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The sneaking suspicion that you’ve been cheated on is one of the worst feelings in the world. To experience a hunch that an affair is still going on may be even worse. It can feel like the ground is shifting under you as you question everything you knew about your relationship—plus, wondering whether you’re making it all up in your head can erode your mental health.
But how can you tell when your partner is lying about cheating, or “casually” trying to cover their tracks (or so they think)? If your partner comes home late at night reeking of another person's signature scent, it seems pretty obvious that something is amiss. Often, though, the warning signs of infidelity are far more subtle.
Before you can cope with the difficult business of what to do next, whether it’s seeking relationship therapy or filing for divorce, you need to figure out whether your concern is even valid. Ultimately, the best way to know for sure is confirmation from your spouse or significant other, the person they’re cheating with, or both. That said, merely hoping for an eventual confession won’t soothe the frantic worries in your head before then.
Whether you have a fleeting concern about new behaviors or you’re seriously worried that your spouse could be sleeping with someone else, here are some of the more unusual signs of cheating to watch out for.
They're reluctant to make any big joint purchases.
“Commitments like buying a house or car indicate that the other person is in the relationship for the long run,” says licensed family therapist David Klow and author of You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist. And, while it’s possible that your partner’s hesitancy is just due to financial concerns, it can also be a tip-off that they’re cheating—especially if this wasn’t an issue in the past.
“A major commitment makes it more difficult to pull out of a relationship quickly,” adds licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?. If your partner gets weird about this, don’t be afraid ask what’s behind the hesitation. If they get flustered, and it's not about the money, it could suggest that something isn’t right.
They "forgot" to mention a night out.
People who are cheating “tend to engage in sins of omission,” Durvasula says. “They operate on a ‘need to know’ basis, which is not healthy for a relationship.” Although neglecting to mention that time they grabbed drinks with co-workers could be completely innocuous—maybe happy hour just wasn't that memorable—if the behavior persists, it could reflect general dishonesty, Klow says.
The phone goes everywhere with them—even the bathroom.
First, a caveat: Some people are seriously hooked on their phones and tote them along out of habit, or boredom—that doesn’t mean they’re cheating, Klow says. The issue arises if this is suddenly a new thing for your partner.
That’s definitely more concerning, according to Durvasula. “They know that messages from the other person can come at any time,” she says. So if someone who's always relied on the bathroom stash of magazines to get them through their potty time suddenly starts relying on their phone, it might be worth keeping an eye on.
And, they're constantly texting.
Again, a change in behavior is key here. “Our minds are wired to look for inconsistencies—it helps protect us from something unexpected happening,” Klow says.
“If your partner's actions start changing, then it might be a sign of infidelity.” It could also be that their friends are having a tough time, or they're wrapped up in work. But if it feels off to you, ask what’s going on, Klow says. The way they respond can be telling.
When you talk, they rock back and forth.
By now, you two should be pretty comfortable chatting. But when your cohort is hiding something, look for unusual (and often unconscious) habits, suggests body language expert Lillian Glass, Ph.D. “Rocking back and forth shows they are nervous around you,” she says.
Plus, they've started slouching.
If their perfect posture has suddenly given way, that could be a red flag. “Hunching over is retreating into the fetal position—something people do when they feel ashamed or they know they have done something wrong,” Glass says.
You're getting a lot of gifts.
Cheaters do this to “cover the stench of guilt,” Durvasula says. Take note if your partner also seems to be peppier when they’re piling on the presents. “People are sometimes in a better mood than usual when they cheat,” Durvasula says. “Their cheery countenance, coupled with a need to please and throw a partner off the tracks, can result in a generous change of behavior.”
They're more focused on their appearance.
This could mean a hairstyle change, a recent fixation with the gym, or a splurge on new clothing. Sure, this could be part of a New Year’s resolution or a desire to please you, but it’s important to know that when people cheat, they’re more aware of their looks, Durvasula says.
They've changed their underwear's appearance, too.
If you've noticed a switch from your husband's usual ratty boxers to briefs, or your wife is sporting sexy lingerie for the first time in years, it's indeed reason to wonder, says Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking.
"We all have that bra that we don't want anyone to see, or briefs with holes in them," she says. "When you change it up, that might mean something when combined with a few of these other signs."
You wonder where they got that trick in bed.
This could be another instance in which your partner might've done some sexy research on good foreplay and just wants to spice things up for you. In other instances, new sexual techniques can signal the fact that they picked it up from someone else. Other times, Trombetti says, "a change in frequency, meaning more or less sex, can clue you in."
You asked how the office party was. They rattled off the entire guest list, all the hors d'oeuvres that were served (and when), and a minute-by-minute play of what went down. That’s TMI.
“Liars talk too much,” Durvasula says. “When you're telling the truth, you tend to be terse because it comes easily. Cheaters will often create long tales about strange stories and places they have been that day to act as an alibi.”
Or, they stop filling you in on the details all together.
Regularly hearing that their day was “fine” when you used to get into the minutia is enough to raise an eyebrow. With cheaters, “the most interesting aspects of their day may relate to their new flirtation,” Durvasula says. “This can be more devastating than sexual infidelity as it implies the intimacy of day-to-day life is now being shared with someone new.” Klow also calls it “a concern” since “having an open exchange of information helps people feel more secure in their relationships.”
They're always on social media.
This is most notable when they regularly like people’s posts that you've never heard of. Don’t hesitate to ask who @SexyBae007 is, and how he knows her. “Talk with your partner about the other people you each interact with,” Klow says. “Knowing this can help build a stronger sense of security.”
They suddenly develop different taste in music or hobbies.
"Maybe it's bungee jumping and they have a fear of heights, or suddenly they take up listening to classical music when it's always been heavy metal," Trombetti says. Of course they could just be expanding their horizons, but in Trombetti's experience, it may be because they're trying to impress the new person by matching their likes and dislikes.
"They also absorb every detail because they're crazy about the person they're cheating with and in that stage of infatuation," Trombetti adds.
The ATM has been getting a lot of action.
Credit cards are easy to trace; cash isn’t, Durvasula says. If they used to obsessed with racking up rewards points and have now switched to paper, it's worth asking about.
You've just got that gut feeling.
This doesn't pertain to people who are often jealous in general, and thus prone to suspicion when there's little cause for it. But in Trombetti's experience with clients, when you know, you (usually) know. "It's not necessarily a psychic connection, but rather nonverbal cues that you're picking up," she says.
Of course, there could always be a simple explanation for a switch in your partner's demeanor that has little to do with cheating. But if these actions feel familiar, and you have no idea why, it's time to ask the tough questions. Hopefully, there’s a good reason why they’re acting, well, shady. Either way, you have a right to know.
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