Sarah Cline stood in the shower, water streaming down her face, as the voice in her head echoed louder and louder. “Ask him if he has anything to tell you,” the voice said. Pulling a towel around her body, she went into the bedroom, where her partner had just returned from a bachelor party.
“I need to know what you did,” Cline, 33, said, her voice wavering. Since he came clean about cheating a year ago, Cline had forced herself to put the infidelity that plagued their seven-year dating history out of her mind. After all, he had promised that he would never cheat again. But as her partner’s eyes widened, she knew that wasn’t true.
“He had slept with a woman that weekend,” says the Seattle resident, who works as a life coach. “I didn’t want to believe it. But I knew it was true. I just wish I had listened to my gut and hadn’t [stayed with] him when I first learned he was a cheater.”
In the wake of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s divorce announcement earlier this week come reports that Jolie was very jealous of Pitt being around other women, including his “Allied” co-star Marion Cotillard. Jolie’s paranoia is understandable, as it’s alleged that she had an affair with Pitt during the filming of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” in 2004, when he was married to Jennifer Aniston.
And as those who have been involved with an unfaithful partner know: Once a cheater, always a cheater.
“I teach women that how you get him is how you lose him. It’s harsh, but it’s true,” says Monica Parikh, dating expert and founder of School of Love NYC. “To any woman or mistress wishing for a fairy tale with a man who’s a known cheater, I’d say: This is not the man with the solid integrity and character to fulfill that fairy tale.”
Research backs up Parikh’s assessment: According to a 2002 study, more than 75 percent of marriages that began in an affair end in divorce.
Though they never wed, 63-year-old Upper East Sider JJ (who asked to only use initials for privacy reasons) and 65-year-old Boston tax lawyer ML were entwined in a dangerous dance after ML left his wife for JJ, the mistress he’d met at work.
Two years into their relationship, in a replay of his affair with JJ, the serial philanderer got involved with another female colleague.
Suddenly JJ found herself in the same abandoned position as ML’s ex-wife.
“Looking back, I was crazy in love and stupidly thought he would never cheat on me like he had on this poor woman who had multiple sclerosis and two young sons,” says JJ, the CEO of a Manhattan-based beauty firm. “But the lying lowlife couldn’t help himself.”
Nonetheless, the duo are still together after 25 years, although JJ describes their arrangement as a matter of convenience.
“I know he continues to cheat, but I stupidly put up with this horrible treatment,” she says. “I don’t even know why women find him attractive, because he looks like a cross between Woody Allen and Kermit the Frog.”
Unfortunately, infidelity like ML’s is not uncommon. A 2013 survey from the book “The Normal Bar” found that 33 percent of men and 19 percent of women have admitted to being unfaithful at some point in their lives.
So why do people cheat? According to experts, it’s because an affair is forbidden and exciting in a way domesticity may not be.
Plus, in the age of the Internet, affairs are easier than ever. “There are so many easy paths to infidelity these days,” notes Manhattan-based marriage and couples therapist Irina Firstein. “And once an affair happens, even if the offender swears it’s a one-time thing, it can definitely create a lot of uncertainty and mistrust in the partner.”
Abiola Abrams, a Harlem resident in her 40s, agrees. The author of “The Sacred Bombshell Handbook of Self-Love,” Abrams was cheated on by a former partner numerous times before she decided to leave.
“There’s no [woman] so magical and spectacular to make a man honest and trustworthy, but I was so blinded by love I didn’t realize that when I was involved with [a cheater],” says Abrams. “And the distrust doesn’t go away. After being involved with a cheater, you see everyone as a liar, and you have to do a lot of work on yourself to change your worldview.”
That’s what happened to Cline, who went to therapy with her cheating partner before they mutually decided to part ways. She was furious when her ex married just eight months later, while she struggled with a confidence crisis that lasted almost five years.
“I couldn’t trust anyone,” says Cline. “I would go on a date, see two empty wine glasses on the counter, and immediately assume he was seeing someone else on the side.”
Now married, Cline trusts her husband implicitly, but says getting there took a lot of work. “When you’ve been with a cheater, you bring the cheater into all of your relationships until you can make the decision to trust again.”
But cheaters themselves say that change may be possible — though it can be costly, both emotionally and financially. Serial playboy and “The Game” author Neil Strauss says he’s now completely faithful to his wife, Ingrid, but says it took years of therapy to get to that point.
“For any man or woman who finds themselves cheating, I’d say check yourself into a recovery center ASAP,” says Strauss, who chronicled his climb back to fidelity in “The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships.”
Strauss entered rehab for sex addiction in 2011, and a weeklong stint of intensive psychotherapy helped him see that his cheating was rooted in childhood patterns. “A lot of times, cheating has nothing to do with your partner and everything to do with who you are as a person,” he says.
Once Strauss and his wife made the decision to get back together, Strauss gave her all his online passwords, kept his phone unlocked in the house, and promised he would immediately answer any calls or texts from her when he was outside the house. The short leash was essential in regaining trust, and is a system the two still use, even years after treatment.
As for those who are blaming karma for Jolie’s predicament, JJ isn’t convinced that she’s the one to blame for Pitt and Aniston’s demise.
“My partner cheated on me after I cheated with him, but nobody blames me, not even his ex-wife,” she says.
“Like Brad, he’s a sad little person who can’t be alone for a nanosecond. He’s a disgusting pig.”