Sure, being registered on the affair website Ashley Madison will out you as a cheater. But experts say there are other telltale signs of infidelity. (Photo: Getty Images/Vasileios Economou)
In case you missed the news, the notorious infidelity website Ashley Madison has apparently been hacked. The culprits, a crew called The Impact Team, are threatening to release the personal information of the roughly 37 million people registered on the site, which serves as a platform for arranging extramarital affairs.
The move is apparently in response to the company’s claim that it permanently and completely erases a member’s data for a $19 fee via its “Full Delete” feature (which netted parent company Avid Life Media $1.7 million in revenue in 2014). But the claims of the feature are “a complete lie,” the hacking group said, as first reported by KrebsOnSecurity. “Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.”
The hackers say they want Avid Life Media to completely shut down Ashley Madison and its sister site, Established Men, “or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”
Ashley Madison has been reportedly hacked, and the culprits are threatening to release identifying information of the site’s users. (Photo: Getty Images/Yahoo Health)
No one knows how much information the hackers have (all of it, or just some?) and what they’ll ultimately do with it. Meanwhile, Ashley Madison has denied that it retained information on anyone who has used the brand’s “Full Delete” feature. Time will tell if names get leaked — and if they do, just how many will suffer exposure, and how recognizable those names will be.
It’s undeniable that a leak would expose would-be and already-done-the-deed cheaters. But the truth is, you probably don’t need leaked information to spot a philanderer in real life, says psychologist Karla Ivankovich, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, mainly because “it’s difficult to keep up with all the lies that encompass an affair,” she says.
Where in the U.S. do cheaters live? Watch the video below:
Ivankovich says that a “Dummies’ Guide” to detecting an affair would include hallmark signs like becoming secretive about electronic communication, getting defensive about questions in relation to whereabouts, going on an excessive number of business trips, and becoming disinterested in the relationship or family life. We won’t bore you with those. But there are some less telltale signs that you have a cheater on your hands.
Of course, every situation is different, experts point out, and research shows people usually only have moderate success at predicting unfaithfulness. But there are some emerging signs of an affair that are spottable. We asked a few psychologists who study relationships to explain some signs of infidelity that a person may not expect or see, and why.
A cheater may become more attentive — at first.
Yes, sometimes philanderers pull away. But sometimes they also become more attentive to their partner’s needs, showering the person with affection, gifts, compliments, and so on. “It’s a distraction from the reality,” says Ivankovich. “The cheater thinks, ‘If my partner is happy, they won’t notice that I’m gone more, spending more money, spending more time away from home, working later hours at work, that my cell has a new passcode. …’”
Ivankovich calls an affair a “game of smoke and mirrors,” and added that ruse will likely begin to fall apart in time. It’s psychologically taxing to keep up the charade. “Imagine trying to function in a world where you have three to four full-time jobs, each requiring your full attention,” says Ivankovich. “In the first, you are a husband or wife. In the second, you may also be a parent. Now, you also have a full-time job, which takes its toll. Now, add in an affair, which must also be kept secretive in order to avoid disruption to jobs one through three.”
Think about it like juggling intense deadlines at work, all at once, and these never slow down. “If you are attentive to one, you can’t be attentive to the other,” Ivankovich adds. “Contrary to the immediate beliefs of someone beginning an affair, affairs cannot be isolated from the rest of an individual’s life. There are tons of illusions and rationalizations — but at some point, even the most skilled are caught.”
A cheater’s interests and habits may change.
If someone suddenly starts developing interests that seemingly come out of the blue — in foreign films, rodeo, mountain biking or poetry — it’s something to note, says Marisa Cohen, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at St. Francis College and co-founder of the Self-Awareness and Bonding Lab. “A partner’s interests can change, which signals that he or she may be engaged in new activities with a person,” she tells Yahoo Health. “Or they might be increasing the likelihood that they’ll meet a new person with these interests.”
Of course, there are times in life where people choose new hobbies. How to tell the difference: “It may be cheating if it isn’t a natural period of transition or growth, and someone shows these changes,” Cohen says.
Related: How Not To Cheat On Your Lover
Signs of sexual infidelity, in particular, probably result in the most identifiable changes, according to Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor in the Department of Psychology at Monmouth University and co-founder of ScienceofRelationships.com. “There are also changes in sexual interest — either a lack of interest or exaggerated interest — and physical clues like lack of arousal,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Women tend to be more sensitive to these cues, suggesting that they are more adept at monitoring for and identifying infidelity.”
A cheater may begin accusing a partner of cheating.
To deflect attention from their own secret relationships, people engaging in an affair may begin to point the finger at their partner. “Projection is a Freudian defense mechanism: the act of pointing out, accusing, or blaming others for possessing the traits or characteristics, while denying them in yourself,” says Ivankovich. “Freud suggested that projection happens in times of crisis or personal conflict as a way of protecting the self — similar to denial.”
Furthermore, in emotional cheating especially, partners also begin to point out flaws in the relationship — how their partner is no longer attentive, how things have changed, how the connection is broken, and so on. “The partner begins stating dissatisfaction,” says Lewandowski. “There may be a reluctance to discuss a specific person; emotional disengagement; increased anger, guilt, anxiety, or hostility; or not wanting to spend time [together].”
The philanderer may be pulling away already, and eventually may cease trying to communicate at all. “This is a ‘grass is greener’ or ‘scorched earth’ mentality,” says Ivankovich. “They think they have found something better, so they stop making any attempt at amicable resolutions.”
Of course, the cheater’s mentality is flawed. “I tell all my patients that the grass is greener on the other side because either someone took the time to water and fertilize their lawn, or because they had a company like ChemLawn come out and spray it green — but if you look a little closer, you will see that it has grub worms and patches, just like your lawn,” says Ivankovich. Translation: Every relationship has flaws, but if yours is important to you, you’ll work to improve it.
A cheater may start leaving an obvious trail.
When an affair gets emotionally, physically, and psychologically taxing enough, cheaters may actually want to get caught. They’re ready to stop juggling, but don’t know how to end it. The result may be evident “slip-ups,” says Cohen. “A cheater may clue a partner in by leaving out gifts or notes from the outside individual — which would force the partner to confront the demise of the relationship,” she explains.
Cohen says that sociologist Diane Vaughn coined the term “uncoupling” in the late ’80s, well before Gwyneth Paltrow made it mainstream. “In a breakup, not even necessarily due to infidelity, there are partners and initiators,” Cohen says. “They both have very different goals. The initiator is trying to get out of the relationship and starts to explore single life from the secure base of the relationship, while the partner often has no clue and is left in the dark. The partner is usually clued in very late in the process.”
This happens with infidelity, as well. It’s why the partner may not “see” what’s happening right in front of him or her — even when signs are abounding. This can be blamed on another Freudian defense mechanism, says Ivankovich: denial. “Denial is refusing to accept it, or blocking out the reality of the situation from your mind, primarily because it’s too much to handle,” she explains.
Also, when you build a relationship upon a foundation of trust, for many, that bond stands firm without questions. “When we are in what we perceive as a loving, romantic relationship, there is a level of intimacy and self-disclosure that can’t compare to our other relationships,” Ivankovich says. “We believe in that relationship, and we’re giving our all to it, so why would we assume that it isn’t working?”
If the partner’s needs are pretty much met, or met for a longer time than the cheater’s, the demise of a relationship isn’t as clear. “Yes, at times we might be subject to private doubts, but we don’t usually question the foundation upon which our relationships stand — unless, of course we want to get out of it,” Ivankovich says.
After all, signals are always so clear looking back. Hindsight is 20/20 — not present vision.
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