"Once a cheater, always a cheater" isn't always true. Just look at Beyoncé and Jay-Z, whose cheating hurdle pushed them to strengthen their relationship in new ways (while giving the rest of us peasants the gift that is Lemonade). But sometimes, there are definitely signs that a guy has cheated, will cheat, and TBH, doesn't really want to work on why he cheats.
So how do you tell if a guy is likely to cheat a lot, versus a one-time-thing? I spoke with Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences of UMass Amherst, on how to spot the warning signs:
He doesn't introduce you to anyone important in his life."We all go into relationships with the best assumptions—we're hoping for the best," says Dr. Whitbourne. Basically, it's natural to give someone the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes that can even blind you to the you the red flags. But it's important to look out for big lapses in the relationship. "If he's not introducing you to anybody in his family or circle of friends, that is a good potential indicator that there is something he’s hiding from you, or hiding you from someone else."
If you pick up on him never posting photos with you or of you, or if he makes it seem like meeting his friends is a clingy request, that could be the behavior of a seasoned cheater. If he jumps through hoops to keep your relationship a secret in every aspect of his life, it could very well be so he can look single to everyone else.
He's unavailable a lot of the time and the excuses are vague."Unexpected gaps in communication or being offline is going to raise a lot of questions about the intentions of this partner," says Dr. Whitbourne. Unless he's working a known time-consuming, hands-on kind of job, sporadic texts are highly suspect (plus, even men at demanding jobs still know how to check in with their girlfriends the moment they have a chance).
Serial, relentless cheaters need a decent amount of nights to actually do the cheating, and the smoother they are about working late or last-minute study sessions, the easier it is for them to do it. If you find yourself constantly having to make excuses for your adult boyfriend apparently not knowing how to text you a simple update, that's also just profoundly irritating on its own, worrying-about-possible-cheating aside.
He gets shockingly protective of his phone.Look, everyone knows it's not cool to snoop on their partner. But there's a big difference between memorizing your partner's lock code, and just casually letting them know "hey, you got a text from Mike!". No innocent person freaks out at the latter....unless "Mike" is really Bea from work who they made out with twice. This goes double if he actually has cheated on you before, and sure, you might be overdoing the phone peeks just a little bit. But there's a reason for that. "The partner is left wondering if [the cheating] is done, and they’ve really reformed," says Whitbourne.
He goes through patterns of either suddenly being a Boyfriend of the Year or picking fights over e v e r y t h i n g.If he's not the type to bring home thoughtful gifts every night of the week for no reason, there might be a reason. Bright side: He, at least, feels a little guilt, because it's manifesting into something really weird. This can be tougher to notice if you just started dating, but if you've been together for a minute, Dr. Whitbourne suggests to watch out for him being too much one way or the other. He could also be starting fights to make you angry so you'll break up with him (or just to help him feel like you're a bad person and deserve to be cheated on).
If he cheated once, you'd probably see only one of these behaviors (before hopefully learning why). But consistent cheating and the subsequent emotions that come with hiding a tryst can bring out a whole mess of toxic, dramatic behavior in your relationship.
He's weird about your career or how much money you make.A 2015 American Sociological Review study found that men who either made a lot more or a lot less money than their partners were more likely to cheat. "Any kind of difference between yourself and your partner where that becomes a part of this dynamic—it can lead a man to feel like he can do whatever he wants, or [to feel] jealous and insecure so he’s going to get back at you," says Dr. Whitbourne. "When there's a discrepancy in social class, it can create power dynamics that play themselves out that way."
A key thing to look out for is him openly expressing jealousy towards your career, or, vice versa, putting you down for not being as successful as him. If he denies these feelings and fervently rejects working on his own insecurities, all while you still have the constant vibe that he feels resentful towards you, there could be a chance he's sleeping with other people just to feel better about himself. (Seriously, I cannot tell you how many of my friends have been cheated on by guys who later admitted that they were intimidated by them. It's a thing!)
His friends are misogynistic trash humans.Even if he seems like the sweetest boyfriend ever who treats you with the utmost respect, you have to wonder why his core going-out friend group is comprised of guys who think cheating is ok (college boys who tell boyfriends that they should ignore their girlfriends and let loose because "that's what college is about", I am looking right at you). Like a part of him HAS to somewhat agree with all the blatant sexist remarks to tolerate so much of it from his own squad, right? "If they're part of a culture where it’s ok to just treat women like objects for their own pleasure, and that’s his friend group, I would probably have to say that’s not a good sign," says Whitbourne.
You were the other woman with him at one point.Look, obviously there are ~exceptions~ to this rule (I thoroughly believe Brad never cheated on Angelina)—but it is soooooo ridiculously suspicious if a guy flirts or even hooks up with you repeatedly while still with his girlfriend, no matter how "scared" he is to tell her. For the most part: if he could so easily and guiltlessly do it to her, what on earth makes you think he wouldn't do the same to you?
"The cheating might be a manifestation—it's not so much having low impulse control but more him just not wanting or being ready to commit," says Dr. Whitbourne. "I would not call it a very solid basis for a relationship.” If you're having sex, you should be adult enough to tell someone when you're not in love with them anymore, or don't want a monogamous relationship, or whatever other difficult conversation you need to have. A man who can't is not worth it, ever ever ever.
He doesn't feel guilty enough to admit he cheated.A huge indication of whether you as a couple can overcome cheating "depends on whether it was confessed to or discovered," says Whitbourne. "If [the cheating] is tormenting them, they should be able to say something about it and test the waters with you to see if you can accept it." If they own up to it, you know it was bothering them enough that they wanted to come clean and work through it. If it was discovered, they may not have had plans to stop the cheating any time soon. The kind of guy who will probably cheat again makes no effort at growth other than a short period of being really sweet to you to try and make up for it. Do not fall for it!
He refuses to see a therapist about his cheating."If it was even a quasi-serious relationship, I don't think it'd be much to ask for him to see counseling [after he cheats]," says Dr. Whitbourne. "It's worth looking at seriously and taking the steps to find out what was behind this." Unless his reason is something reasonable like insurance costs, his refusal to seek professional is not very promising. A 2017 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior stated that those who have cheated in a relationship in the past are three times more likely to do it again. If a man is truly earnest about beating those odds, therapy is a good first step.
You just really, really feel that something is off."If you're really distrusting [of him], and you're not normally a distrusting person, then, to me, that would be a good indication that there is reason to be concerned," says Dr. Whitbourne. "If your gut tells you something’s wrong, listen to it." The kinds of cheaters who rampantly sleep with other people under your nose are masters at hiding their tracks, at least until someone catches on and sends you a "hey, so I didn't know he had a girlfriend..." Facebook message. It can be really tricky, especially if everything about the guy seems too good to be true. But if there are details that are just not adding up, or suspicions you have that he playfully dismisses as paranoia, TRUST THAT. You probably already know more than you think.
Follow Julia on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.