Most of us want a trustworthy and committed partner who will be loving, honest and will stay with us through thick and thin. But the dating scene can be a minefield of potential for hurt and disappointment — even before the risk of being cheated on is added to the mix. But can you spot a cheater early on?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a crystal ball that could teach us all about another person from the time we meet instead of well down the track? Infidelity is not uncommon — most of us will know of someone it has happened to, or will have encountered it ourselves at some point. The statistics on how common it is vary widely, and even more so if you consider whether the infidelity has been sexual or emotional in nature.
Although we can’t know for sure, there are some things to look out for when it comes to cheating, even in the first initial dates. These red flags will be visible if we can try and see the other person for who they are, rather than for who we hope them to be.
Start with a strong sense of self
The most important place to begin is with ourselves. A safe space with clear boundaries is only created when we feel strong in ourselves and keep our hopes and expectations in check as we learn about the other person. Are your feet planted firmly on the ground when you enter the dating scene? Are your hopes and expectations too high, which makes you anxious and vulnerable to hurt? What can you do to strengthen yourself and know you will cope if the person turns out to be untrustworthy?
Trust your gut
Always trust your gut when it comes to cheaters. A 2014 study by Brigham Young University suggests that if you think someone might be a cheater you may be right. People are good at ‘guessing’ whether or not someone is a cheater, even without background information. It’s likely there have been times where you didn’t trust yourself in a situation that didn’t turn out well and later realised that the signs were there from the start.
That said, there will be times when we judge someone poorly at first and later find that they are great. Be alert for red flags, but not so hyper-vigilant that you flatten genuine possibilities.
Recognise the classic ‘cheater’ stereotype
Some personality characteristics might indicate that someone is likely to cheat, and these are what we call ‘narcissistic tendencies’. The individual may be charming, have a big ego, feel they are entitled to the good things in life. They believe they don’t have to play by the rules, and don’t seem to feel guilt or remorse.
They’ll talk about themselves a lot but may also be good at getting you to talk. They may be exciting, smart, impressive, and appear sincere as they tell us what we want to hear. They can be excellent liars and see the world in terms of winners and losers. They might get a thrill out of cheating as a power game. They might love the ecstasy, chemistry and passion present in the early days of a relationship — but when this stage is over, they move on, hungry for the next passionate episode with someone else.
Remember that actions speak louder than words
The first few dates are a time to listen, watch and learn. We want to trust others, but try to resist alluring words and pay more attention to what your date does, and how it makes you feel. A person might describe themselves as decent, honest, trustworthy and nice, and turn out to be the opposite.
If they have these genuine qualities, they’ll be revealed by how your date treats you and others:
- Are they thoughtful, considerate and caring?
- Are they on time and, if they are late, do they apologise?
- Do they cancel at the last minute?
- Do they spend a lot of time checking their phone or ignoring you?
- How do they respond when you communicate your feelings? Are they receptive or defensive?
- Do they communicate their feelings to you? If they don’t like to communicate about feelings, how will that work for you long term?
- Are they judgemental towards others?
- Are they thoughtful and caring with family members and friends?
- Do their friends share similar values to you, and treat you with respect?
Look at cheating histories in yourself, parents and friends
Some studies show that if someone has cheated in a previous relationship they may do it again. Other studies show that a family history of cheating could be a warning sign. If one or both parents were unfaithful, their children may be more inclined to cheat.
If your date is not bothered by a friend’s infidelity, this may be a red flag about their own inclinations. However, there are no universal rules and someone may cheat once and never again.
The truth about infidelity
While we like to believe in the classic cheater stereotype, relationship counsellors know that infidelity is often a more complex situation. According to couples and sex therapist, Esther Perel, “Affairs are way less about sex, and a lot more about desire: desire for attention, desire to feel special, desire to feel important”.
For Esther, while affairs are an act of betrayal, they can also be an expression of longing, loneliness and loss. Although it’s not an excuse, sometimes, cheating may have a lot to do with what one partner is missing in the relationship.
Breaking the “us and them” mentality
It’s tempting to think in terms of cheaters and cheated. While this is often the case, if we reduce the situation to “us and them” we lose some valuable perspective. Be very honest with yourself. Have you ever cheated on a partner, or with someone else’s partner? Have your friends ever cheated, and what was your attitude to their cheating?
If you’re not in good shape to deal with the challenges of the dating scene as a result of past hurts or current fears, some professional help can strengthen you and reduce your vulnerability.
This is an investment worth making, so that you start your search for a good relationship from a strong and resilient position.