At one end of the spectrum, you have the folks for whom this was a one off. A drunken, one-night stand at a conference sort of thing. Someone with bad boundaries who does something idiotic and regretful. The one-off cheater feels guilt and remorse, usually confessing.
After the one-off cheater, you have the exit affair cheater. This sort of cheater is actually unhappy in their marriage and realizes at some level that they don’t really want cake, they want out of their marriage. Cheating is their really crappy and cowardly way of blowing things up. These sorts of cheaters tend to leave for their affair partner, or just call it quits, and make an unambiguous break from the betrayed spouse.
In the middle of the spectrum, you have the average cheater. Someone who doesn’t mind being married, but wants a side dish fuck. This cheater engages in an affair for months and hides it pretty well. They either kick the relationship themselves, or get dumped, and feel pretty conflicted about it. But not conflicted enough to not have done it. Unless exposed, or remorseful, the average cheater stands a good chance of being a repeat offender, trying to again attain the Nirvanic state of Cake Eating.
At the end of the spectrum, you have serial cheaters. Serial cheaters are a different breed of cat. These are the people for whom deceit is a lifestyle. Deceit is part of the high. In fact, I’m convinced it is the high. Getting one over on someone. Gaming the system. Getting all the ego kibbles. These are people who have double lives. Multiple affairs, spanning years, decades even. Consequences don’t really register with these folks. Divorce them, and they’ll just remarry and do the same thing to the next sucker (hopefully their affair partner).
Serial cheaters are usually personality disorders on the narcissistic, borderline, sociopath spectrum. Their empathy synapses don’t fire. They’re wired wrong. These are the kind of folks that sleep really well after being exposed, while you puke and cry and lose 15 lbs in a week from despair. They may look at your distress blankly and shrug. Or say something to the effect of “Don’t be a Pollyanna. I don’t see what the big deal is.” Conversely, if you’re dealing with a borderline, you might get operatic “remorse,” and then when you’re out of sight, they’re coolly dialing their affair partner and giving them the same operatic remorse. Actions never match words, but they’re masterful at the spin.
Serial cheaters are deeply, profoundly fucked up. You’d be an idiot to try and reconcile with one. (Ask me how I know.) Personality disorders do NOT get better. These people congenitally lack the ability to connect intimately with you. They fake it. They may look human, but they are really sharks in people clothing. They’re predators. If they tell you they love you – believe me, it is not a love that is good for you. It means you are of USE to them. That’s it. Get the hell away from serial cheaters, the sooner the better.