Elisabeth Shaw on how to spot a cheater in the first three dates
It can be hard to tell if your new beau is legit in those early days. Psychologist and relationship expert Elisabeth Shaw shares the red flags for infidelity to look out for.
The dating scene can be a minefield of potential for hurt and disappointment. Most of us look for someone who wants the same as we do—a trustworthy and committed partner who will be loving, honest and will stay with us through thick and thin. Not too much to ask, is it?
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. While it can be difficult to predict who is most at risk, there are some things to look out for, even in the first initial dates. These red flags will be visible if we can tone down your rose-coloured glasses enough to see and hear the other person for who they are, rather than for who we hope them to be.
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Start with a strong 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 and make you too anxious and vulnerable to hurt? What can you do to strengthen yourself and know you will cope if the person turns out to be less than trustworthy?
Trust your gut
A simple path is to 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. Remember those times you didn’t trust yourself in a situation that did not turn out well and you realised later that all the indicators were there from the start?
This is tricky territory because there will be times when we judge someone poorly at first and later find they are delightful. Best to be alert for red flags, but not so hyper-vigilant that genuine possibilities are flattened.
The classic “cheater” stereotype
Some personality characteristics might indicate that someone is likely to cheat, and these are what we like to call “narcissistic tendencies”. The individual may be charming, have a big ego, feel they are entitled to the good things in life and don’t have to play by the rules, and don’t seem to feel guilt or remorse.
They will talk about themselves a lot but may also be good at getting you to talk. They maybe 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 and, when this stage is over, they move on hungry for the next passionate episode with someone else.
Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words
The first few dates is a time to listen, watch and learn. We want to trust others but best 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 will 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?
Cheating histories of self, parents and friends
Some studies show that if someone has cheated in a prior relationship they may do it again in future relationships. 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—they may have been ready to end a relationship and/ or they lived to regret their actions.
The truth about infidelity
While we like to believe in the classic cheater stereotype, couples therapists know that infidelity is often a more complex and multifactorial 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 Perel, while affairs are an act of betrayal, they can also be an expression of longing, loneliness and loss. Although not an excuse, sometimes, cheating may be to do with what one partner is missing in the relationship.
“Us and them”
It is tempting to think in terms of cheaters and cheated. While this is often a truthful scenario, 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 are not in good shape to front the perils of the dating scene as a result of past hurts or current fears, you may find that some professional help will 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.
Elisabeth Shaw is a registered psychologist and is the CEO of Relationships Australia NSW, which is is a non-profit organisation that provides professional counselling support to individuals, couples and families. For more information head here, or call 1300 364277.