How do you know if your partner is cheating? Usually, if you’re asking this question, you already suspect that you’re the victim of infidelity, or at the very least that something is amiss in your relationship. The signs of cheating look different in every relationship, of course, but there are some common threads that you can look for. First and foremost I will tell you this: If your gut tells you that your partner is cheating on you, then he or she is probably cheating. That said, you may want to gather other evidence before you confront your significant other about his or her behavior. Common signs of infidelity that you might want to look for include:
- Improved appearance. If your significant other suddenly starts exercising and eating healthier, that could be a sign that he or she is trying to appear more attractive to someone (possibly you, but possibly an affair partner). If Mr. Sweatpants are Just Fine at a Party starts wearing slacks with matching socks and a fashionable shirt, or Ms. I Can’t Help It If I Smell Like Our Son’s Poopy Diapers suddenly smells like Chanel No. 5, that may indicate an affair. Ditto for a new haircut and new underwear—especially if your significant other looks the same around you but significantly better for work or certain social events.
- Secretive phone/computer use. Cheaters tend to use their phones and computers more frequently than before, and to guard them as if their lives depend on it. If your partner’s phone and laptop never required a password and now they do, that’s not a good sign. If your partner suddenly starts deleting texts and clearing his or her browser history on a daily basis, that’s not a good sign. If your partner never relinquishes possession of his or her phone, even taking it into the bathroom when he or she showers, that’s not a good sign. If you ask to review your partner’s phone and he or she says no, that’s also a problem. Honestly, what could possibly be there—other than information about your surprise birthday—that he or she would want to keep secret?
- Periods where your significant other is unreachable. If your partner is cheating on you, he or she is less likely to answer your calls and respond to your texts. You may hear legitimate-sounding excuses like he or she was in a meeting, he or she was driving, he or she was in a “dead zone” and didn’t know you were trying to get in touch. If your partner is unreachable while working late or on a business trip, that’s a bad sign.
- Significantly less, or more, or different sex in your relationship. Both decreased and increased levels of sexual activity in your relationship can be a sign of infidelity. Less sex occurs because your partner is focused on someone else; more sex occurs because he or she is trying to cover that up. Another possible sign of cheating is that the sex you and your partner are having feels less emotionally connected. Yet another possible sign is that your partner is introducing new techniques and activities into your sex life. As much as you might enjoy that, it’s possible that he or she is learning new tricks outside of your relationship.
- Your partner is hostile toward you and your relationship. Cheaters tend to rationalize their behavior (in their own minds). One way they do this is to push the blame onto you. They tell themselves that you don’t look the way you did when they married you, or you’re not adventurous enough in the bedroom, or you don’t appreciate all the wonderful things they do for you, so they deserve to have a little fun elsewhere. Often, their internal justifications for cheating leak out and they behave judgmentally toward you and your relationship. If it suddenly seems like nothing you do is right, or that things that used to not bother your partner suddenly do, or as if you’re getting pushed away, that could be a strong indication of cheating.
- An altered schedule. When your significant other—who never once worked late—suddenly needs to work late, and that starts to happen more and more frequently, he or she may be lying. If your spouse has never been away on a business trip and suddenly finds a need to travel for work, that could be a sign that he or she is having weekend getaways with an affair partner. Flat tires, dead batteries, traffic jams, spending extra time at the gym, and similar excuses for being late or absent altogether might also signal infidelity. A cheating partner might also suddenly be forgetful about picking up the kids, remember birthdays and other important events, etc.
- Friends seem uncomfortable around you. With infidelity, you, the betrayed partner, are nearly always the last person to find out. The cheater’s friends often know about the infidelity right from the start, and your own friends are likely to find out long before you do. This knowledge typically causes these individuals to feel uncomfortable around you. The cheater’s friends might try to avoid you or to be overly nice to you. Your own friends may try to avoid conversations about your relationship, and they too might overcompensate by being extra nice.
- Unexplained expenses. If there are odd charges on your partner’s credit cards or there is suddenly less money in your or your partner’s bank accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, etc., that’s a possible sign of infidelity. If you ask your partner about these expenses and his or her answers seem untrue, it’s likely that they are untrue. Infidelity costs money: gifts, trips, wine and dinners, hotel rooms, etc. The costs of cheating can add up very quickly. If you see large cash withdrawals or evidence of purchases from places you rarely or never frequent, that’s not a good sign.
- Emotional intimacy has faded. After a few years, no relationship is as intense as it was in the first few months. That said, we do tend to bond and to securely attach over time, learning to trust one another with our secrets, our desires, and other important aspects of our lives. That process is known as building emotional intimacy. And emotional intimacy is what keeps us bonded to our significant other long after the bloom is off the rose, so to speak. So, if your partner suddenly seems less emotionally vulnerable and intimate with you and does not seem to want you to be emotionally vulnerable and intimate, that’s a strong indication that his or her focus has shifted—most likely to an affair partner.
- When you ask about cheating, your partner deflects and avoids. If your spouse is cheating on you, the absolute last thing in the world that he or she wants to do is talk about it with you. So when you introduce this topic in conversation, he or she may try to deflect and avoid. In short, your partner will do everything possible to steer you onto another topic, or he or she will shift blame for what you’re thinking and feeling onto you. If you’ve confronted your partner about infidelity and been rebuffed, maybe with a message like, “If you trusted me a little more, maybe things would be better between us,” you should not let that override your gut sense that something is wrong in your relationship. Nor should you automatically accept your partner’s assertion that you are at fault. As stated earlier, if your gut tells you that your significant other is cheating on you, you’re probably right.
Please note: Your significant other could display all ten signs of cheating listed above and still not be cheating. But these are definite indications that something is wrong in his or her life and/or your relationship. It might not be cheating, but there is almost certainly something that you and your significant other to talk about. At the same time, your mate could be exhibiting none of these ten signs and still be cheating. Either way, the good news is that learning about infidelity does not automatically signal the end of your relationship. It simply means your partner has a lot of work to do if he or she wants to restore relationship trust, make things right, and re-establish emotional and sexual intimacy.
If you learn that your partner has cheated on you, I strongly suggest that you not sit alone with that information. If you don’t feel comfortable confronting your partner, talk to a trusted friend, your pastor, or a therapist. Just don’t sit there alone with your fears and feelings. Reach out and find empathetic support. For in-depth information about healing after infidelity, I suggest reading Esther Perel’s book, The State of Affairs, and my own book, Out of the Doghouse.