A psychotherapist breaks down the tells.
If they’re acting fishy, it’ll only be a matter of time before you take a deeper look at the signs your partner is cheating. Because even if you trust them, something small but strange — like the fact they’re always hiding their phone, or don’t talk about you on social media — can make you feel uneasy.
And rightfully so. While there are plenty of reasonable explanations for these odd habits — maybe they’re planning a surprise party, or have decided they don’t like Instagram — it’s important to trust your intuition, and not ignore the signs of a cheater.
If something feels off, the best thing to do, according to Dr. Fran Walfish, a relationship psychotherapist, is to chat with your partner. "Talking is the glue that holds people together," she tells Bustle. Not only will it spare you needless worry, if nothing’s going on, it’ll also begin a potentially relationship-saving conversation about boundaries, trust, etc.
While you don’t need to have your eyes peeled 24/7 for signs of trouble, knowing what’s worth worrying about can come in handy. Below, experts explain what to look for, and others share stories about changes they picked up on, right before they found out their partner was cheating.
If your partner suddenly cares about their appearance way more than they usually would, it could be a sign they’re cheating, Dr. Caroline Madden, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in infidelity, tells Bustle.
And she doesn’t just mean putting on a clean pair of jeans, or buying a new shirt for work. Maybe they’ve gotten a whole new wardrobe, are going to the gym five nights a week, or inexplicably spend hours prepping in front of the mirror.
If it’s out of character, and the improvements don’t seem to be for them or for you, consider it a red flag. Madden says it may mean they’re sprucing themselves up for a new love interest, or that they’re trying to attract attention.
Experts say there are countless phone-related signs of cheating. Your partner might set a long password, turn the screen away from you while texting, or receive more messages than usual.
For Samora, 36, she became suspicious when her boyfriend started getting texts late at night. "My intuition told me that it was another woman," she tells Bustle. "So I just watched as he answered the texts and turned his phone facedown on the sofa — something that people do when they need an extra layer of privacy."
She confronted him, and he denied it, joking he didn’t have "time" to date anyone else. But when she still couldn’t shake the feeling something was up, Samora started reading his iMessages while he was in the bathroom — something she wouldn’t normally dream of doing.
Sure enough, she found his conversations with other women. "He was basically a single man, according to these texts," she says. "Long story short, I broke up with him although he begged to work it out. I could never trust him again."
It’s awesome to pick up fun hobbies and to encourage each other to try new things. But if your partner has ditched video games for the cello seemingly overnight, something might be up.
"Part of falling in love with someone is learning what they like," Madden says, so a random hobby like this one could be their way of impressing a new person. "It becomes fascinating and interesting because they find their new lover fascinating and interesting," she says.
This is one of the giveaways Rachel*, 45, picked up on right before she discovered her husband was cheating. "His taste in music changed," she tells Bustle. (He was also on his phone a lot more often, or had it lying screen-side down.)
"Looking back, I now think every time I had a ‘feeling’ he was cheating, he was, but I can’t confirm it," she says. "I just chose to ignore it because I didn’t want to believe it."
It’s healthy to spend time apart and give each other space. But if your partner seems to fall off the face of the earth whenever they leave the house, or if you can never predict where they’re going, take note.
As Dr. Catherine Jackson, a licensed psychologist, says, a change in routine is often what gives a cheater away. You might notice "things like spending more time outside the home when they ‘run errands,’" she tells Bustle, or that they’re staying extra late at work. It’s also a red flag if, when you call to find out what’s taking so long, they don’t pick up.
Nine times out of ten it’s nothing, so don’t assume this is a sure sign of cheating. Some people are just really bad at monitoring their phone, and won’t even see that you called. But, if it all seems extra fishy, their absence might also mean they’re sneaking around.
Once you’re an established couple, "your partner should be comfortable sharing your relationship openly and honestly," Adele Alligood, a couples therapist, tells Bustle. That often means they’ll happily tag you on social media, talk about you in their posts, comment on your photos, etc.
And that’s exactly why Kiedra, 35, started to feel weird when her boyfriend stopped doing all of that, and began acting like she didn’t exist. "His reasoning was, ‘I don’t put my business out on social media,’" she tells Bustle. But since he had posted about her in the past, the explanation didn’t make sense.
Then he started getting late-night calls and his ex began commenting on his photos, so Kiedra decided she needed more information. "[His ex] had contact info on Instagram so I called her and introduced myself." While they spoke, her boyfriend happened to call as well, so she merged the three calls together. And that was that.
Emotional distance — or a sense that your partner is closed off or "far away" — can be a sign of cheating. But, rather surprisingly, so can the opposite.
"Guilt and the need to cover up the affair may motivate your partner to be more ‘affectionate’ towards you to keep you off guard," Dr. Ellen Kenner, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle.
Are they sending flowers? Saying "I love you" every five seconds? Being weirdly cuddly at night? Of course it could just be a sweet gesture, but when coupled with other weird changes, could also be a sign something’s up.
Another strange one: your partner might start pointing fingers at you and accusing you of cheating, if that’s actually what they’re doing.
"This is a favorite tactic of cheaters," Madden says. "This is usually met with additional statements of how important fidelity is so that they look like someone beyond reproach." But the reality is it’s often just a way of throwing you off and gaslighting you.
Something similar happened to Ally, 26, when she came across emails that proved her boyfriend had been cheating. She confronted him, but he denied it wholeheartedly.
"I let him gaslight me into believing what I saw wasn’t the truth and we continued dating for a couple of months," she tells Bustle. But eventually the guilt got to him, and he admitted she was right.
If your partner usually initiates sex but has recently stopped, this could be one of the sexual signs of cheating, Madden says. Suddenly losing interest may mean they’ve found sex or emotional intimacy outside the relationship.
Similarly, if they have that "far away stare" while you’re kissing or having sex, Kenner says, it could mean they feel like they’re cheating on their other love interest — with you.
Alternatively, it could all be totally innocent. It’s absolutely normal for there to be lulls in your sex life with your partner, especially if both of you are busy and tired. Taking a new medication or dealing with a lot of stress could also contribute to lack of desire to have sex, so do not immediately jump to conclusions.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to tell if a partner is cheating, but weird changes likely feel weird for a reason. If you can’t shake your concerns, find time to talk ASAP, so that you can both sort it all out.
* Names have been changed.
Dr. Fran Walfish, relationship psychotherapist
Dr. Caroline Madden, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed psychologist
Adele Alligood, couples therapist
Dr. Ellen Kenner, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist
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