Scandoval And The Psychology Of Cheating: A Case Study

“You can’t change a cheater. A cheater can change a cheater.”

We’ve seen it all before — someone cheats, they’re found out, existing relationships (and sometimes families) are wrecked. But when the illicit couple then attempts to give it a legitimate go, the rest of us can’t help but wonder: What the hell is the Other Person thinking? 

If they cheated with you, why wouldn’t they eventually cheat on you? Or as the TikTok peanut gallery might say: How you get them is how you lose them.

I couldn’t be happier to report that the Vanderpump Rules news cycle refuses to die, in what’s now being called Scandoval. 

New details continue to emerge every day, including recent reports that cast members Tom Sandoval and The Beauty Queen Formerly Known As Rachel Leviss will be seen kissing on camera by the end of this season. 

Interested parties have already seen photos circulating on the internet, including ones showing him entering her apartment and the pair wearing matching lightning bolt necklaces; it’s all fueling the rumor that they’re allegedly in love and want to be together. 

(I feel for Ariana Madix, his partner of nine years, but she has apparently fled to Mexico, where she’s free to dance with locals and live her best life — with Google Alerts turned off.) 

The fact that they might be an actual couple has the entirety of the internet pulling their hair out and screaming in multidimensional unison because Sandoval has done this before, and, as has been proven time and time again, how you get them is frequently how you lose them. 

Raquel (which we have learned is the chosen stage name for plain-old Rachel) is a newer addition to the show, but we know that she was a fan before joining the cast. She surely saw Sandoval adamantly deny cheating on Kristen Doute with Ariana in Season 2, until he finally admitted during the reunion that they did at least kiss (among other infidelities) and were now together. 

Eight seasons later, after nearly 10 years with Ariana, he has publicly “apologized” on social media for an allegedly monthslong affair with Raquel, though viewers have yet to see the aftermath on the show.

As a long-time Vanderpump fan, I can’t say that I was surprised by the cheating, but the details did catch me off guard. I’ve never understood why a badass woman like Ariana would put up with Sandoval, who has always given me intense secondhand cringe. However, they appeared to be relatively stable for nearly a decade. So he had almost convinced me that he was the exception to the rule, that he had grown up and evolved in his late 30s (or early 40s?) and understood how lucky he was to have a ride-or-die partner like her. 

My failure to predict this had me questioning my instincts. I’m a psychologist’s daughter who prides herself on being overly observant. How did I miss the signs? 

Maybe it was willful ignorance. But for people in long-term relationships everywhere, I decided to consult actual experts on the psychology of cheaters — and the chances that any new relationships that result from affairs can actually last.

Yes, I did have to talk the experts through the entire scandal as well as both Sandoval and Raquel’s public relationship history in painstaking detail so they could synthesize a psychological stance on whether they have any hope of making it as a couple. You’re welcome.

Once a cheater, always a cheater?

There is a difference between an isolated cheating incident versus a serial cheating situation, according to Deborah Vinall, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has written books on gaslighting and recovering from trauma. 

Depending on the circumstances, some relationships can heal from an isolated episode of infidelity. However, if it’s an ongoing affair, or happened more than once with a variety of partners, that pattern of behavior is likely to continue. And when there is a pattern of cheating, it’s usually rooted in insecurity, Vinall said.

In her opinion, when somebody says they want to be with you while they’re still with another person, that attraction is not really about you. It’s about them. What they are really saying is that they are not courageous enough to break up with their current partner or to be alone — that they need somebody else to validate them to either feel sexy enough or wanted or desirable, so they’re going to go from relationship to relationship with no gaps in between — and probably a lot of overlap. 

“Sometimes there’s an internal dissatisfaction with the cheater themselves,” agreed Chrystal Dunkers, a New Jersey–based licensed professional counselor who specializes in relationship therapy. “And of course, they usually present as grandiose, but they seek this kind of external validation, right? Which is really an indicator of insecurity.”

Grandiose is an understatement when it comes to Tom Sandoval. His cover band is literally called Tom Sandoval And The Most Extras. He has self-identified as the Most Extra. He is fueled by attention and external validation, and for as long as we’ve known him, he has always had at least one romantic relationship in play, if not more. It all checks out.

Dunkers also posed another possibility. The cheater’s approach to relationships may have been formed by childhood experiences that caused them to develop an avoidant attachment style. In attachment theory, there are four different attachment styles, which can act as the blueprint for how you function in a relationship. People with avoidant attachment styles are often not comfortable with vulnerability; they may be emotionally unavailable or uncomfortable with certain levels of intimacy that go beyond sexual.

When or if those with avoidant attachment cheat, their motivation may be as simple as seeking something easier. Those side relationships require limited levels of intimacy and less true vulnerability. But once a relationship that started out as an affair turns into a “committed” relationship, the expectation changes. Now this person who used to be fun and light and exciting wants more, and when that gets to be too much, they go on to the next person. And so begins a pattern.

Though Dunkers believes these situations are often too complicated for blanket statements like “once a cheater, always a cheater” to universally apply, she does think that if people are unable to recognize the pattern, see that it’s an issue, and put in the work to be better, it could be a repetitive cycle that crashes relationship after relationship. Someone who isn’t self-aware or interested in understanding their behavior patterns is likely to repeat the cycle. 

Predicting future behavior goes back to the traits that are driving the behavior, Vinall said. If someone cheated out of a desire for security or validation, or a need to be admired or adored by a new partner, those feelings could wear off with time. Unless you can see that your affair partner has looked inward and made real change, whether that means breaking an addiction or doing serious therapy of their own accord, then you might expect they’ll do the same to you. 

“You can’t change a cheater. A cheater can change a cheater,” she said. 

In my opinion, Sandoval’s apology did not show any real, authentic indication of self-examination or a desire to change his behavior. Raquel’s statement, though reiterating her role as victim in many ways, came across with more genuine introspection and recognition of wrongdoing.

Okay, but why did Raquel do it?

When Scandoval broke, I felt more confused by the Raquel of it all. Though we’re seeing her need for, as she says in her statement, “emotional validation through intimate connections, oftentimes at the expense of others” play out this season, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that she herself was cheated on. 

Her ex-fiancé, James Kennedy, denied all cheating allegations (of which there were many) during their five-year relationship but ultimately admitted to at least one infidelity with Lala Kent. Raquel knows how it feels to have someone you love betray your trust. She also spent much of her Vanderpump tenure seeking approval from the other women, waiting for them to come around to her despite her choice of a toxic partner. She had finally established some friendships before this all went down. 

All of this made her decision to engage in the affair that much more baffling. Why would she knowingly put a “friend” through an even more extreme version of what she went through? How is such a “sweet” girl capable of pursuing a much-sought-after friendship with a woman while sleeping with her long-term partner? And to top it all off, how could she believe he’ll be any better to her than he was to his previous partners?

Dunkers said that some people can’t help but to engage in unhealthy relationships because they have unmet emotional needs from childhood that they subconsciously look to fulfill in adult relationships. Meeting those needs can become the priority and take precedence over everything else.

For example, if someone struggled to feel deserving of love and connection from parental figures in their formative years, a romantic partner who can offer them a sense of worthiness will be irresistible. Their number one goal becomes finding that sort of connection, and once they do, all red flags seem to disappear— even if things take a troubling turn.

“It's not like you walk around thinking, I'm not worthy, I’m not worthy, I'm not good enough. But it's a subconscious driver,” Dunkers said. If a person who once made you feel worthy later makes you feel worthless, it’s just reinforcing a core belief that never went away. “We gravitate towards what feels familiar, not necessarily what’s best for us.” 

Vinall also said that someone who ends up with a serial cheater may be missing a lot of red flags. She corroborated that people often seek out a partner with personality traits similar to what was modeled growing up between their own parents, or the parental figure of that same gender. That makes it harder to see red flags since they think it’s what a healthy relationship looks like. 

“Sometimes people are also attracted subconsciously to the adrenaline rush of something a little bit toxic, and confuse that adrenaline rush of danger with the adrenaline rush of love or infatuation,” she added. 

We have no reason to believe that Sandoval was going to leave Ariana for Raquel had the affair not been exposed. Personally, I think that if the affair was driven by actual love for another and he had respect for his partner of nine years, he would have had the tough conversation and ended things before he strayed. The whole sequence of events leads me to believe it’s a pathological issue for him, and a slightly naive, love-and-attention-above-all issue for her. 

“We get into trouble when we enter into adult relationships trying to fulfill childhood needs, and that’s not your partner’s responsibility,” Dunkers said. Her advice to Raquel would be to figure out the root of her need for emotional validation and figure out how to meet that need herself rather than externally. She would challenge her to think about her expectations of him, the patterns playing out on both sides, and to question what she’s getting out of the relationship. 

“When you’re not looking for someone to meet those needs, the requirements are different,” she said. “You would choose a different partner. So why are you choosing him?”

And that concludes my investigation into the psychology of cheating as exemplified by Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss, with zero participation from either party involved. It’s been a wonderfully chaotic mess for us onlookers and a guaranteed absolute nightmare for the actual people affected. I can’t help but feel slight pangs of empathy despite the fact that they are all consenting adults, both to the affair and to being our source of entertainment. They signed on to live their lives in the public eye, and with that comes merciless scrutiny. 

Maybe this journalistic therapy session humanizes them a bit — we all have trauma, and most of us don’t or can’t or won’t make the effort to fully work through it. But when you’re a full-blown adult and your unresolved trauma results in behavior that hurts others, it becomes a less acceptable excuse. 

And now we wait at the edge of our seats to see how this all plays out.

Skip to footer