Deep breath, because this one’s a doozy: A new study reveals that infidelity may be hereditary. After surveying a group of young adults, researchers found that “individuals who had a parent cheat are twice as likely to have cheated compared to their peers whose parents have not cheated.”
We spoke to Dr. Dana Weiser, the study’s leader, about why having an unfaithful parent can lead us (or our partners) to betrayal—and what we can do to break the cycle.
If your partner’s parent(s) cheated, does that mean he will too?
The news may seem grim at first glance: “Across multiple studies, I have found a strong correlation between parental infidelity and one’s own infidelity history,” Weiser said. “So in general, yes, parent infidelity history is associated with a greater likelihood that their child has cheated at least once in their own relationships.”
But take heart: “This data does not necessarily mean your partner is more likely to cheat on you,” she said. “Relationship satisfaction, commitment, impulse control, and personality all play a role in explaining whether someone will cheat.”
Why exactly are people twice as likely to be unfaithful if their parent(s) cheated?
It’s not just the betrayal—it’s how mom and dad spin it. “Parent communication about infidelity is key,” Weiser explained. “Parents may try to justify their behavior or paint infidelity as more acceptable, which then impacts their child’s beliefs and behaviors. Parents teach their children about what is acceptable and rewarding in romantic relationships and parents’ behaviors may have some unintended consequences for their children’s own romantic relationships.”
In other words, our parents make up the rules of romance, and we end up internalizing and playing by them as adults.
What if your parent(s) cheated? Are you doomed to repeat history?
The same rule applies to you as your partner: Regardless of if your parents broke their vows, you need not let your past define you. But it helps to be aware of how they may have been influenced.
“Parent infidelity history is just one predictor of infidelity,” emphasized Weiser. “There are a lot of individuals whose parents cheated but who are extremely diligent in their relationships.”
The best way to address any urge to cheat is to work on yourself: Attend a relationship skills course or see a therapist to help you hone your communication skills and clarify your expectations of your partner.
“A solid, satisfying relationship is less likely to be riddled with infidelity,” Weiser said. And it doesn’t always take that much to keep yours going strong.
What should you do if your partner’s parent(s) cheated?
Talk it out, then let it go. Once you’ve (gently) addressed his potentially painful past, the next step is communicating openly about what is and is not acceptable behavior in your relationship. (For example, do you consider emotional cheating as a form of infidelity?) That discussion makes the boundaries clearer—so there’s no confusion about whether someone has crossed them. But once you’ve laid your cards on the table, you have to trust your partner (unless you have a valid reason not to).
“Individuals who are controlling and constantly doubt their partners can also set up negative relationship patterns which can increase the likelihood that somebody will cheat,” Weiser said.