I work with cheaters and sex addicts. Here are the top 8 signs your partner is cheating.
For more than 25 years as a psychotherapist, I’ve specialized in the treatment of sex and intimacy issues, including sex addiction, porn addiction, sexual avoidance, chronic infidelity, loss of relationship trust, and more. One of the most common questions I get when I’m being interviewed about my work, and also when I’m talking to partners who are worried about the health of their relationship, is how you can know if your partner is cheating.
My first response to this question is if it feels like something is amiss in your relationship, then something is amiss in your relationship. It might be infidelity or it might be something else. Either way, your feelings are worth exploring. And if your gut is telling the issue is cheating, that’s probably the case. However, you may want to look for evidence before confronting your partner.
My Definition of Cheating
In my book, Out of the Doghouse, I use the following definition for 21st century infidelity.
Infidelity (cheating) is the breaking of trust that occurs when you keep intimate, meaningful secrets from your primary romantic partner.
Please notice that this definition does not speak about specific sexual or romantic behaviors (affairs, pornography, strip clubs, hookup apps, etc.) Instead, it focuses on what matters most in relationships: mutual relationship trust. Please also notice that this definition is flexible depending on the couple. It lets you and your partner mutually define your version of sexual fidelity. If you and your partner decide that looking at porn is not cheating, so be it. It’s your relationship and you can define it however you please. If, however, one partner is using porn and the other is not OK with that or doesn’t know about it, then porn use counts as cheating.
Perhaps a more simplified definition for infidelity is this: If it feels like cheating, it is.
Eight Common Signs of Infidelity
Short of catching your partner in the act, it’s tough to know for certain that he or she is cheating. There are, however, some common signs that are relatively easy to spot.
1. Secretive Phone/Computer Use
In today’s world, technology is nearly always used to communicate and schedule liaisons with an affair partner. Because of this, cheaters tend to guard their digital devices. They delete texts, clear browser histories, add passwords, take their phones into the bathroom even when they shower, etc. All of these behaviors can indicate cheating.
2. Unexplained Changes In Your Sex Life
If there is suddenly less, or more, or different sex in your relationship, that could be a sign of cheating. Less sex because your partner is focused on someone else; more sex because your partner is trying to cover up the infidelity; different sex because your partner is learning new tricks outside of your relationship.
3. Improved Appearance
New underwear, new clothes, and renewed efforts at the gym can all be signs of cheating. Sure, your partner might also be doing this to improve his or her self-esteem, or to show how much he or she values your relationship and wants to please you. But if your gut says your partner may be cheating, improved appearance is worrisome.
Cheaters often rationalize their behavior by pushing blame onto the betrayed partner. They tell themselves you’re not as attractive or sexually adventurous as you used to be, or they make up some other fault about you, and they use this to push you away in ways that both look and feel hostile.
5. Deflecting/Avoiding Relationship Discussions
If you want to discuss your relationship and your partner is unwilling or says things like, “This is all in your head,” or, “If you trusted me more, maybe things would be better for us,” that’s a clear sign that something is amiss and your gut reaction of infidelity is probably correct.
6. Diminished Emotional Connection
In healthy relationships, our emotional bond – our willingness to be vulnerable and trust one another with our needs, desires, and other important aspects of life – increases over time. If this is suddenly diminished, your partner may have shifted the emotional focus to someone else.
7. Missing Money or Unexplained Expenses
If your bank, retirement, and investment accounts are not as robust as they once were, that’s a possible sign of infidelity. If you spot expenses on credit card bills or cash withdrawals that seem odd and that your partner either can’t or won’t sufficiently explain (or for which the explanation feels like a lie), that too is a possible sign of infidelity.
8. Your Friends Seem Uncomfortable Around You
When your partner cheats, your friends (and your partner’s friends) usually know about it long before you do. This knowledge may cause them to feel uncomfortable around you. They may try to avoid you; they may be overly nice to you. Most tellingly, your closest friends may try to avoid discussing your relationship with you.
Are these eight signs sure indications of cheating? No, of course not. In fact, your significant other could display all eight and not be cheating. But these signs nonetheless indicate that something is wrong in your relationship that your partner need to address. Similarly, your partner might exhibit none of these signs and be cheating. Either way, relationship trouble, with or without cheating, does not automatically signal the end of your relationship. In fact, if partners are willing to do the work of rebuilding trust and intimacy, their relationship can not only survive but thrive.
If you think your partner is cheating on you, do not sit alone with that information. If you don’t feel comfortable confronting your partner, talk to a trusted friend or a therapist. 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.