How Do I Know if My Partner is Cheating on Me?

By: David Lechnyr, LCSW

Relationships go through many stages, ups and downs, good times and bad. Most of the time we get through these difficult periods. At times, our intuition tells us that the relationship is in the midst of a crisis. Affairs can threaten your trust in the relationship. Understanding the critical clues to an affair can help keep things calm in difficult times.

Clues to Unfaithfulness

  1. There is a sudden, and new, interest in one’s physical appearance.
  2. New friends and acquaintances are developed outside of the marital relationship that become a focus on energy, focus and involvement.
  3. There are concerns about aging, time left, and a rush to focus on new interests, ideas, places, and changes in personality (midlife crisis).
  4. There is a total lack of desire to be at home for very long. There is also a lack of interest, or pride, in what is going on at home.
  5. There is an emotional shut-down where there is a lack of sharing.
  6. There is an increase in irritability, blaming, upset, and reactivity to even small issues. Finding fault over little things becomes more an issue.
  7. There is a sudden guilt, or disinterest, over what you are doing. There is a do what you want, it really doesn’t matter type of attitude.
  8. There is a tendency for you to deny obvious signs, symptoms or evidence that is clear to others. It is important to pay attention to your intuition without over-reacting.

What To Do If You Suspect an Affair

Drop your denial. Quit looking for alternative explanations about the evidence.  Start by being honest with yourself. Are you willing to work this through and forgive, or does it mean that the relationship is over? Often, this can be the last straw in deciding if the relationship is worth saving.

Don’t yell, scream, demand, or become irrational. Remain strong, direct, clear, and set boundaries. There needs to be an easy way for your spouse to tell you the truth, even if it hurts. Tell them you want the truth even though they would rather not tell you. Remember, it may be painful to hear about what happened. But if your partner can talk with you about it, there is hope.

Ask your spouse if there is any hope of love in the relationship. Many times both partners have slowly drifted apart after running the relationship on autopilot. The result is that you are both distant from each other. There is still value in seeing if it is possible to work on the relationship.

But remember: You can’t let your whole future happiness depend on what you partner decides to do. Decide that no matter what happens, you are a good person and deserve to have a good honest relationship. Make sure to learn what you also have to change in yourself. This is not designed to excuse for their behavior. Rather, it is to help you accept and work on your contributions to the problems in the relationship.

Set limits, boundaries and ultimatums. Tell them that they need to stop the affair and work on the relationship or the marriage is over. There should be no qualifications, limits or conditions.  Ask why the affair had to happen. Insist on marriage counseling. You will need this in order to help gain focus, discuss issues, and rebuild your relationship.

Get a commitment from your spouse for emotional honesty. Each partner needs to tell the other what they are feeling. There may be feelings of negativity or of being unloved. The goal is to have a commitment to stay in the relationship. Make sure to set aside time for romance and to get to know each other again.

A word of warning: You do not what to become a crazy detective. If you are obsessed with looking for evidence and details about the affair, this will backfire.  Checking up on them, verifying their stories, reading their emails, texts, and web history will only make things worse. If you have suspicions, then ask and deal with it. Avoid yelling, demanding, or obsessing. Don’t try to punish your partner either. You also don’t want to beg, whine, become clingy, or desperate. These behaviors transform you into the controlling parent from whom any sane person would want to escape.

The Six Weakest Moments for Affairs

Affairs are difficult for most people to understand. Knowing the vulnerable periods can help in preventing and dealing with them for men and women alike.

The Hard-Working Steady Course Work Ethic:  We value getting up, working hard and long, coming home, dealing with the family, playing with the kids day-after-day. We lose our imaginations because we get stuck in a rut of daily life. We forget how to take time out, have fun, act like kids. We grind away under an ungrateful boss, spouse, etc., seeming to be trapped for the rest of our life — and then we die feeling. Then, out of the blue we suddenly see  life differently, having scary visions, feeling alienated and bleak, and we feel overwhelmed wondering what is happening to us. There are milestones in our lives that generate anxiety that leave us vulnerable to acting out to get our imagination back.

The New Baby/Kids in the House Syndrome:  This is always a vulnerable time for men — a time when they can feel stuck because they are responsible and trapped by life. It can be a time of feeling that our youth is over. With a new baby, and the baby taking all the time, the father can feel left out, alone, unappreciated, and unwanted. If anyone has feelings of unresolved sibling rivalry having to share one’s spouse with a child can bring up intense emotions of being left out — just like a child feels when a new baby comes into the family too soon. The wife can think that the child comes first and romance is last leaving her husband feeling not needed. When one gets the feeling that they are no longer valued, needed, or wanted beyond the paycheck or being the daddy then he may feel that he has been fired from his job AND leave literally.

The New Job Syndrome: Promotions, raises, new titles, all create good feelings of power and achievement. Power can attract others to anyone making us feel special. If the new job, or title, is place ahead of one’s spouse, trouble will happen sooner or later. If one gets promoted, or the career takes over, the other may feel that they are stagnating and not moving forward in life. When one feels unappreciated and inadequate, one becomes vulnerable to the first smile, pick-up, being chased after, the touch on the arm, leaving one feeling like they are in a trance and overpowered. When one is moving forward, it is important to not forget the other, encourage risks, be available for phone calls, talks, walks, encouragement, and staying in touch with the other’s feelings.

The I’m Such a Loser Syndrome: Friends, others at work, subordinates at work, get promoted above you. Such promotions trigger vulnerability and make one feel frail in one’s own identity. When this happens one thinks that life is passing one by and death is close. Younger people can help to make one feel an increase in self-worth. By not talking about it one becomes even more vulnerable to affairs. Men are particularly uncomfortable expressing emotions, or anything, that might be seen as a weakness and add to their sense of demoralization.

The Midlife Crisis: This is the classic simple and unavoidable crisis. It is one’s unwanted confrontation with one’s own mortality. It is the time when the body changes and creates a loss to one’s identity. It is a time of thinking that one is starting to look like one’s parents when faced with the mirror. Hair is changing color, coming out, bodies are changing, and one does not look young anymore. It is a time of examining where one is at, whether needs are being met in the present relationship, and asking how mush time is left phase. It is a time of reexamining one’s values, desires, wants and needs. It is a time when the children are leaving home and the couple looks at each other and asks — ‘who are you’. If the marriage has not been going well up until this point, it is a time when one or the other says there is no reason to stay anymore. Suddenly we feel more vulnerable, a loss of potency, and a decrease in self-esteem. It is a time of thinking that we are not going to achieve what we had thought would happen in our lives. It is a time when many men are noting the blocks, and wives are just wanting to develop themselves and their careers. The person who is at risk for an affair is the one who is not talking about all the losses and changes that one is experiencing! Those who are less vulnerable seek reassurance by talking about it. Having talked about it makes one less lightly to jump. Some people feel and act like they are old, no longer taking care of themselves, their relationships, intimacy needs, or time together that can continue to fire the romance fires. Wives, or husbands, quit the relationship a long time ago, with many not even taking care of themselves, or their bodies, anymore.

The Success Syndrome Blues: Whether expected or not, power and rank are aphrodisiacs to the person and others around them. Many people, especially men, who are successful can be overwhelmed by inner fears of being inner frauds. Success can be trigger points that bring up the baggage of childhood when they were called lazy, fat, stupid, and would never be successful. Men wonder can I live up to it? Will it all come crashing down? I will probably lose it so I will tempt fate and at least have fun. Many of these fears are not conscious to the vulnerable one. The way to know when one is reaching a breaking point is if there is a change in one’s behaviors. If one mate picks on the other more, criticizes, puts down, finds fault, this is a new behavior which says that the one who criticizes is not feeling good about themselves. Sometimes one deals with their stress by picking on others. — One feels good by scoring on others by putting them down. It is clear that once a person feels insecure, they must find a way to re-inflate themselves. If one responds with denial about their fears, feeling angry, getting down on themselves, by hitting the bottle, etc., then one is ripe for a fall.

The Anatomy of Infidelity and Affairs

We tend to think that infidelity and affairs are all about sex.  In reality, affairs are symptoms that sends a message about problems in the relationship.  Understanding this simple issue will allow you to work on the complex problems of finding solutions. The betrayal of trust from one’s spouse or partner can be one of the most damaging issues to any relationship. Perhaps you suspect your partner of having an affair.

Once an affair happens, the relationship becomes unbalanced. You feel violated and are uncertain whether or not you can ever trust in the relationship again. The person having the affair is also stuck. What may have started out with misguided dreams and intentions has now created a situation where they are responsible for their actions yet also stuck in the doghouse without any clear way out. This drastically complicates recovery and requires changes on the sides of both partners in terms of communication and being aware of why the affair happened in order to prevent an affair from ever happening again.

Nice, Non-Fighting, Couples: These are the people who fear conflicts and never resolve any of their differences until the marriage fades away.

Couples Frightened of Intimacy: There is a fear of being emotionally vulnerable, so barriers are kept high by fighting, slamming doors, dramatic actions, and physical violence.  There is a fear of letting one’s guard down which means to them that they would be hurt, abandoned, or feel trapped.

Affairs Used to Fill Internal Emptiness: Like the alcoholic, some people, use sexual addiction to avoid life, to search for the magical all-loving parent, and as an excuse to be promiscuous.  It is not about sex or romantic love.  It about avoidance and the need to fill some type of emptiness from childhood abandonment feelings of some type.

Affairs by Co-Dependent Spouses who do everything and sacrifice their own feelings and needs: Affairs for these spouses happen when one notices that someone appreciates his/her needs that were not being met in the marriage.  The affair can be seen as a Mid-life crisis (ages 34-65), but they are much more.  They are about the years of not attending to one’s own feelings.  One does not necessarily want to end the marriage.  However, unless the marriage changes, it will become impossible to end the affair.

Exit Affairs: These types of affairs happen as a way of ending the marriage, not the reason for the marriage ending.  The affair becomes a way of sliding out the door.  Each person needs to understand what they have done that has contributed to the end of the relationship.  These are difficult relationships to put back together because decisions have already been made.  It is easier for the person to act it out in a way that makes them feel secure and safe rather than having to face the pain of talking and resolving things out.

Non-Sexual Affairs: Affairs happen when they consume time and energy that would normally be going into the marriage.  There is always a sexual current in these affairs even though nothing results in a sexual activity.

Solutions to Affairs

First, remember that legal proceedings don’t resolve the emotional issues. It is important to focus on your pain and anger rather than on attacking your spouse. Make sure to leave the children out of the argument; forcing them to be involved or using them to inflict pain on your partner can cause emotional injuries that will follow your children for the rest of their lives!  Forget the temptation to separate immediately, as this will only complicate your options. Avoid making any major decisions during the middle of this crisis! Give yourself time to work on your emotions and the relationship.  This is going to take longer than you expected.

You need to express your pain and your spouse needs to hear it! Don’t let your spouse try to shut off your pain by a quick I love you, I am sorry, get over it , or you have said it several times already.  Talking things out over and over again. Getting over the obsession with the affair requires expressing your pain, anger, powerlessness, and lack of trust now. Say, I am furious at you!, I am angry at you for lying to me; I am so hurt that you have done this; I don’t know what to do. Nothing I do makes any difference right now.  As you reclaim the parts of yourself, you will be able to let go of the obsession.  If you give in and stop talking, you will have little of yourself left!

Trust Rebuilding Requires Developing Skills of Intimacy. This requires honesty, becoming emotionally vulnerable, developing reasonable expectations, or mean that you have to constantly be with your spouse.  Expect this building to have its ups and downs, letting go of your magical expectations of a perfect future together, and working on making realistic future dreams together. This happens once the affair is revealed, is ended, when you both continue to like and care about each other, you are both committed to working on yourself and the marriage, admit that it will be painful, take longer than you want, offers no guarantees of how it will come out, and has a focus on knowing how each of you created an opening for the affair.

Rebuilding requires Risk. You have to be willing to risk with the understanding that you have a better chance of building a better relationship now and in the future than you had in the past.  See the affair as a symptom that neither of you were dealing with the issues of the relationship.

Understand Your Part and How You Contributed to the Behaviors. You can blame the other person as much as you want.  However, until you come to understand why the situation happened in your lives, how you allow it to continue, and how you don’t allow the other person to grow, nothing will change.  This does not mean that the person who had the affair is without blame.  Each person, though, has to examine how what they do, or don’t do, contributes to the problems in the relationship.

Understand that Some Marriages Cannot Be Saved. Any successful relationship requires that two people be willing to work on it. When one continues to resist changing, or wants to leave no matter what, there is little that the other can do.  What you can do is to say I am sorry that you don’t want to work on things, to find real solutions, and to change your life.  I am a good person and deserve to have you relate better to me.  If you don’t want to do that and insist on continuing the same behaviors, then I have to move on with my life.  I am a good person and deserve better.  This will be hard; I will grieve and feel sad; I will be angry and hurt, but I will live and get on with my life because I deserve it!

Steps Towards Counseling

It’s important to not let too much time go by before attempting to repair the damage. It doesn’t matter at this point who had the affair. Blame and accusations will only get you so far. What the two of you need now is help in dealing with the fallout of the affair. Accountability, genuine remorse, rebuilding trust, and learning how to reconnect are just some of the initial tools that you will need to master in order to start your recovery. A trained relationship therapist can help.