Children of parents who cheated are more likely to cheat

May 27, 2015 at 1:35 p.m. ET
Image: Mike Kemp/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Bad news for those of us who are the children of cheaters: Our own marriages may be doomed. Or if not doomed, at least more likely to have infidelity. We can't win.

In a study of college students, researchers from The Science of Relationships found that cheating tends to run in families. They found that the children of parents who cheat then turn around and cheat in their own relationships. It's easy to see how that works.

More: The real reason 'happy' married people cheat is so surprising

The study looked at 300 college students. They were asked whether or not they had ever cheated on a romantic partner (30 percent had) as well as whether their mom or dad had ever cheated on their other parent (33 percent said yes).

Students who had cheated on a partner were twice as likely to have had a parent who cheated compared to those students who had not cheated on a partner (44 percent vs. 22 percent).


I have seen both in my own life. I have seen friends whose parents cheated who think cheating is the worst thing in the world. And then I have seen friends think the opposite. It all seems to depend on what happened in the marriage. Children of divorce caused by infidelity aren't usually in any hurry to repeat those mistakes. But it makes sense how history might repeat itself. It's all about the values we are raised with.

I will never forget my own father telling me that "monogamy is not natural." He and my mother were married for decades when she died and whether or not they cheated is not something we discuss openly. But I was aware of my father's attitudes and I brought that to my own relationships. Until I was married, I never had a relationship I didn't cheat on. It seems totally normal to me.

I would never cheat on my marriage. But I am not opposed to other ideas. We have an honest relationship with a lot of open discussion. If it came up, I'd hope we'd be mature and secure enough to discuss it.

More: 5 Fears that can kill a relationship

Cheating is only cheating when it involves lies and deception, after all.