A Nobel Prize-winning scientist once recommended to his fellow scientists that they discard at least one cherished notion every day before breakfast. I’d like to make the recommendation to you. You see, the cliché, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” is (in my opinion) one of the most destructive stereotypes about infidelity within our society — and yet, it’s also one of the most cherished. The only time “Once a cheater, always a cheater” even makes sense is when you’re referring to a large cat that lives on the African plains. But if you’re talking about a human being, this type of generalization can’t (and shouldn’t) be treated as fact.
Let me ask you a question.
Have you ever heard of a “meme” (rhymes with dream)? This term was first coined by biologist and evolutionary theorist, Richard Dawkins in 1976, as a unit of cultural information (such as a practice, idea, belief, or pattern of behavior) that’s transmitted from one person to another. Examples of memes include tunes, limericks, catch phrases, urban legends, myths, beliefs, and clichés.
Three things to know about memes
- They self-replicate, which is why they’re also referred to as mind viruses.
- Memes are especially contagious to children and the impressionable.
- Just like physical viruses, memes can either be benign or harmful.
How they work:
Memes (mind viruses) are subtly designed to influence thinking and behavior. They are spread throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance (as from parents to children), or horizontally (as by peers, media, and books).
The Evolution of a Meme
Let’s take a closer look at the cliché, “Once a cheater, always a cheater.”
The idea must have started with one person, then was retold time and time again, and ended up traveling around the world, repeated over and over again. In so doing, the cliché (meme) behaves much like a virus.
Why did this particular cliché replicate and evolve into a persuasive meme?
For the same reason that superstitions and urban legends replicate — because there’s usually some element of truth in it. Of course, there are some people who are pathological cheaters. So chances are, the first person to coin that cliché did so out of the truth of their experience.
But why did it survive so long and become so contagious?
My theory is that it survived because like so many superstitions, propaganda, and conspiracy theories, this meme is laced with fear, and that fear is often what makes a meme contagious. This is because fear is one of the most easily communicable and transferable states of mind. And once people become afraid, they lose the ability to think rationally.
Fear vs. Rational Thinking
Fear can be recognized by its negative expectations. To live in fear is to be in chronic state of negative expectancy. Once a mind is infected with this kind of irrational fear, it loses its ability to evaluate reality objectively.
What is rational thinking? (critical thinking)
This describes the mind’s capacity to evaluate reality accurately. It’s the discipline to seek the truth of confirmable facts and put reason, logic, and critical thinking above wishes, fantasies, or feelings.
To think rationally, one must be able to deal honestly with reality, rather than succumbing to fear. Both fear and rational thinking are ways of coping with the uncertainties of life. So let’s look at your situation through each of these lenses.
If you look at your boyfriend from a state of negative expectancy, then you would assume his future will be exactly like his past.
The question to ask yourself is this.
IS THIS TRUE?
Can you absolutely say, beyond a shadow of doubt, that you know his future will be an EXACT replica of his past? If you’re being honest (a wise choice), then the answer must be no. You can’t know this for sure. None of us can. We can’t describe the future with any real accuracy, because it hasn’t happened yet. (Fact.) Therefore, if you assume that “Once a cheater, always a cheater” is an immutable fact, then you’re choosing to deny the reality… there’s no way you can know this for sure.
When you look at your partner from a rational point of view…
You must focus on the facts of this situation.
And what is that?
Well, we know for a fact that he’s cheated. We know this because it’s a confirmed truth. What else do we know for sure about what he’ll do in the future? Nothing. (That’s a fact.) Anything else would basically be a psychic prediction. Unfortunately, because it can be so painful to admit that you don’ t know what’s going to happen next — most people would rather make it up or predict doom and gloom than admit that they just don’t know.
Knowledge vs. Superstition
Albert Einstein once said, knowledge that doesn’t rest on facts is superstition. What are superstitions? They’re placeholders for knowledge. So if your friends are going to predict your boyfriend’s future behavior, they are doing so based on superstition, not knowledge. Here’s another way to think about it: If you were to take him into a court of law, would the judge convict him of a future crime? No, because that would be irrational. No court would ever convict someone for something they haven’t done yet. But if you think about it, isn’t that what your friends are doing? Aren’t they passing judgment and convicting your boyfriend for future affairs he hasn’t even had?
Think this through with me.
Your friends seem to have arrived at the conclusion that any man who cheats — even once — is destined to become a lifetime cheater. This is the equivalent of saying anyone who gets drunk (even once) is compelled to become a lifetime drunk. Are there some men who are habitual liars and cheaters? Of course there are. Are there some men who are habitual truth tellers and loyal to a fault? Yes! And I can tell you (after a decade of doing this work), there are plenty of men who have cheated once and never offended again. How can you tell the difference between the pathological offender and the one-time mistake maker? This requires you to be discerning… not judgmental.
Being Discerning vs. Being Judgmental
It’s important to recognize these two aren’t the same. Let’s take a look at the differences. Being judgmental creates a pecking order of you versus the rest of the world — because the act of being judgmental instantly puts you in a superior position over those whom you have judged. Once the judgmental mind reaches a verdict, it shuts the door on any evidence to the contrary. This tells you that the judgmental mind is not open to learning. Discernment, on the other hand, means staying open to new information and evaluating things based on current evidence. It’s important to note that being discerning doesn’t mean that you ignore evidence that points to habitual patterns of deceptive or destructive behaviors. To be discerning, one must be aware and alert to changes in the environment.
The judgmental mind is closed to learning, and the discerning mind stays open.
Therefore, judgments are the end of knowledge, not the beginning. Once you’ve passed a judgment based on a stereotype like “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” all cats look the same — you can’t tell a cheetah from a house cat. This means you won’t be able to discern the differences between those men who are redeemable from those who are pathological.
The ability to be discerning rather than judgmental is one of the secrets to making wise choices. Unfortunately, it appears that your friends seem to have fallen into the judgmental category. But that doesn’t mean that YOU have to, so long as you understand how to maintain healthy boundaries. Those secrets are coming up next.
Let’s go over a few ways to help maintain healthy boundaries…
Healthy Boundaries: Your Guide to Making Good Decisions
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are the line in the sand that distinguishes you from someone else. They define who you are and who you’re not. They set the limits of what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. They tell you what you’re responsible for and what you’re not responsible for in life.
How Betrayal Impacts Your Boundaries
Another way to understand the function of boundaries is to think of them like the borders of a country. Just like the borders of countries protect its citizens, the primary function of your boundaries is to protect you from unwanted stress. Getting betrayed or lied to is a violation of your personal boundaries. There are basically three ways to deal with this.
3 Common Ways People Handle Boundary Violations Brought on by Infidelity:
- Ignore the holes
- Put up walls
- Create doors
Of the three, ignoring the holes and putting up walls are what most people do after their trust has been violated. However, I’m going to give a quick crash course on all three, and then let you decide which way seems best for you.
Ignoring the holes.
As I’ve said before, being cheated on rips a hole in your boundaries through which negative stress rushes in. These holes are like broken windows that have been left unattended. Failure to repair them (or ignoring them) leaves a person vulnerable to similar hurts and negative stresses finding their way in… over and over again.
How can you tell when you have holes in your boundaries?
Here are some signs:
- Anytime you find it hard to say “no” or can’t handle being told “no”
- Anytime you let yourself be “used” just to please others
- Anytime you let yourself be passive or deny your true desires
- Being co-dependent or seeing other people as an extension of yourself
Putting Up Walls
Another way people handle boundary violations is by building walls. These walls are elaborate, defensive structures designed to protect the person from incoming stress. The challenge with putting up walls is that they’re like prisons — not only do they keep out the bad, they also keep out the good. People who build walls as a defense against hurt lose freedom, lose choice, and lose happiness… because they have to disconnect from life in order to live behind those walls. They live by the philosophy that says, “One bad apple (experience) spoils the whole bunch.” (Chances are the people who first coined the phrase “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” also came from this school of thought.)
Here are a few of the signs you’re putting up walls to protect yourself:
- The inability to consider any other points of view but your own
- If you become harsh, contemptuous, judgmental or unforgiving
- If you become jaded, cynical or pathologically mistrustful
Here’s the bad news: Although ignoring the holes or putting up walls are the two most popular ways people handle the boundary violations brought on by infidelity (your friends included), they’re not necessarily the best (or healthiest) ways to go. So, rather than going with either of these options, let me give you a third (and I believe the better) option.
Repair with doors: People with healthy boundaries repair the damage to them by installing doors. Using this concept, they can close the doors mentally and emotionally to any person whose behavior is currently unacceptable. Here’s the good news: each door has a handle which allows you to reserve the right to open it again whenever you feel that person’s behavior has, once again, become more constructive, and thereby acceptable. In other words, people with healthy boundary skills have a built-in flexibility that allows them to be discerning about when to open or close the doors of their inner world, depending on the environment.
What this tells us…
When you know how to effectively deal with boundary violations and how to repair the holes left behind by negative experiences, you don’t have to fear what others may do or how they may act.
And you’ll no longer need to put up a wall that locks out anyone from your life… for life.
You can simply close the doors of your inner world when people are behaving destructively towards you. And if that behavior changes, you reserve the right to open it once again. And what if you should open the doors to that person and their behavior goes back to being destructive? You got it. You can simply close it again. It’s really as easy and effective as that.
Putting it all together…
Let’s take a step back from your personal situation for a second and apply the things we’ve been talking about to one of the most notorious celebrity cheating spouses to come along in recent years… Mr. Tiger Woods. Do you think Tiger is doomed to be a cheater for the rest of his life? Well, that’s something I can’t say for sure, but here’s what I can say for sure: Tiger Woods will always be a mistake-maker (just like the rest of us). And like anyone of us (and just like he’s proven he can do in the game of golf), he can learn from his mistakes. Personally, I believe we would be making an even bigger mistake if we were to write him off or measure his future by his past. Here’s why: good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
Two more things to keep in mind:
- All human beings are capable of change. If this weren’t true, we wouldn’t have made it to the top of the evolutionary chain. It’s our ability to change, adapt, and grow that has kept us going. Therefore, we have no right to set another person’s learning limits.
- No one lacks ability — only knowledge. All problems are caused in some way by incorrect thinking; therefore, problems can’t be solved except by correct thinking. Nobody continues do something once they realize it’s taking them towards a result that will frustrate them and cause them pain. (Nobody does that.)
Here’s another thing
As long as a person is alive, all that’s possible for them hasn’t yet been accomplished. It would be unwise (not to say arrogant) to write anyone off as being impossible to change. Who are we to say what’s truly possible for another human being?
The bottom line?
A meme or cliché can tell you what to think, but it can’t tell you how to think. A superstition can tell you what to fear but not what to trust. And therein lies the challenge. At some point, you must evaluate the evidence, and you must arrive at your own conclusions. This requires you to make the effort to think clearly and rationally, rather than rely on stereotypes, memes, clichés, superstitions, and other people’s opinions (including my own).
We’ve talked about fear versus rational thinking, explored the differences between being judgmental and being discerning, covered the concept of healthy versus unhealthy boundary skills, and noted the distinction between facts and superstitions.
Now, that leaves us with one final question.
What do you think?
You’ve shared with me what your friends think, and I have shared with you what I think, but neither is as important as what you think.
Your thoughts are the only thoughts that truly matter.
I have faith that I’ve given you some pointers that will lead you to your own conclusions. As you make that journey, if you feel like you would like additional guidance, I suggest you enroll in my Betrayed Recovery online video course, because part of what I’ve discovered is that many people cling to superstition because they haven’t learned how to forgive and let go.
But once they learn forgiveness… it frees them and heals them in ways that change them forever.
I wish the same for you.
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!