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Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater

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If your husband cheats -- even once -- should you take him back? And if he cheats -- like Jesse James did to Sandra Bullock -- over and over, with the trashiest women possible, heedless of both decency and disease, could you take him back?

With reports of divorce lawyers and moving vans circulating, the answer appears to be leaning toward "No," for Bullock. And while that can only be a heartbreaking decision for a woman who so clearly was deeply and genuinely in love with her husband, it's also the wise decision.

It may be true that James is now desperate to hold on to his marriage -- and that he is entering rehab for sex addiction. He may be really, really sorry -- and no doubt he is (at least sorry he got caught). But even were Sandra to forgive and reconcile with him, the marriage would never be the same -- in large part because Jesse was never the man his wife thought or hoped he was.

Rule #40 in Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider's Rules for Marriage put it squarely:

"[O]nce a cheater, always a cheater. We are not telling you that you must divorce your husband for one sexual infidelity. We are just saying that even if you decide to stay married to him, your marriage is really over."

Certainly every marriage is different, and I would never judge a woman who decides to remain with a cheater for the sake of family, or finances, or even political ambition. It's her business and I don't really care. What I do care about is that women should not feel socially pressured to "stand by her man" after he's proven a proclivity to hurt and betray her. Nor should she feel obliged to treat a dangerous character flaw as a disease/addiction beyond the "addict's" control.

When confronted about their infidelity, most cheaters will deny, deny, deny. What's most important for the victim is not to deny -- but instead to face the painful truth that a man who has cheated on you will likely do it again, and that the surest way to avoid continued hurt and humiliation is not to try and "work it out" but to walk away.