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Can a narcissist or serial cheater change?

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Thingsfellapart posted 5/24/2013 21:04 PM

I have been with my husband for almost 10 years and married for 5 of those. Three years ago, I discovered a secret email account and he had been making fake profiles up (using fake pictures) to meet people for one night stands via online dating sites. He had also been using Craigslist for this, too. I kicked him out but we had literally just moved across the country and a very close family member to me died at the same time I found out about the cheating (with at least 7 people - women and men), so I was alone and fearful and devastated so I took him back. We tried counseling but couldn't find a counselor we liked. We are still together. And I thought things were good. It has always been very roller coaster like for us - good times are great and bad times are hell but we have been working on us for the last 3 years. Or I was.

The thing is, we we started this relationship, I made it very clear to him, because of my past relationships, that this has to be a monogamous relationship. Well, I had my suspicions over the years but when I asked about it, he would say I was crazy. I even found an email once to a friend of his that said he couldn't go hang out with her because he was going camping - which was a lie because he was going home with me to meet my family for the first time.

Anyway, I thought that because I had been burned in the past, I was being too paranoid. But when I found out about the cheating and had evidence, he couldn't deny it. I still took him back because I was in a terrible situation in my life having moved and lost a loved one.

Fast forward to 3 years later. I had my suspicions again and this time I set up a fake online profile and was able to catch him in the act. He has admitted to 2 more one night stands in the course of the past 3 years. He says he doesn't know why he does it. He says he loves me. He says he needs help.

We have started marriage counseling together because I hate to throw it away without trying. He has moved out too. I really do believe that there is something mentally wrong with him. Of course, I have also realized that there is something wrong with me. I know I have trust issues but I also have low self esteem. And his constant "you're crazy to think I would cheat" has really driven me crazy; I was doubting myself and my gut. And I knew I was right.

I found out 3 weeks ago. And I am sitting in a hotel at a beach alone on a vacation we planned months ago for just the 2 of us.

I don't know if he is deserving of a 3rd chance. I don't know if he is capable of change. I don't know if his words are just more empty air and manipulation. He promised before he wouldn't hurt me and yet he did.

I think for him, he enjoys the thrill of the chase and the sex. I feel like he wants the best of both worlds - our very comfortable and "normal" life and his cheap thrills.

He is very charming and uses his words very eloquently. I contacted one of his recent one night stands and even though they only had sex once, they talked online for months. She told me that she still hopes she can meet someone as good looking and charming as him and that if we don't work it out, to tell him to find her!!!! Amazing!!!!!!

I fear being alone. I fear him cheating again. I don't know if he can change. We have no children (thank heavens). I am, in my work life, smart and very successful. I have a great family (one reason why I think he stays with me is this - his childhood was awful and his family bonds are nonexistent). I have great friends. I love my job and am so happy with things outside of this marriage. I have stopped blaming myself (no more "it's because I'm 30 pounds overweight or didn't love him enough or didn't keep it spicy enough). I would just like to hear from others to see if a person like this can really change or if I should cut my losses and face my fear of loneliness.

TheAgonyOfIt posted 5/24/2013 22:19 PM

hi Thingsfellapart,

so so sorry for your new discovery. I am in a similar situation and I too wonder if a cheater can change. I think they can, but I also liken cheating, as many do, to an addiction. So can the alcoholic stop drinking? Can the drug addict stop using? Can the cheater stop cheating?

All these addictive behaviors come from a place of woundedness within the WS. If they are able to work very, very, very hard to heal this wounded place with therapy and introspection, then yes, of course they can change. Likelihood of change? Not sure what the stats are but I'm pretty sure it's a huge gamble.

I too don't know if my WS is capable of a third chance. I have a feeling he is NOT deserving. But I'm a huge softie and I'm sooooo understanding (yes I'm ACOA). His betrayals also involve financial betrayal (spending joint monies in very irresponsible ways without consulting/asking me), and I am starting to think his betrayal is actually more that him trying in his own way to fill up the hole(s) in his soul, but that he might have a characterological (sp) issue in terms of just being a bit of a snake, a bit of a criminally minded, lying, how can i get away with this, type of person.

No matter, it's very complicated and it is a great risk. We just started MC Thursday and despite it only being a 1 hour first session, it was illuminating. The MC seems really great and I've been in and out of therapy all my adult life (my mother was a guidance counselor so when i had life challenges of any major sort, I would sort of just naturally seek therapy.) This MC is older and obviously very, very experienced, wise and likely gifted. And I was wondering what her initial thoughts were; that he's a snake and i'm codependent and need to get away because i'm toooooo loyal, toooooo forgiving, etc, or that he's wounded and needs to heal his wounds so that we can reconnect and move forward together.

Personally I don't think my WS is capable of change because I don't think he think he did anything wrong, except get caught. But I'm still here and in MC because I want to learn, i want to grow and I want something positive to come out of this, if only to see and heal in some way (?) my own codependency so that i have a better change of not finding another addict in my next relationship (after I face great loneliness, yes i too fear that).

No matter whether you decide to try to work things out with him or not, you yourself should definitely find a counselor who will help you fix your own wounds. Why are you with this man? We often find other people with similar wounding to ours, and then when things go wrong, we often dump them, only to find a similarly wounded person who hurts us and the cycle continues. Focus on fixing and caring for you, and he should focus on fixing him.

You don't need to have the answer today. I am full of anxiety day to day because I am tormented by diametrically opposed emotions and thoughts about how I should proceed. I am trying, trying, trying to live in the moment: i am okay. I am safe. I have food. I have money to live. I have shelter. I am okay. I am safe. All this to try to keep my anxiety in check and to control my thoughts which are a bit tortuous in their confusion.

I think my WS is like you think of your WS; wants me, wants the wife secure and safe at home, and the thrills. Period.

Remember, you don't have to make a decision right away. You have a great job, lots of friends, a full life. You are and will be okay. And you can decide in the near future if you want to take a gamble with this man, if he's worth it. I'm sure he loves you, and how exactly does he define love? and is his type of love enough for you?

All my very best wishes.

[This message edited by TheAgonyOfIt at 10:22 PM, May 24th (Friday)]

Pass posted 5/24/2013 22:38 PM

Things, if fear of loneliness is the only thing keeping you together, it's time to kick him to the curb. Yes, loneliness is horrible, but it doesn't eat at your soul like an unhappy marriage where you are being played for a sucker.

I have been quite lonely since leaving my wife, but have found the good moments to be very good. This is very empowering.

You say you have good family and friends. They will all rise to the occasion, and help you get through this. Accept their help.

Safeguard posted 5/24/2013 23:02 PM

Can a narcissist or serial cheater change?


People change, but not that much.

alphakitte posted 5/24/2013 23:23 PM

Yes, if they choose to and if the do the heavy lifting for themselves.

Ladyogilvy posted 5/24/2013 23:55 PM

I have no doubt in my mind that my WH was a full blown sociopath. A combination of terrible childhood, alcoholism and high IQ resulted in a very charming guy who could get anything he wanted, when he wanted it through lying, cheating and stealing... With no consequences.

I don't know the extent of WH's infidelity and never will. He only got caught once. I have no idea how long or even with who. He will never tell the truth about it. The best I can hope for is the truth from now on. He still slips because he does things he knows will make me mad and doesn't want to get caught. He knows lying is a problem for him... Mostly because I go bat shit crazy when I catch him in a lie. The lies are not getting him what he wants anymore and he knows it. He knows he nearly lost his family and will probably be on probation for life.

He did quit drinking and that had a huge effect on his ability to try to make things better. Before that it was hopeless. He has changed. He is a different person. It's a major improvement from the full blown sociopath he was two years ago. But, I would not recommend sticking it out to anyone in this situation. It's been hell, I am not the same person I was before, I don't like myself as much, I have a lot of anxiety, I am battling depression, my children have been dragged through hell with me... Even if WH became the perfect husband, would this have been worth it?

The damage is done. I am broken. There is no way to repair it now. Leaving wouldn't fix it. And, there is no guarantee WH will be a good husband, let alone a perfect husband, or that he won't back slide as soon as I start to get comfortable. So, I agree with most people, the answer is change is possible but not likely, especially without the ritual dragging through the 9 circles of hell from which you will not emerge unscathed. But you know, you've already experienced it for yourself. And I agree that in most cases it would be best to leave far sooner than we obviously have. But we haven't have we? So, now what?

I keep hoping WH will continue to make progress. As much as I complain that he has continued to hide the truth from me and he dragged me through hell in the year after I discovered his A... I mean total abusive psycho hell that I only put up with because I was promised he would be a different person after a year of sobriety. It took him a year just to get sober. The year since has been one of baby steps towards becoming a better husband. Our MC is making a fortune to retire on, which he'll need to do after dealing with us. I have not made things easy. I have kicked and screamed the whole time.

I don't like being a person who kicks and screams but you know what, I swear, WH would not have changed if I had accepted his behavior without kicking and screaming the whole way. If I wasn't the hyper vigilant PTSDed wife I am now, we'd either be divorced or WH would have just gone on business as usual. The reality is he does not want to lose me. The reality is he doesn't have much room for making mistakes now. He knows it. I keep telling him, it would be easier for him to just move on than to deal with the mess he's made here. I think I keep myself prepared for anything.

I try to enjoy the good stuff but I remain hyper vigilant and ready for fight or flight at any second. Not a healthy way of life. I do not recommend it to anyone. So... My answer is, yes they can change but so will you. Is it worth it? I don't know. Will it ever be worth it? I don't know.

I do know that at some point, I will have to move on with my life with him or without him. But, even when that happens, I will never be the same person I once was. I guess I will just have to become someone better.

[This message edited by Ladyogilvy at 11:56 PM, May 24th (Friday)]

trying_2_recover posted 5/24/2013 23:57 PM

If he is truly a narcissist then NO he can't change ever.

Chrysalis123 posted 5/24/2013 23:59 PM

I think a person that has demonstrated behavior like you husband's behavior is VERY unlikely to change.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Safeguard posted 5/25/2013 00:34 AM


There will be those, that will tell you *yes*, they can change. Ask them if they would bet their life on it, because that's exactly what you would have to do .

[This message edited by Safeguard at 12:37 AM, May 25th (Saturday)]

Housefulloflove posted 5/25/2013 01:43 AM

It's possible....but so is winning the lottery. Chances are beyond likely that neither one is going to happen.

I'm obviously no expert (just dealing with the heartbreaking actions of STBX who seems likely to be a narc) but everything written by experts seem to emphasize that you should NEVER expect change from them. You would basically be expecting a person to change their personality at will. A personality that they think is perfect! Then asking them to do things that they have spent most of their lives avoiding at all costs (acknowledging and dealing with their issues, accepting that they are not just imperfect but DEEPLY flawed, and allowing themselves to truly feel emotions and open themselves up to intense pain).

I guess that would be like asking a normal person to literally walk through fire for you. Narcs are usually tragically hopeless.

(((Thingsfellapart))) Loneliness is a scary thing to face but life with someone who will continue to cheat and hurt you has to be much worse (and still lonely).

avicarswife posted 5/25/2013 02:13 AM

Honey welcome to SI - I am so sorry for what you are going through.

Narcissism - I am not sure if I believe my husband is a narcissist but much of his behaviour during his affair became so selfish, unempathetic, manipulative and self-absorbed that my counsellor discussed this possibility at length.

Prior to WHs affairs,whilst he always had a tendency to be more self-absorbed than many others his behaviour wasn't typical of narcissist.

Sometimes I think the narcissistic behaviour we see is the result of their behaviour not the cause. I also think for the rest of us the way they behaved it feels like that is about the only explanation that makes sense. I don't think the majority of cheating spouses are but there are some who absolutely are.

Has your WH been assessed for NPD?

Reading your sad story - and I am so sorry that you have had to go through such heartache - made me wonder if he is a sex addict.

There are specialised CSAT and counsellors who could assess him for this. It might be worth exploring this. If he is, it is going to a long road ahead.

SI is a great place for support - in the box to the top left is the healing library. That has so many resources please check it out.

Also you have had a full STD screen done haven't you?

You need to be looking after you - are you getting counselling too? I am so glad you realise this is not because of you or anything you did or didn't do - the cheating and deception is on him.

Lots of hugs and keep posting.

[This message edited by avicarswife at 2:17 AM, May 25th (Saturday)]

standinghere posted 5/25/2013 02:20 AM

Can they change - YES

Can you change them - NO

his childhood was awful and his family bonds are nonexistent

He is repeating patterns of behavior learned as he developed. He can change, but to do that he must recognize them, accept that there is a need to change, want to change for his own self, and then work very hard, for years and years, continually being vigilant about dropping back into the same patterns.

It is about learning to live in a different manner, the cheating is just the tip of the iceberg of what he must change.

My wife came from a family where everyone cheated, everyone lied, everyone drank and used drugs, she is living proof that people can change.


She was working on it for years before I met her
Despite this she has put us through hell more than once - once was with the cheating
She is an alcoholic - in recovery for 3 years - closet drinker
She was a drug user - Marijuana most recently but growing up it was everything but IV drugs - used MJ secretly during our marriage and quit around 4-5 years ago before she was ever discovered
She was a liar - lied about all sorts of things to avoid exposure of what had happened in her life and even told me a false story about her life growing up and in the adult years before meeting me - didn't confess to this till after nearly a year of marital counseling. She had to spill her guts about a lot of things
She was trying to figure out how to live life as an adult, as a spouse, and as a parent, when the only examples she had were two extremes (religious nutcases and alcoholic nutcases...and I do mean nutcases in the kindest manner but it went beyond the norms on both sides) in her family of origin
She has a fear of being minimized, marginalized, and being unimportant
She has to constantly work to avoid slipping back into old patterns - it is exhausting effort for her and I have had to have the patience of a saint because if I get even the slightest bit angry or irritable (over anything) it can precipitate the fear response (she was abused as a young teen and some shit just never goes away)

So, can he give up lying, hiding, cheating, selfishness, secrets, and live an honest and open life with the person who loves him?

Only he can answer that, and the answer is in living the life, not in the words.

More likely than not, he will need YEARS of personal counseling and he's got to effectively begin that before you can begin to have any kind of effective marital counseling (been there and done that).

It is not for the faint of heart...on either end.

Laura28 posted 5/25/2013 06:08 AM

Hi honey

My FWH was a serial cheater. At it for at least 16 years, maybe 24, maybe much more. I will never know.

Has he changed? I believe so. If he's still at it, he is a genius, or his OWs are getting 5 minute quickies in the broom cupboard at work.

Life in Laura's house with FWH is mostly OK. Far from great but mostly OK.

A dear SI friend once had this as her tag line "I stay because it suits me and I like him well enough". I will never forget reading that and now think that is probably where I am now.

So I stay because it suits me. One day I may feel good. I don't know. Maybe I may decide to leave. I don't know. I just try to take it a day at a time. I DO know that if he does it again and I catch him he won't see me for the dust!!!

Unlike your H, my FWH was into multiple LTAs. So I am not sure if my thoughts will help.

I identify very much with Ladyogilvy's thoughts except that my FWH was neither intelligent nor an alcoholic.

My 3rd anniversary of dday is at the end of this month. At present I don't regret staying. I have nowhere better to be.

I fear being alone. I fear him cheating again. I don't know if he can change.

I felt the first two for a long time after dday. As for the third, I am ready to leave if he does it again.

One strategy I used was to develop a plan for my future. I planned to move half way across the world (to a village in the south of France) and live for at least a year. I imagined all sorts of fun activities and even a few romantic Frenchmen! I still think fondly of my "dream" life. It keeps me sane. I know what I will do if another dday comes. I will NOT accept infidelity again.

I am, in my work life, smart and very successful. I have a great family .......I have great friends. I love my job and am so happy with things outside of this marriage. I have stopped blaming myself

I could have written this. I truly believe that we have the option to leave any time because of this. This is empowering. Keep it in mind. We CAN be happy without our FWH's.

So while you are still feeling a little lost, reassure yourself that it is YOUR choice to return to him. You then can choose to stay. If you wake up one day and decide to leave you can. With no regrets. His infidelity has given you a free pass. YOU can do whatever you like.

ETA My dday was two days after my mother's funeral so I understand your decision to stay. I was almost catatonic with grief from her death and the discovery of his As. I stayed because I wasn't really capable of doing anything.

But now I am. I can do whatever I want to. I can leave tomorrow if I want to. Knowing that makes it easier to stay.

I know I have rambled a bit but hope this helps.



[This message edited by Laura28 at 6:21 AM, May 25th (Saturday)]

Dawn58 posted 5/25/2013 09:32 AM

I had the hope that the pig would have the desire to change, to work on the marriage and honor the vows we made. I am his third wife, he cheated twice on wife number two (knew he cheated once on her, his Mother told me about the second time when I called her on Dday to tell her I had uncover text messages he sent to the skank).

He has never shown any remorse, has only blamed me for the marriage falling apart and for turning my son against him....

He continues to lie-lied on a loan application, tells lies to other people to save his reputation, has told people that I am writing letters to all the charities in town bad mouthing him and painting himself out to be the wronged spouse here.

He is not going to change.....

I NEVER will go through this pain again, this deceit again, so whatever changes I need to make, I will make.

exhausted lady posted 5/25/2013 13:53 PM

I know I have trust issues but I also have low self esteem

^^^ This comes from living with an asshole that has cheated on you and lied to you. I think maybe your issues have been caused by his issues, ya know?

Please do some serious research and reading on NPD. THEN sit down, think about what you want for your future, and make a decision. But first, give yourself time to catch your breath and just "be".

As to a NPD being able to change, I vote NO. It's a personality disorder and it's hardwired in their brains. I lived through that particular hell, and I will never, ever go there again.

This isn't his (or your) first rodeo. Only you know when enough is enough....and please don't let fear and low self esteem take that choice away from you.

Honestly, I was a mess when I finally kicked my NPD ex to the curb. It took a few months of NC with him for the anxiety to subside and it was hell. Anti-anxiety meds helped a lot. This forum helped a lot. My friends and family helped a lot.

Now I simply cannot imagine why I even missed him. My life is soooo much better! Life is crazy and very stressful right now, but it would be 10 times worse if he was here demanding my total attention every freaking minute. I was "punished" if he wasn't the center of attention at all times. He punished by cheating, being a passive/aggressive ass, pouting, raging, "accidentally" breaking things that belonged to me, making snarky remarks that he said were jokes when I called him out on them, the list goes on and on and on. I'm fairly sure you know exactly what I mean.

After you have some time to absorb the latest blow, sit down with a piece of paper. Make two columns on column is to list the positive things this man brings to your life. The other column is for the negative things. Be brutally honest with yourself about what he's bringing to the marriage.

I think that paper will tell you what you need to do - for you. He no longer need to put yourself first here.

Thingsfellapart posted 5/25/2013 15:47 PM

Thank you all so much from the bottom of my (broken) heart. I want to reread all of your posts and digest them and then I'll comment more. Thanks for the support. I need it.

CallMeRed1 posted 5/26/2013 04:58 AM

Hi Thingsfellapart

I feel for you. You may want to have a look at the I Can Relate forums and look in the Sex Addict and NPD threads. They helped me a lot.

My EX WH had profiles on all sorts of websites, fake emails, spare SIM for his mobile, everything. He only told me he had cheated when I got ill so I urge you to get tested for STIs especially as some have no symptoms and can affect your fertility.

I was married almost 10 years but we had 3 children which I put first and foremost when I was making my decisions.

You have no children, and this is not the first time. He has "no idea why he does this" despite loving you. He is cheating with multiple partners, (is he using condoms? I would bet not).

He is putting you at risk physically and emotionally.

When my husband admitted he had cheated, he suggested to me that we stay together and get our sex elsewhere. This is pretty much what your husband is doing but without your agreement.

I hope I am not being too negative here, you may feel you want to fight for this etc, but if not I would say think of yourself, while you still don't have children, and really consider if this situation is worth fighting for.

To start with I was going to fight. And then I saw a counsellor and she told my my EXWH was abusive and I should consider leaving. A *counsellor* said that. Maybe you should get some individual counselling, it could help you to make a decision with some unbiased help.

Thinking of you.

Thingsfellapart posted 5/26/2013 08:07 AM

He has not been accessed for NPD yet. We just started counseling together and will start individual counseling with different therapists in a few weeks. He is definitely a serial cheater. He usually has "one night stands" with people he met online in various ways but had developed fake emotional affairs with bc he was using a totally different identity. He enjoyed being someone else.

He quit drinking before I met him and I've never seen him drink one drink of alcohol or do any drugs or even smoke a cigarette. His dad was an alcoholic and his mom gambled. The childhood was awful (in my opinion but I had a great childhood). His siblings all have their own issues with relationships or money or something else.

BUT, he still knows right from wrong regardless of his awful childhood or past addictions. I think he needed an outlet or an addiction and since he had quit other things, he turned to serial cheating. I think it is also a way to "get back" at me for being more successful and happier.

I truly believe he wants to change but I don't think that he can. I need to get my life in order and learn to stand on my own two feet and figure out how to move on with MY life. This isn't the end of the world, I know that, but it sure feels like it.

LadyQ posted 5/26/2013 08:22 AM

I think it largely depends on the root cause of the cheating. If it's merely faulty coping mechanism, then they can learn "new tricks". But if there is a personality disorder, then the underlying cause may not be changeable.

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