8 Red Flags That Signal Cheating, Therapists Warn
These seemingly harmless behaviors can be signs of infidelity.
Nothing can make you feel crazier in a relationship than if you suspect your partner is cheating. You suddenly wonder if they're actually going where they say they're going, texting who they say they're texting, and if those flowers they brought you are a sign of affection or guilt. To help you parse through these subtle suspicions, we asked therapists for the top red flags they notice when one partner is cheating. Read on to find out what they say to look out for.
They're showering more often than usual.
A mid-life change in hygiene habits could be benign, but it also could be a sign your partner is hiding something.
"When someone is trying to hide sex with another partner, they are often careful to wash off the new scent," says Bat Sheva Marcus, PhD, licensed clinical social worker.
While this red flag doesn't automatically mean your significant other is cheating—they may have simply picked up their intensity at the gym or decided to take cleanliness more seriously—it's one to take note of, especially in combination with other unusual behavior modifications.
They have a friend who's going through a crisis.
If your partner, who isn't typically the empathetic, shoulder-to-cry-on type, is frequently disappearing to "help a friend" who's going through something, it could be a red flag of infidelity.
"Most likely what their friend is going through is having to cover for your partner's cheating," says Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP, director of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute of Southern California.
This behavior could also be combined with your partner telling you it'd be unfair for them not to console their friend. "They want to gaslight you to not be 'selfish' for wanting their time," says DePompo.
They accuse you of cheating.
Alena Scigliano, licensed psychotherapist and clinical expert in narcissistic abuse, says one of the most common signs of cheating she's noticed when working with survivor victims of narcissistic abuse is when the person cheating accuses their partner of cheating.
"For narcissists, this is both a form of projection and distraction, which is what makes it less obvious of a sign," she says. "The non-cheating partner spends so much energy focusing on defending themselves and trying to convince the other person that they aren't cheating, that they don't even consider that the accusations are likely a sign that their narcissistic partner is the one who is actually cheating."
Seeking professional help may be your best move forward in this situation.
They heavily guard their cellphone.
This sign of cheating is a cliche because it's so often true.
"People with secret affairs will change their passwords frequently or become agitated about setting their phone down," says Ashera DeRosa, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of a private practice in Buffalo, New York. "They might change their settings so they don't have any notifications or not let their partner use their phone to change the music or even use navigation while driving."
Their fear, of course, is that their partner will find digital evidence of their affair on their device.
They have a new hobby.
Sure, it's totally possible that your partner has joined a bowling league or started a book club. But if something seems sketchy about it, it could be a red flag. Usually, a questionable hobby requires a lot of time and is done alone, says John P. Carnesecchi, licensed clinical social worker, and founder and clinical director of Gateway to Solutions.
"Most common is going to the gym, running, or intensive physical training," says Carnesecchi. "When you want to talk about their newfound hobby, they will be vague about their progress and what they do."
On the other hand, Carnesecchi notes that people who are genuinely devoted to a hobby will be willing and able to share all the details.
When people lie, they tend to over-explain themselves, adding details where they otherwise wouldn't if they were telling the truth. The same is true of cheaters.
"When someone asks, 'How was your night out with your friends?' the cheater will rattle off details, names, and specific things that may or may not have happened—almost telling a whole story," Carnesecchi says. "In their mind, they've covered all bases as an alibi."
They're withdrawing from you.
"If a partner is cheating, most likely, all of their energy is going into the other person, especially if it is an ongoing affair," says Lee Phillips, LCSW, certified sex and couples therapist. You may notice that your partner doesn't give you as much attention, or they may be openly refusing to be intimate with you.
And their withdrawal from you may also result in communication changes. "They do not look present, the partner of the cheater has to ask multiple times if their partner is hearing them, and the cheating partner may avoid conversations or may get highly defensive when asked questions," says Phillips.
When they become closed off like this or absent in several areas of the relationship, it could be time to force some serious conversations.
They act overly loving.
Of course, no one wants their partner to withdraw from them, but the other extreme is acting too attentively. When a partner is cheating or hiding something from their partner, they often act more loving and pleasant, explains Kiara Luna, LMHC, licensed mental health therapist at Knew You Psychotherapy.
"They would even buy them gifts or surprise them with random outings, or ideas they know their partner would enjoy, and they typically do this because they have a guilty conscience," she says.
If you notice your partner acting differently or being over-the-top-affectionate, you should have an open and honest conversation where you voice your concerns.
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