There's something a little "off" in the way your partner has been acting lately. You're starting to wonder if they're cheating on you.
There are some clues, but you're not sure if they mean what you suspect they mean. They're spending less time at home, have become a sudden workaholic, are taking their phone calls in private or aren't sharing as much about their day with you as they used to. When you question them about why they're being so secretive and distant, they snap back at you, usually with a logical explanation. "I've got a special project at work." Or they accuse you of snooping, being paranoid or not trusting enough. They make you feel guilty for even bringing it up.
When your partner is having a cyber, emotional or sexual affair, sometimes the most subtle clues can be big red flags that signal a destructive secret is hiding underneath the surface.
While it may be obvious from some of their behavior that they're hiding something, some changes aren't so obvious. Perhaps they give you an odd glance or there's something cold in their eyes that doesn't quite feel right to you. When you ask what's wrong, you may get a shrug or a defensive, "Nothing! Get off my back already."
You may start to wonder if you're going crazy or just being paranoid for no reason.
Here's what I know from my professional experience as a relationship therapist: If you're suspecting that your partner may be hiding something, if a sinking feeling in your gut is telling you "something's off," then it's absolutely time to pay attention. Your intuition is sounding an alarm.
Here's a quick checklist of cheating red flags from my book, Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love, and Affair-Proof Your Relationship that can help you determine if the subtle (or not-so-subtle) shifts in your partner's behavior may be signs that they're cheating:
Red Flag #1 They're suddenly more aloof, withdrawn or want more "space."
Overall, you're noticing less intimacy, sharing, talking and self-disclosures going on. Your partner may seem zoned out, lost in thought or less available to you. They talk in terms of "me" or "I" instead of "we" or "us," as in "The next time I go on vacation, I want to go to Hawaii." And when you lay your concerns on the table, your partner calls you jealous or says you're imagining things. They might even say you're "smothering them."
Red Flag #2 They've lost interest in you, your problems and sex. When you bring up a problem, your partner tells you it's no big deal or tells you that their problems are worse. They're not as emotionally supportive. Even when they're home, you feel a lonely void between you, like there's no one with whom to share your thoughts or feelings. There's less affection and passion. When you suggest making time to connect you get back "Not now babe" or "Maybe later." Even if you are still having regular sex, it may seem like they're performing a chore rather than making love.
Red Flag #3 They get easily annoyed, defensive or argumentative. When an affair (be it cyber, emotional or physical) has begun, the cheater may want to sugar-coat their guilt and justify the affair. Making you the bad guy helps them feel better. That's why a cheating partner may try to find ways to blame you for their indiscretions. They start fights, pick on you, push every button you've got and may even accuse you of cheating. Cheaters are good at transferring the guilt onto you -- don't buy into it.
Red Flag #4 They're not immediately available when you call, text or email them. Your partner is spending more and more time away from you, and they're more difficult to reach. When you try calling on their cell phone, you get voicemail. When you ask why they didn't call or text you back, the answer is, "The battery died and I couldn't use my phone." There are endless excuses about work or other things that limit their availability for making plans with you.
Red Flag #5 They're spending more time online or on their cell phone than with you. If the amount of time they're spending talking to, texting, emailing or messaging someone else is strongly impacting your time together, there is a problem brewing.
Red Flag #6 They're acting secretive all of a sudden, especially around the computer or cell phone. Your partner has Facebook, email and social media accounts that you don't have access to. When you ask about their online friendships, you get short, sharp, evasive or defensive responses back. Your partner receives regular texts, emails or sexy photos from a "friend" you weren't aware of. Suddenly, they're conducting mysterious calls in the other room and when you ask who called, the answer is... "No one." "Wrong number." "It's business." or "Why do you ask?"
Red Flag #7 They look, smell, and dress better, but not necessarily around you. They've suddenly started working out. They might have a change of clothes in the car or in a sports bag that aren't gym clothes. Your partner may leave the house smelling like soap and come back smelling like perfume or cologne. They may be buying new clothes or lingerie, but not wearing them for you. Someone else may be reaping the benefits of your partner's newfound interest in looking spiffy.
Let's face it, any of these red flags are indicators of behaviors that are suspicious and should arouse your doubts. Even if your partner is not cheating, but is keeping secrets, withdrawing, lying, being hurtful or withholding important communication of any kind, it's clearly time to heed the red flags, take your blinders off and press on to know the truth. Ignoring the clues won't help the situation because denial just harbors more deceit, mistrust and greater distance between you.
Cheating happens for a variety of reasons and it usually means there's something missing in the relationship. When you both honestly address the underlying problems and relationship vulnerabilities that may have lead to cheating, healing can begin.
With truth comes the chance to improve the current condition of your relationship. I've counseled numerous couples who have transformed the discovery of an affair into an opportunity to wake up, clear up the wounds of the past and learn new lessons for the future. Love and connection can be resurrected and a healthier relationship rebuilt.
There is hope.
Sheri Meyers, Psy.D is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA, and author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love, and Affair-Proof Your Relationship.
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