Our culture today seems to feed on stories of infidelity. Our televisions and social media are constantly flooded with news of the latest scandals in Hollywood or professional sports. But the stories that rock us the hardest are those that hit closer to home. Whether it’s our neighbor, our child’s classmate’s parents, a relative, or even our own relationship, my bet is all of us have witnessed or experienced up close the catastrophic effects of an affair. Several of you asked about this topic on one of my recent Facebook Live segments so I want to spend the next few weeks covering various topics related to AFFAIRS.
Affairs are tough. They are tough on the betrayed and the betrayer. And truthfully, they are tough for the therapist too. Over the next few weeks we’ll talk plenty about the devastation an affair causes and the effort it takes to move past that kind of betrayal. But, in the end, what I really want to show you is a road to HOPE….hope your marriage can not only survive, but thrive, after infidelity. It is not an easy road and it’s not for the faint of heart, but I’ve personally seen many couples fight past the pain and devastation and rebuild a marriage stronger and more intimate than before.
But before we go any further, let’s talk about the myths related to affairs.
Myth 1: Affairs only happen in unhappy marriages
Actually, affairs happen in good marriages too. An affair is not always a sign there was something wrong in the relationship. Sometimes it is as simple as a combination of opportunity, attraction and a lack of good boundaries, which is why affair prevention tactics are good exercises for even strong, healthy relationships.
Myth 2: Affairs are always about sexual or physical attraction
Affairs are often about how good someone makes you feel about yourself. It is intoxicating to be around someone who is in the infatuation stage and makes you feel you special. Often that thrill is confused for love, but it is more about how affair partner makes you feel rather than how you feel about him/her.
Myth 3: Most of the time a person knows on some level their partner is cheating.
The truth is most affairs go undetected. Some people are masterful liars and good at compartmentalizing so they can detach from their shame and guilt. I often hear partners say they “should have known” or they carry some burden of guilt for not knowing. No one likes to feel foolishly naive but most of us are when it comes to believing our spouse is capable of this kind of betrayal.
However, there are some signs that could be an indication your partner is cheating.
Signs of an affair
Despite their best attempts to cover it up, when a spouse is having an affair there are typically signs to indicate infidelity may be at play. Here are some of the common ones:
Your spouse has pulled away from you emotionally. You aren’t talking or sharing the day’s events unless it involves the kids or running the household. You’ve become roommates instead of partners.
Your spouse has pulled away sexually.
Your spouse has become more sexual than normal, wanting sex more frequently and encouraging more experimentation.
Your spouse may be overcome with guilt and giving you more attention than normal. This can look like the unfaithful spouse buying you gifts to overcompensate for their immoral behavior.
Your spouse spends more time away from home. This could look like working unusually late, taking overnight trips for work or gaps of time for which they can’t account.
You notice unusual charges or missing money.
Your spouse is guarding their phone and will never let it out of their sight.
Your spouse has changed or set up new passwords on phone and email and has not given you access.
Your spouse is texting more than usual.
Your spouse is up late on the computer or tablet several nights a week
- Your spouse stops saying “I love you”.
Before you read these and make too many assumptions, one or two of these signs does NOT necessarily mean there is an affair. And to accuse your spouse of an affair based on those grounds, I can assure you will not be helpful to you or your relationship. But, if your spouse is exhibiting several of these signs together, it warrants having a discussion.
How to Speak To Your Spouse If You See Signs of an Affair
If you suspect your spouse has been unfaithful, the way you confront the situation is of utmost importance. First, you need to maintain appropriate boundaries. Betrayed spouses have a tendency to feel very justified. Using your spouse’s betrayal (or suspected betrayal) as justification for violating his/her privacy and trust by snooping for evidence is typically a really bad idea. You’ll simply be trading one kind of betrayal for another.
Ideally, you want find a time when you and your spouse aren’t particularly irritated with each other and sit down and have a conversation. I always teach my clients that difficult conversations – if you want them to go well – must come from a place of vulnerability. Below is a road map for a productive approach to this conversation.
Discuss your own feelings. This means you talk more about your feelings than your spouse’s behavior. Calmly share with your spouse your insecurity with the relationship and tell them why, without attacking or sounding critical. Letting your spouse know you’ve noticed changes and feel anxious about the possibility he/she may be involved with someone else is the goal.
Listen & recognize their concerns. Give him/her the opportunity to explain without interruption or judgment. Sometimes there are other circumstances other than an affair to explain the unusual behavior you’ve noticed. Your spouse may be under a lot of pressure at work or may be going through something else he/she hasn’t previously shared. Initially, affair or not, expect your spouse to almost certainly deny any involvement.
More Transparency. If at this point of the conversation you still sense something is off and feel unsettled about the situation, I recommend you ask for more transparency. Say “Thank you for the reassurance,” and then tell your spouse you need more transparency. More transparency could look like access to passwords and permission to look at phones and email. It could also mean additional check-ins when your spouse is going to be out later than usual. The extra transparency needs to be communicated as temporary, to help you feel more secure about the relationship.
For some spouses, even faithful ones, the fact that you question their fidelity may upset them initially. But handled calmly and from a place of vulnerability, most spouses will comply with the request for transparency. If the request for transparency makes your spouse angry however, it is a good sign there is something more going on. And if your spouse flat out refuses to give you more transparency, this may also be an indication of infidelity.
We will continue to unpack affairs and how to recover from an unfaithful spouse in the weeks to come. If you do find out there has been an affair, I encourage you to seek help from a marriage counselor or coach with experience with affair recovery, who can help you sort through your feelings and decide on a plan of action. You may also find my blog post on Affair Repair helpful.