We have discussed in the past whether or not someone is “once a cheater, always a cheater,” as well as the possibilities that a cheater has some sort of character flaw that was responsible for their infidelity.

This week we want to delve into the notion of whether or not a cheater (or anyone for that matter) can change.

One of our readers writes…

“I have run into conflicting opinions on this subject – some people suggest to me that people cannot change! Some have even suggested that an affair with feelings involved will not ever end until someone initiates a divorce. I, on the other hand, am a forgiving person by nature, a believer in kindness and someone who believes that people can change if they really want to and if they themselves make the decision to do so.”

This leads into our discussion topic for this week.  Here are some questions to ponder…

Can we change the personality traits and/or character flaws that were responsible for a cheater’s infidelity?

Are these traits/flaws so engrained and a part of the person that true change will be impossible?  Why or why not?

Can we really change the person, or just the underlying causes for the problem behavior?

If changes are made, will they only be temporary in nature?

Remember as always to respond to each other in the comments.


Linda & Doug





    27 replies to "Discussion – Can We Really Change Our Partner?"

    • Notoverit

      Wow, I have been struggling with this very issue for the last few days! I have reached an impasse with my H about how he acts, i.e. won’t talk about how he feels, his expectation that I will jump in and, as usual, fix this mess and return to how I used to be. I have drastically changed since D-day because I don’t want to go back to how things were before. He has repeatedly said that I am now acting like I did when we first got married – I have returned to the woman I was before. I don’t think so – I have just decided to be better for me.

      I firmly believe that H’s inability to talk (he NEVER has) about his feelings is the reason he fell prey to the OW. He says he didn’t discuss his feelings with her; that the EA was just an escape from his problems. I can never be sure of that but I have to take his statements as true or I will never heal from this mess. At any rate, he had a lot of issues at the time but he never told me. He sought a diversion to escape his problems. He is opening up more now and I do recognize this as a BIG change for him. However, sometimes he just sits and doesn’t say anything. I ask and he doesn’t answer. He asks sometimes if we are ever going to get better – code for when will we get back to our comfortable life without all this stress. I told him that was his responsibility, not mine. The change in me is that I don’t take the bull by the horns and MAKE this mess go away. I can’t do that. I told him that he has to change and be more open (very hard for him). I can’t change him but he can change himself. The ball is in his court. He has to change and decide that this is what he wants.

      Sooo, to answer your questions, yes I believe my H can change – he is trying to do so. I think it’s the effort that is important because it shows me that he is committed to saving this marriage. Oh, he will fall down on occasion but, thanks to my new knowledge, I will be there to tell him. His inability to communicate his feelings stems from a lot of things that he went through as a child so it will be hard to keep him from retreating to past behaviors. I see the change occurring slowly. He wants to run from it but he knows he has to do it or I will leave. I do not want to go back to the behaviors we practiced before the EA. I don’t think such a change will be temporary because the pain and heartache of the EA is not temporary and it will be there to remind me not to let things go back to what they were. It’s HARD and depressing but we are working for change in order to survive.

    • emotionally confused

      I have been thinking about this a lot as well. A quick background on me, my husband has did a 180 in his personality the last several months. All the signs are there that it is because of an emotional or even physical affair he may be having. I still have no concrete proof. I have a lot of gut feelings, excuses/lies not making much sense, defensiveness to questions, telling me I love you but I may not be in love with you and not caring to spend any time with his children which is something that his world used to revolve around before. After questioning and questioning him if there was someone else, he still will not admit to anything. Yet his answers always lead me to believe there is something more. It came to a point where I asked him to leave our home until he figures out what he wants. The door is open but he has to walk through it and he needs to be not only be honest with me but with himself as well. So to add to this discussion, can people change. Whole heartedly YES! But you and I have no power whatsoever to change them. Not even a drop of power. I have learned nothing I say or do will ever change my husband back to the husband I used to have. Once someone is addicted (someone else can be the drug) to a drug they have to be the one to start, continue and strive through withdrawal, recovery and finally rehabilitation. And with some people, they need to hit rock bottom, and lose everything even for a time until they are willing to lose the drug. You and your spouse/partner also have to remember that addicts also always have the ability of relapse it may be a life long struggle and you have to be in it for the long haul. Some people when they hit another unhappy spot in their relationship/marriage will search for the drug again.

    • Sue85

      Notoverit…..my husband also has huge problems communicating. I have tried to get him to open up about what he is thinking and/or feeling and it is just very difficult for him. What I stuggle with…..do I just accept that this is the way he is and not continue bringing up discussions that he’s not comfortable with….or do I try to get him to talk with me? When I bring up stuff, he gets defensive and pissy and then there’s several days of silence between us…..so I’ve decided it’s easier to NOT promote these type of conversations. Hence, the emotional disconnection in our marriage!!!

      Then….because there’s no emotional connection….there’s little physical connection. Do we get along? Yes. Do we fight? No. We are more like roommates who co-parent our children.

      Do I long for an emotional connection with my husband? Yes. But when I bring up what I need from him, he replies…”it’s all about you isn’t it?” What he means by this is….he views it as me ‘getting my way’ because he does NOT want to discuss his emotions/feelings and I do.

      I ‘get’ that communication is essential to a healthy marriage…yet I am so reluctant to bring up this with him. It’s just easier to stay complacent. Does that make sense??

      • Notoverit

        Sorry it took me a while to respond; been out of pocket today. I battled the complacency issue at first then decided that was what I was doing before I discovered the EA. I AM NOT GOING BACK THERE AGAIN. That was my ultimatum. There is something to be said for complacency – you don’t fight and you don’t have to deal with problems. However, that will just lead to something worse, again. My husband, truly contrite about the EA, has never once said that it was all about me in a condescending way. It is all about helping me to heal and move on so yes he has to talk to me. We have to avoid the problem we had before which was not communicating. We have been in counseling since day one after D-day and the therapist has told him that the only way to regain my trust is to be transparent and to talk about feelings. I guess it becomes your choice as to how you wish to live. I choose not to be complacent – I deserve a happy, well-adjusted marriage. If he chooses not to fix this problem then the onus is on him, not me. If it isn’t fixed I will leave, bottom line. He understands that and is trying. I don’t know if that answers your question, probably not but I will not settle for second best and to be complacent is simply settling. However, I don’t have kids at home any more and, being a lawyer, I will take him to the cleaners (LOL), so I don’t have those worries. I think that at some point you are going to have to explain your needs and if he rejects them, then you have to decide do I want to be saddled with this for the rest of my life. Believe me, I don’t and won’t. It’s very hard.

        I have given him bits and pieces from this blog and from books about the communication issue and I think he is finally understanding it. Maybe you can break it down for your H in manageable chunks that are not threatening to him. Say, Oh, I read an interesting article etc. and then leave it at that. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Just a thought.

        • Doug

          Notoverit, I think you brought up a valid point, part of being transparent is talking about your feelings. I think that most CS believe that if they share their passwords, put their messages on speaker, etc. that they are being transparent. Transparency is also taking the risk to share your fears, hopes, what is really on your mind. I think that is very difficult for many CS’s and a reason why they found the safety of an affair whether than opening up to their spouses. Linda

      • ifeelsodumb

        Sue85….PLEASE get the book Love and Respect by Dr Emerson Eggerichs…this book has helped me to understand my H A LOT!! I recommend this book on here ALL the time! Truly, it will open your eyes to helping YOU understand your H more every day…My marriage isn’t perfect, and we (I) still have a long way to go to recover from my H’s EA…but this book has helped me a lot.

        • Sue85

          Thanks for the book recommendation….I will order it!
          Just a side note, however, on the last time I read a book on improving marriages…..we were laying in bed (I was reading the book) and I said, “What’s the one thing I can do right now to be a better wife to you.” And his reply??? He said, “Stop asking me questions like this.”

          I said, “No really, what is one thing I can do to be a better wife to you?” And again he said, “Stop asking me these type of questions.”

          So…..I dropped it.
          I don’t know why I expected anything different…..

    • InTrouble

      Like all things with individuals, some will get over it and some will be repeat offenders. There are no absolutes.

    • InTrouble

      emotionally confused — Excellent analogy with the drug addiction.

    • InTrouble

      Sue85 —
      Your post sure sound familiar to me, and I’m the CS. Although I love my husband desperately, and I have never really wanted to be with anyone but him, I guess he left me so alone that when temptation knocked it was irresistible.

      In hindsight, I should have left our marriage many, many years ago when I was younger. There are so many years of resentment now, and the emotionally withdrawn, unaffectionate trait in him seems to be very deeply ingrained.

      Good luck to you. Do something I didn’t do – take care of yourself as numero uno. Don’t regret abandoning your own needs.

      • Sue85

        InTrouble…..thanks. It is hard…. and early in our marriage I tried to get him to open up more with his thoughts and feelings (just even asking him about his day)….but you get denied so many times it seems easier to give up.

        And…by the way….I’m the CS too……

    • Roller coaster rider

      I don’t think anyone has the power to change another person. Changing oneself is also no piece of cake, and until there is a lot of very honest self-assessment combined with many other support strategies, I know (as I’m speaking only for myself here) I tend to go back and repeat behaviors that are not in my own best interest. I guess the real question for the CS is “Why did I cheat?” And maybe for the BS, “How much intolerable behavior can I really tolerate?” Then you get to the subject which Doug and Linda have addressed often and well in the past, of trust. Could I, the BS, ever choose to trust a person who has lied, cheated, stolen and disrespected me repeatedly, placing me in harm’s way and virtually broken every promise ever made to love, honor and cherish? I really don’t think so.

    • Broken

      I struggle with this issue as well. I feel like I am in a never ending state of fear….fear that he will return fully to the person he was before his affair. There are little daily hints of the past him and an occasional day when he does come back in full force but for the most part…he is evolving. Can someone really change what they are? Not sure on this one. When I look back at my life with my husband …I cant say with all honesty that he hasn’t had an EA before last year nor can I say he has never cheated on me physically before. He travels alot and I will never know. I suspect he has. I cant see what he does so I dont know if that has changed. From what I can see he has changed. I guess to sustain the change has yet to be determined. I know it has to come from inside him.

      As far me ever trusting him again…I have to agree with Roller Coaster Rider I don’t think that will ever happen completely. There will always be something there. Something missing. I asked my husband this past weekend if he could live with my insecurity because that was never going away. He said he could but at this point it isnt about him anymore. Its what I will live with and I have clearly drawn the line in the sand. Not ever going back to what I use to be.

    • ppl

      of course we can change partners. that is what divorce is about

    • Melvin

      “People don’t change because they see the light. People change because they feel the heat.”

    • Norwegian woman

      I don`t think that you can change another person. You can only change you. A CS has some character flaws that probably lies deep within and are difficult to change. But i do believe that IF YOU REALLY WANT, you can do something about it. But you have to aknowledge that you do have something to work on.
      I personally doubt that my husband is able to change. Yes, he is more attentive, yes he is more loving. But still i feel that it is all on the outside.
      I don`t think I know the truth about his two affairs. I don`t think that theese two are the only one. And I am loosing faith in that he will ever be able to do something about it.
      He hates talking about it. He just want things to go back to normal. HIS normal. This means that the affairs won`t be brought up, that he should automatically be believed when he says that it will never happen again, and he doesn`t have to pay special attention and care for how I feel about things he do.
      I feel like I carry the burden of his actions all alone. He really doesn`t know how to build my trust, because he honestly thinks that the only thing he has to do, is to say that it isn`t going to happen again. HOW WRONG HE IS!
      When he is sending friends request on facebook to a woman he never have had anything to do with, nor has he ever had , after a high school reunion, without even one minute thinking about how I would feel, I really don`t think that he feels that he has to do the job. And after I told him I didn`t like it, he still would not remove her from his list. Then I am SURE that he really doesn`t give a damn on how I feel. He even got mad and told me that I was behaving irrational. After all, he had told me more than once that it would never happen again!
      The trait that made him start this mess, was that he wanted to do what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it, because it felt good, without any consideration for me. I believe that he is capable of doing it all over again. The main thing for him, is to avoid any restrictions and make sure that I don`t know anything if he does it. But it still shines through.

      I told him that it wasn`t fair that I struggle and he has had his good time with other women and on top of that be rewarded with a better marriage. He told me that he also had lost something. My trust. I asked him what he was doing to build that trust again. His answer was being kind. I asked him how. He said that he for example made me breakfast in the mornings.
      Breakfast!!!!!! How the **** does he think that that is rebuilding trust???? For all I know he is just very concious on how to behave so that he will not wake my suspicion!
      I am on the brink of giving up. He really does not know what to do, because his focus still is on himself and his comfort. Not my discomfort.

    • undecided

      Well, my therapist says that people can change, to a point, if they want to. But there is still their intrinsic personality, who they are, and that’s unlikely to change much. The REAL question is – how much of that are you willing to tolerate now? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

    • DJ

      Oh, Norwegian Woman – we seem to be in the same place right now. My husband is exactly like that. He thinks I should trust him because he said was sorry and he does all these nice things for me – like help with cooking and cleaning, taking me on some of his business trips, buying me diamond earrings… these are all very nice ways of showing he loves me, but they do not do anything to build trust.

      I also think that you cannot change another person. You can only change yourself. I don’t think my husband yet understands that he needs to make any changes at all. He has recently told me that he is not sorry anymore because he thinks I am refusing to get over it.

      He also does stupid things that we all know put him in a vulnerable position with other women. He is a little too chummy with women at work. He encourages his sister-in-law to tell him “anything” because she is having problems with his brother. They talk at 1am sometimes when she can go out to her car and be alone to talk to him. He’ll go and talk in his office where I can’t hear him from our bedroom. I have seen emails where she tells him how wonderful he is and how she has come to depend on him. I think he eats it up. He has read many of the same things I have, but he refuses to accept that he could be so weak. He has already proven that he is so weak twice that I know about.

      I believe my husband was truly sorry immediately after D-day. He saw what it did to me and he never wanted to hurt me again. But he didn’t do the work to change himself. If a person really wants to change, I believe it’s possible, but it’s a long, hard road. It takes time, perseverance, and patience. Just like quitting smoking or losing weight… it’s a battle to change attitudes and feelings and behaviors, and fears, too. Most people put the weight back on even if they do manage to lose it. I think most people will succomb to old habits again unless they do some painful work in changing the hidden attiitudes and fears that drive them to do bad things. There are those few who do, but there are many more who don’t.

      I am also on the brink of giving up. My children have given him an ultimatum – go to couple’s counseling or lose their respect entirely. So we are starting today. This will be our second attempt. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    • changedforever

      Wow, DJ, your situation reads as mine. “..the battle to change attitudes, feelings, behaviors & fears…” I really won’t know if its been a losing battle until the next trauma strikes. Will he run again (seeking a friend to console him vs. sharing his feelings with me?) We’ll just have to see. There are so many selfish, vulture-like beings out there, posing as ‘friends.’ And as far as ‘can people change?’ is concerned…I am a prime example. I (& my life) changed the day I discovered my H’s full blown affair…then again and again upon subsequently discovering his prior EAs…(while he was riding down the slippery slope) and I can never go back to who I ‘was,’ not that I ever had a choice…

    • Truly Sorry

      I have to say that people can absolutely change! I met my wife back in high school in ‘86. We were constantly together through crazy teenage hormonal years and also thru very tough sole & life searching college years. We went to school an hour apart but it might as well have been opposite coasts. We got engaged in college and got married a year after graduation. We have traveled together domestically and to Europe and have two of the best kids any parent could ever ask for. What is my point here you ask? I chose to change myself back in high school to see her more frequently. I chose to ignore my friends so I could see her again. I chose to change myself in college to skip classes and miss crucial assignments to spend extended weekends with her. We chose to change our easy lifestyle of newlyweds without children to one of sleepless nights and parenting pressures. We did that one twice. However, I also chose at some point to take my wife out of the relationship we were building. Call it a midlife crisis, call it whatever you want, I chose something else outside the path we were walking together. We have spent the best and worst years of our lives together. We have changed who we are for the other person. I think the problem arises when we change ourselves for ourselves. When we become lost in direction. Melvin comments “People don’t change because they see the light. People change because they feel the heat.” I think people change on the outside in response to the heat. When they change inside it’s because they themselves want to change. It has been a year post D-Day and not a day goes by where I don’t ask myself “What was I possible thinking?” “Why on earth did I choose to hurt my wife of 18yrs?” “What am I going to do about it?” The first thing all cheaters do is say they’re “Sorry…..so very sorry.” Well that’s not change. That’s trying to gloss things over while you still think you have a chance to sweep it all under the rug somewhere. Transparent communication isn’t change either. Transparent communication is allowing your hurt spouse to find answers you’re too chicken-shit to tell her yourself. My wife has my cell info, my gmail & hotmail info and that didn’t change me. I think it only pushes cheaters away and closes them down. That’s what happened to me. Change comes at that moment when you have nothing in this world to live for. Change comes when you really believe that you are worthless to everyone who has meaning to you. Change comes when you are fed up with who YOU are & what you’ve become. I have changed. I don’t know who that person I saw in the mirror years ago is. I can’t believe I let that person be the me I wanted people to see. I think my wife is telling the truth when she says she believes I’ve changed. However, she also says she believed I was the person I had created that needed an EA in the first place. She believed that was the real me and that she didn’t know why “…my life was so miserable that I need to have an EA to fix things” Change comes when you make the effort yourself. That effort is no small task. It comes with many sacrifices to the cheaters security and comfort. However my wife is the person I want to see every morning when I wake up for the rest of my life. I’m still working on that. I’m failing more than I’m succeeding most days and triggers are everywhere. But I took the first step when I changed myself. I only hope there’s still a chance to heal our marriage.

      • Doug

        Truly Sorry, thank you for sharing that with us. Honestly I am too emotional to say anything more because it really touched my heart. Comments like yours confirms the importance of this website and how helpful it is to everyone recovering from an affair. Thanks, Linda

      • don't know

        My WH told me he has a one way EA recently, he doesn’t know why & how it’s happen, he searched a lot, include this web, but he think he is different with anyone, he has true feeling, from heart, he care about her life, that is pure feeling, “even the whole world think I’m crazy”. He is confuse about if he should stay with me, because in his eye, I’m the worst wife now, he doesn’t have any feeling with me. he is totally changed, after 20 years, suddenly, I never know this person before.

        I told him, I’ll do anything for my family, try my best, but I’ll respect his decision. Actually, I’m hesitate too, I don’t know even he stay here, how much effort he can, & if there is problem in future, what will happen, another affair? I told him my concern, give him some time to think, I hope he can find what’s the real person in himself, looks like it’s not what he want to do, he think he is very responsible, noble, soft-heart, fidelity …

        I really hope someone from WS could tell me, is there any possible someday: do they EVER, REALLY feel sorry from their heart for what they did to their spouse? do they EVER, REALLY want & can forget their affair, & live with their spouse like before? do they EVER, REALLY want to change to be a responsible, honest & open spouse, or they still very self-centered?

        It’s very important for me, I hope I could predict the future. The heart is already broken, & he didn’t show any willingness to help recover, so if it’s hopeless, why I’m here dancing with him?

    • you never know

      Well, at the risk of being judged by people who don’t know me – I am the cheating spouse. I have been involved with someone intimately for almost a year. Do I have a character flaw? Not anymore of a character flaw than my husband of 30 years who is and always has been a work-a-holic. I have worked on my marriage and myself for years, trying to figure out why I felt so alone in my marriage, even forcing him to go to counceling, which he stopped going to after a few sessions, saying it was a waste of time. After years of being focused on how to improve my marriage, I fianally decided to change my perspective – and focus on the positives of my marriage. Then I discovered my husband had been emotionally involved with his female business partner for about 10 years. When he told me he “cares about what she thinks and how she feels” I felt devastated – because I needed to feel like he cared about my thoughts and feelings.
      I know what you who are reading this will say – “why don’t you leave?” Good question, not easy to answer.

    • JoAnn

      I am not sure what I think right now,,, my husband divorced his second wife after 12 years and then married me. It has now been 11 years that we’ve been together and I caught him in an EA with an “old friend” that he had never mentioned ever.. of course he still says they were “just friends”. He won’t own up to any wrong doing, even though he hid everything from me till I got a gut feeling and checked phone records. So of course I feel he’s bored and ready to move on again.

    • Anita

      I come from a large family of 4 brothers and 2 sisters, my sister who is 2 years younger, never married believes you can change another person. I on the other hand, believe that people can change but it seems when they do change it was caused by something that was painful to them. My other siblings believe is could be somewhere in between.

    • Elizabeth

      I dont want to change my partner,why should i.I want him to get up every morning and look in the mirror and cringes,i want him to get that horrid feeling when he is telling our very young children to be good,dont lie ect,i want him to feel hollow and empty when he makes the same journey into work and gets on the same train where he met the op,i want him to feel everything.Its not Just the triggers on my side,but the triggers on his, to make him aware,understand that his path was his decision,the saying goes you learn by your mistakes,everyone needs to have a second chance.He knows this and if he cannot understand it still it will be his loss not mine.

    • MadMD

      I don’t believe “we” can change our partner’s one bit. No amount of anger, nagging, payback, etc. will change them. ONLY GOD can change a heart. Our actions of honesty and sharing just how hurt we are can certainly let then know how we feel, but ultimately, they don’t change without the will to change and the grace of God.

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