware of how easily it could happen, in a premeditated way or not, and that scares me.

With that in mind, I've rounded up a quick list of tips (some expert, some experiential) to help former cheaters like me stay faithful. It would be great if we could work together to make a new adage, something along the lines of, "Once a cheater, never do anything so damn stupid again."

1. Force yourself to pause.

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If you're going to drag your relationship through the mud, you're going to do so after CAREFUL CONSIDERATION, dammit. Over at Glamour, Gena Kaufman outlines a smart four-step prevention plan (which applies to both cheating and shopping), the purpose of which is to force you to think over what you're about to do and how much you want it. I will say that, while this strategy does not work for me when I want to eat French fries — 'cause I've tried it — I have found that it helps a great deal when it comes to maintaining relationship fidelity. Walking into a different room at a dangerous time can save you so many tears; just do it.

2. Learn your triggers.

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It's crucial to figure out why you cheated in the first place in order to prevent it from happening again. For example, after a few weeks of therapy post ex-breakup, it became clear to me that one of my biggest emotional triggers is when someone cancels plans on me at the last minute. So, in my current relationship, I communicated my need for reliability early on. Now, when plans do change, as plans are wont to do, my boyfriend makes it clear that he's not blowing me off. I am better able to reassure myself that he loves me, and the world spins madly on.

3. Be honest with yourself.

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Hey, if Dr. Phil says so. But seriously, when I cheated, I was in the deepest state of denial a person could be. I was partying a ton, eating almost nothing, and utterly convinced that I could handle an affair just fine, no consequences. This did not last. I think if I had just been honest with myself earlier about what wasn't working in my relationship, I could have at least bowed out gracefully, or maybe even worked on those bedrock problems with my then-boyfriend. In my current relationship, I am honest to a fault, both with myself and my partner. So far, it's making for a much healthier union.