So You Think Your Partner Is Cheating: The Complete Guide
Any one of us can end up with a cheating partner.
In the words of Esther Perel, cheating is “universally forbidden yet universally practiced.” A study from 2015 all but proves that. It discovered that 42% of Tinder users were already in a relationship, and we can’t see a reason for that to change 6 years later.
If you’re here reading this, you probably think your significant other is cheating. Your intuition is smart and with the practice so widespread, your suspicions are likely correct. Even if they aren’t, it’s worth exploring.
You deserve to know what’s going on in your relationship.
Most people don’t suspect a thing and end up trusting and staying with a cheater for years—sometimes even decades. You’re lucky to be one of the rare few who has an inkling as to what’s going on.
We can’t save you the inevitable pain should you discover that your partner is cheating on you, but at least we can help remove the doubt from your mind. In this guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know to find out if your boyfriend or husband is cheating on you, from the small signs to strategies that’ll help you find out what’s going on.
We’ll also give some advice throughout to help you preserve your own well-being since we know just how painful discovering a cheater can be.
We have this idea of what a cheater looks like and how old they are. We imagine someone young, good-looking, and suave. While that can be true, the reality is that everyone is capable of cheating.
Before we dive into some numbers, keep in mind that statistics on cheating usually only consider married couples and don’t look at people who are dating. In other words, depending on how you define cheating, the numbers might be lower or higher in your eyes.
In general, men are slightly more likely to cheat in a relationship than women, although both genders cheat. Most statistics suggest that 20% to 25% of men and 10% to 14% of women will cheat in their lifetime, although factors change from study to study. Other studies show numbers that are significantly higher while others show lower numbers.
As far as age goes, it’s easy to think of cheating as a young man’s game. However, one study found that men in their 70s were the likeliest to commit acts of infidelity! Other studies suggest that attractive people are more likely to cheat. That probably has more to do with increased opportunities than it does with some sort of inherent personality flaws.
Why Do People Cheat?
No really why?
In her book “Mating in Captivity,” psychotherapist Esther Perel discusses the source of infidelity. She explains that because cheating is so widespread, it’s pretty clear that it’s not necessarily always pathological.
Monogamy is difficult, especially the longer you’ve been in a relationship with someone. These are some of the main reasons for cheating that she outlines:
- Loss of passion or intimacy in a long-term relationship
- The excitement of transgression
- The desire for novelty
- The desire for autonomy
- Desire to feel special, desired, or wanted
- Fear of death and the desire to feel “alive”
All of these reasons for cheating are incredibly human, and they often have very little to do with the partner who’s being cheated on. Take that to heart — if you think your partner is cheating, just remember that it’s not because of any fault on your part.
What About Serial Cheating?
Maybe he’s born with it
or maybe it’s DSM
So sure, there are plenty of reasons for cheating that aren’t monstrous… but there are also reasons for cheating that are a little more insidious, especially when it comes to their impact on you as the person being cheated on.
Serial cheating is often the result (and can even be a symptom) of sociopathy, narcissism, or other mental health conditions that result in impulsiveness, selfishness, and lack of empathy. Some psychotherapists also believe it can be a result of sex addiction, although the very concept is controversial, and currently not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Your relationship might be able to survive a one-off affair or a couple of drunken hook-ups during a time of crisis. However, a serial cheater is likely doing it because of underlying selfishness and lack of empathy, so you need to find out for sure, and then leave them.
What Is Cheating?
It's not that simple
The answer to this question isn’t as obvious as you may think. That’s why it’s important that we (or rather, you) set the record straight on this topic.
The definition of cheating is ever-changing, and it often differs from person to person. What seems totally acceptable to one person might constitute cheating in the eyes of another.
Before we get into the ambiguity, let’s quickly cover the two main, unambiguous types of cheating we’ll focus on in this guide.
#1 Incidental Cheating
Incidental cheating is not accidental, but it’s opportunistic and usually lacking in an emotional component. The cheating partner can often rationalize it as “it’s just sex” and, unfortunately, it’s easier to hide than affairs.
It’s hooking up with a stranger during a weekend out of a town or meeting up with someone from Tinder for a one-night stand. It’s usually not planned far in advance and it’s not necessarily recurring. If it does happen often, then your partner is an irredeemable serial cheater.
Affairs are the heavy hitters. An affair is when your partner starts a full-blown relationship with another person or people. He sees the affair partner regularly, and often, the relationship has a romantic component. These affairs are a little easier to uncover since they require a lot of commitment on your partner’s part, but they’re also usually the most painful to deal with
Are You Even Exclusive?
Cheating is generally done in the confines of a monogamous relationship (although it can also happen in non-monogamous relationships). One thing that can happen, especially early on in a relationship, is that one partner assumes monogamy while the other person exploits the ambiguity of this assumption.
So, this begs the question, have you discussed whether your relationship is monogamous and exclusive? If you haven’t, then get to it asap.
There’s a certain kind of guy (we use some choice words to describe him) who’s happy to let the people he’s dating assume exclusivity without ever saying it explicitly.
This way, if he gets caught cheating, he can pull out the “we never talked about exclusivity” card. This guy might be a total asshole, but he’s technically correct. That’s why you have to discuss this important question instead of assuming that it’s obvious.
Cheating and Ambiguity: Why You Need to Talk
Within the context of a typical monogamous relationship, having sex with someone else is obviously cheating. There’s little room for error! Right? Well, not quite.
Even if the guy you’re dating isn’t a jerk (we’d hope so!), it’s still important to talk about what you both think counts as cheating. This is because things like emotional affairs, sexting, and flirting are incredibly ambiguous, and not considered cheating by everyone.
Even within non-monogamous relationships, where having sex with others doesn’t count as cheating, certain behaviors may still count as a betrayal.
Use this checklist to understand what your own boundaries are and what you count as cheating. Then, discuss them with your partner to ensure you’re on the same page:
- Kissing others
- Sex with a person of the same gender
- Phone sex or sexting
- Watching porn
- Having lewd photos of other people or exes
- Using a dating app just to swipe or flirt without ever meeting
- Romantic emotional connection but no physical contact
- Buying dinner for someone else
How to Talk About Your Views
Bringing up this kind of conversation can be difficult, especially if you’re not used to talking about the nature of your relationship. To make sure it goes smoothly, set aside the time to talk in an environment where you’re both comfortable.
Don’t tell him, “we need to talk” since that always breeds stress. Instead, be plain, and say, “I’d like us to set a time to talk about our relationship and make sure our values line up.” This conversation might go by quickly, but if you end up disagreeing, it can even last hours, so make sure to give yourself a lot of time.
To actually start talking about the subject, bring it up neutrally: “Our relationship is getting more serious, so I think it’s important that we discuss what kind of commitment we want to have and what monogamy means to each one of us.”
Then, you can even bring out the checklist! You and your partner can go through each checkbox one by one, and see what each of you thinks about it. This will help if either one of you feels lost for words, although if the conversation flows right away, that’s fine too.
If you have any disagreements, try to be patient and calm. Look for ways that you can compromise, although ultimately, this conversation might be a sign that you’re not compatible.
Finally, once it’s over, reiterate that it might be worth having the same conversation again in the future, should either of your boundaries change. This kind of dialogue is very important in healthy relationships, and you can use these tips to also guide you through other important conversations about things like family, children, money, and more.
Setting Appropriate Boundaries
Establish these boundaries early on in the relationship, but also be reasonable. Don’t set your partner up for failure with overly stringent boundaries, and make sure what you demand (or what is demanded of you) doesn’t border on abuse.
For example, it’s never appropriate to demand that your partner sever their relationships with their opposite-gender friends. It’s also not okay (and unrealistic) to thought-police their attractions or fantasies.
Early Signs He Might Be a Cheater
Now that you have a better understanding of infidelity, it’s time to examine your own situation. Let’s start at the beginning, with the earliest signs that someone might be a serial cheater or already in a relationship.
These signs will let you know if this new guy you’re dating is likely to cheat or if he’s already cheating on a partner with you (although we have even more tips to recognizing that you’re the other woman in this section).
These are also useful red flags in general since a guy exhibiting this kind of behavior is probably a bit of an effboy:
- Doesn’t tell you much about himself over chat
- Won’t add you on social media
- Asks you not to tag him on social media
- Will only message you via specific apps
- Doesn’t want to introduce you to friends or family
- Will only meet you at weird times, like late at night or middle of the day
- Doesn’t want to meet you in public
- Is slow or inconsistent at responding to your messages or calls
Tell-Tale Signs of Cheating in a Relationship
So how can you tell if your partner is cheating for sure? Once you get that gut feeling, it’s time to pay attention.
The following are the most common signs that your significant other has started an affair. One of these red flags, on its own, probably won’t be a sign of cheating, but a combination of a few should definitely raise your suspicions
Phone Red Flags
In the modern-day, the way he acts around his phone will give you the clearest sign of whether he’s cheating or not. Cheaters are incredibly careful and secretive around their phones, lest you happen to see an incriminating text or email. These are some common phone behaviors that suggest he might be cheating.
- Keeps phone on silent or “Do Not Disturb” mode
- Changes his phone or computer password to one you don’t know
- Answers texts or emails at odd hours
- Hides the screen from you when he uses his phone
- Disables notifications in lock mode
- Leaves phone upside down
- Disconnects his phone from other devices like tablet or CarPlay
- Takes his phone with him to every room (though this can also be a sign of regular phone addiction)
- Leaves the room if he gets a phone call or text
- Spends large amounts of time in the bathroom with his phone
- Freaks out if you happen to hold or look at his phone
The classic sign of cheating is when your partner starts staying out late. Maybe he has to work late when he’s never had to before. Perhaps he’s meeting up with some friends for drinks or his sister’s dog died and he has to go comfort her…
The reasons and excuses are endless. If these late nights start to occur on a regular or semi-regular basis, you should be suspicious.
Much like the late nights, weird disappearances are another great sign of cheating. By weird, we mean that he goes away at strange times. He’ll probably still be around for dinner, but maybe he’ll go out for a jog in the middle of the day or suddenly have to spend a weekend away for a “work trip” or “with the boys” when he’s never done such things before.
Seeing friends, especially, is a great excuse for disappearing. Your cheating partner might suggest that they’re going to hang out with their best friend (who may cover for him) or he might invent a brand new friend or group of friends.
Time-Consuming Hobbies and Activities
Some cheaters invent a new hobby as a way of masking an affair. Hobbies and activities offer a great cover story because they’re done on a regular basis and require a few hours away from home.
There is no one hobby or activity that a cheater is likely to make up. Some cheaters will tell you that they’ve joined a recreational sports team or started going to the gym, while others will invent a book club or D&D campaign. The key is that they won’t offer much information about this new activity, and they’ll find some great excuses as to why you’re barred from coming along to check it out.
If it suddenly gets really difficult to pin your partner down for a specific date, you need to be worried. He may avoid committing to events or he might refuse to attend altogether. This can be family events, dates, or even social gatherings. The reason for this is pretty simple: If you’re attending those events, it’s a great chance for him to go and cheat while knowing that you’ll be busy.
Doesn’t Answer Your Questions
Maybe he’s really spending those late nights at work or maybe he really has taken up a new hobby. How can you tell? Ask him, and see how he responds. Don’t ask in an accusatory manner, but just make it seem like a regular conversation.
If he really has started a new hobby or met a new friend, he should be able to talk about them freely and with enthusiasm. If he really is dealing with a tough project at work, he should be able to tell you about the intricacies and difficulties of it.
On the other hand, if he’s lying about these things to hide an affair, you can rest assured that information won’t be forthcoming. His answers to your questions will be short and lacking in details. Alternatively, he might get irritated or accuse you of being nosy or suspicious, which is a major sign that he’s hiding something.
New Focus on Appearance
If your partner suddenly starts paying more attention to how they look, that can be a small sign of infidelity. There are plenty of good reasons why your partner may suddenly want to improve their appearance. However, if you’ve also noticed other signs of cheating then consider this one a strong addition to the list.
It’s especially relevant if their new effort is focused on things that make a difference outside the house, like a new office wardrobe. The key here is that it seems like they’re trying to impress someone who isn’t you.
Heading Straight to the Shower
Does your partner head straight into the shower after coming home? This one can be big, assuming he doesn’t have a good reason to shower right away. Obviously, if he’s back from the gym or a day of manual labor, hopping in the shower is plain common sense.
However, if he’s just coming home from “work” or “an evening out,” it’s very possible that what he’s actually doing is trying to wash the smell of his affair partner off of his skin. In a similar vein, also consider it a warning sign if he’s suddenly more focused on doing his own laundry or if there are certain clothes that he won’t let you touch.
Changes in Intimacy
More often than not, if your partner has started an affair you will notice a decrease in intimacy, sex, and affection in your relationship. However, keep in mind that a decline in intimacy can also be a side-effect of stress or depression, so once again, this is not a standalone signal.
Also possible, although not as common, is the reverse: After starting to cheat, your partner might actually amp up the sex and romance as the passion of the affair bleeds over into your relationship. In other words, any changes in intimacy within your relationship deserve your notice.
The vast majority of cheaters believe that cheating is wrong despite engaging in it. They know exactly how much they’re hurting you with their behavior, so the mixture of guilt and cognitive dissonance that they feel as a result of it puts them on edge.
They become irritable and quick to lash out, and they might perceive you as being accusatory even when you’re not. While irritability can also be a sign of general stress, it’s a fairly major sign of cheating if it’s combined with other signs.
A sudden STI is a very good sign that your partner has cheated on you. Where else would you pick up a sudden infection? Even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms, once you start suspecting your partner is cheating you should go get tested.
It’s worth keeping in mind that some STIs can lie dormant for a long while, including chlamydia and herpes. If you haven’t been tested in years and you do discover an STI, it’s possible that you or your partner have an infection that predates your relationship, so don’t immediately resort to accusations. Getting tested regularly is always a good idea and it will help you avoid this kind of uncertainty.
Gaslighting is something you can sense, although you’ll rarely notice it the moment it happens. Lying is inherent to cheating, of course, but gaslighting is an even more insidious manipulation technique. It looks like your partner telling you you’re wrong about how often he’s been out of the house or telling you you’re insane for thinking that a text message seems flirty.
It’s often used synonymously with lying when in reality, it’s a tactic that makes you question your own memory, sanity, and perception of what’s happening. A cheating partner may use gaslighting to deflect accusations and to turn the tables.
Accusing You of Cheating
Similar to gaslighting is the accusation of cheating. It’s almost a trope at this point, but cheaters will often assume that since they’re cheating, so is their partner.
Do note that even if your partner isn’t cheating on you, an accusation of cheating is something not to be taken (or made) lightly. In the best-case scenario, it shows a total lack of trust, while in the worst-case scenario, it can be an abuse tactic that serves to isolate the accused partner.
You’ll soon see that we don’t recommend accusing your partner of cheating outright (read this section to see why).
Changes in Behavior
Sudden changes in your partner’s behavior are the main detail that colors a lot of these other signs of cheating. Some pathological cheaters will cheat for the entire duration of your relationship so their behavior will be consistently secretive throughout. For the most part, however, cheating happens a few years into a relationship, and it comes with a marked change in behavior.
Interlude: Factors that May Influence Your Intuition
Take a moment to consider whether there might be other factors clouding your judgment. If you’ve been cheated on in a previous relationship, you might be more likely to make connections that aren’t there and assume that a new, faithful partner is cheating.
In other cases, certain experiences in your upbringing and different mental health conditions may also make it harder to know when you can trust your gut. That’s why we always recommend writing down your suspicions and talking to trusted friends.
Signs That You’re the Other Woman
It’s one thing to discover that you’re being cheated on. It’s another thing to discover that you’re the other woman!
Both are horrible situations, and while there are some similarities, there is a certain level of loneliness and guilt that comes from discovering you’re someone’s unwitting affair partner.
That’s why it’s important to avoid married men when you’re dating, so here are some signs to look out for.
Social Media Behavior
A man who is already cheating is going to be impossible to find on social media, or he’ll have a very sparse online presence. He might not want to add you at all, or maybe he’ll add or follow you on an account under a pseudonym where he doesn’t have many photos or friends.
He won’t let you upload photos together (and if he does, he’ll first find out exactly what your privacy settings are like). You can be certain he won’t share any photos of the two of you together, lest his wife or girlfriend finds out.
Friends and Family
Most cheating men will simply avoid introducing you to their friends and family. He might tell you he doesn’t have a family or that they all live far away. In the rare case that he does introduce you to his friends, you might get a vibe that something is off or like they’re all keeping a secret from you.
Scheduling with a married man is very difficult. He’ll either be very strict about his scheduling, only agreeing to meet you at very specific times, or he might refuse to plan altogether and will only show up unannounced. Either way, it’s a pain to deal with.
Additionally, he’ll never stick around for long. You might get the odd weekend together, but most of the time he won’t spend the night, usually disappearing at 1 am at the latest.
Never Brings You to His Place
He won’t stay the night at yours, but you can be certain that if he’s cheating on a wife, he will never bring you back to his place, either. In some cases, he might even prefer to meet you at hotels, which should definitely raise your suspicions.
The only exception is if he’s cheating on a girlfriend who doesn’t live with him. If that’s the case, he’ll bring you to his place, but be’ll very averse to you leaving anything behind.
He’s From Out of Town
Some men cheat on their wives during business trips. Others pretend that they’re out of town in order to explain their odd schedule to you. Either way, any man who tells you he’s “only in town for business” is incredibly likely to have a wife or girlfriend back home, especially if he also adds that he comes to your city regularly. This also gives him a convenient excuse as to why you have to meet at a hotel or why you can’t meet his family.
The easiest way to see through this kind of story is to find an excuse to visit his hometown—maybe you have a vacation coming up or maybe one of your friends from college moved over there. If he does everything in his power to keep you from visiting, you’ll know for sure that you’re his unwitting affair partner.
Keeps You On an Information Diet
It’s one thing to be a private person, but a man who’s using you to cheat will keep you on a tight information diet. He’ll be evasive about seemingly innocuous questions, especially if they can lead you back to his wife. He probably won’t tell you where he works, what his last name is (expect a fake name), or about his family life.
He Only Pays Cash
If he’s a real pro at keeping an affair going, he’ll either only pay with cash or maybe a prepaid credit card, despite all the reward cards in his wallet. After all, he can’t risk his wife seeing a strange item on their monthly balance.
Sketchy During Public Outings
A person having an affair will often do everything in their power to keep from being seen. Chances are he’ll try to avoid public outings or dates as much as possible. Alternatively, he might only take you to very specific places. When you do go out together, he’ll always seem a little distracted and nervous, and he’ll be looking around a lot just to make sure he doesn’t get caught with you.
What to Do If You Think You’re the Other Woman?
Sis. Dump his ass. You’re not his wife or girlfriend, so you’re not tied to him in any way. It’s better to leave, and you don’t even have to tell him anything—just block his number.
It’s entirely up to you if you decide to tell his girlfriend or spouse. You don’t have to, and it may end up blowing up in your face if she decides to “shoot the messenger.” If you feel the moral obligation to tell her, it’s better to write an anonymous letter or to have someone else tell her on your behalf.
Once you’re rid of him, take your time to heal. We know this is painful—you’ve still been cheated on. Feel your feelings for a while, and then work on healing the pain and getting over the breakup. We give some tips for healing after a betrayal in this section.
How to Find Out for Sure if He’s Cheating
We’ve collated all the best methods for finding out if your partner is cheating on you, but before you put on your spy goggles, consider whether you really need to find out the truth.
Interlude: You Don’t Have to Investigate
Most therapists recommend against investigating if your partner is cheating, and they’ve got good reasons to do so.
Those early signs we listed above are not solid proof of cheating, but they’re often sufficient grounds for a breakup. You don't need ammunition to end a relationship with someone you don't trust! If they constantly disappear or seem to be gaslighting you,
Uncovering real evidence of cheating isn’t some amazing eureka experience. It’s actually incredibly painful, and it can really damage your sense of self. Esther Perel describes discovering an affair in the digital age as a “death by a thousand cuts.”
And then, you also need to consider how you’ll feel if you find out you were wrong. Once you’ve looked through your partner’s phone or placed a GPS tracker on their car, your relationship is probably already over, regardless of whether they were cheating or not.
The breach of privacy you’ll have to commit to find out if a partner is cheating will take a toll on you since you’ll have to keep it a secret. If your partner finds out about it, the betrayal that they’ll feel will be very similar to the betrayal you would feel if you were to uncover cheating.
At the same time, sometimes you need that hard evidence. In some states, proof of adultery can expedite divorce proceedings or it can have a role in what kind of alimony or child support you receive. If you already know you want to leave your spouse and you think the divorce could hurt you financially, finding proof of cheating can make a big difference.
Start Taking Notes
Once you’ve noticed some signs and your suspicions are raised, it’s good to take things slow and to consider all of the facts. Start keeping track of your thoughts and suspicions in a document or journal, but make sure to keep it well hidden from your partner.
It can be a notebook you carry with you or a spreadsheet with a boring title. In that journal, write down the different things you’ve noticed that make you suspicious, like odd disappearances or strange text messages. Make sure to keep track of dates and other details that may be important, like what he wore, what items he took with him, or which car he drove.
Talk to Your Friends
Having trusted friends you can confide in or bounce ideas off of is extremely helpful. If you don’t have a friend that you think you can trust, talking to a therapist can be extremely helpful.
As a third party, your friend or therapist will be able to give you great insight as to what’s going on. If you do uncover signs of cheating, these people will also be there to support you and reassure you as you go through one of the most hurtful things a person can experience.
Make sure to talk to people who will listen to you and be on your side, but will also remain rational and won’t blow things out of proportion. They don’t need to immediately agree with you or confirm your suspicions, but they need to be supportive.
If you think a person might respond to your suspicions with, “what did you do to make him cheat on you?” or “you’re crazy, he’s a great guy, he’d never do that!” then it’s best not to tell them. Additionally, make sure not to tell your kids, his friends, his family, or any mutual friends.
Check the Law
If you’re married to your cheating partner, it’s a good idea to do your own research as to what your state’s divorce laws are like (it’s especially important to check if you live in a no-fault divorce state).
You should also consult a divorce lawyer as you start investigating, as they’ll be able to give you legal advice about what you need to discover (as well as what would make your discoveries inadmissible in court.
Look at His Phone
An effective cheater will try and keep you away from his phone, but if he’s careless or not very bright, you might find a chance one day.
Keep in mind that looking through your partner’s password-protected phone is not only a major breach of privacy, but it can also be downright illegal, and any evidence of cheating may not be admissible in the court (although it may help you sway friends and family).
If you already have some serious suspicions and a good reason why you need to find out (because let’s be real, if you’re at the point where you’re willing to look through his phone, your relationship is already over), here are the places to look:
- Text messages
- Email (sent messages, especially)
- All of his messaging apps
- The trash bin
- Most used apps (via settings screen)
- His notification settings
- Location history
- Most used emojis
- Most called numbers
- His search history
Keep in mind that he might have his cheating partners saved in his phone under a different name, and in all likelihood, the name of someone of the same gender as him. Instead of looking for names, look at the content of different conversations.
Look At The Money
Your significant other’s bills or credit card statements might hold a lot of clues about whether they’re having an affair or not. His transaction history may reveal visits to restaurants, bars, or hotels, or it might show strange ATM withdrawals.
If the two of you share your finances, this information is extra important, since by financing his affair your partner is stealing from you, in a way. You might be able to recuperate this money as alimony during divorce proceedings, as long as you’re able to prove that he spent that money to help him cheat.
Look Around on Dating Apps
Many cheaters use dating apps to get their rocks off. From Tinder to the cheating-specific Ashley Madison, your partner might be on any number of apps.
If you think you may have glimpsed a flame (Tinder) or a chemist’s flask (OkCupid) pop up on his notification panel, one of the easiest ways to figure out what’s going on is to create an account on the related app and to see if you come across his profile. You can have a friend do this for you, as well, and if he doesn’t know said friend, she can message him to figure out if he’s just browsing or actively looking to hook up.
Have Someone Message Him
Speaking of bringing friends in to help, you can have a female friend (that he doesn’t know) reach out to him via Instagram or Snapchat, if you think those are the kinds of apps he’s using to cheat. You’ll be effectively catfishing him, but it’ll be an easy way to find out just how ready and willing he is to step outside the relationship, especially if you suspect him of serial cheating.
Avoid: Spy Apps and GPS Tracking
Is there an app to find out if your boyfriend is cheating? Well, sort of. There are a few different spy apps out there designed to let you monitor someone else’s phone, undetected. They’re usually designed for parents who want to spy on their kids.
These kinds of apps can give you access to everything from a person’s location to messages to phone calls and deleted texts. They’re as invasive as can be, and therefore, they’re almost always illegal. Beyond this, they take a while to set up—you’ll need to know the password to the phone, so at that point, you might as well just look through your partner’s phone. It’s still illegal, but it’s slightly more socially acceptable.
In the same vein, putting a GPS tracker on your partner’s phone or car (and even just turning on their location history without telling them) are common tactics that are also likely to get you in trouble.
Talk to Their Friends
If your partner’s friends are decent people and you get along with them well, asking them what’s going on might be a good idea. They may not be willing to outright lie for him, but once confronted they may tell you the truth. It’s a bit of a gamble since they might decide to cover for him or let him know what you suspect, so at this point, you should already have some convincing evidence.
Another way to go about this is to ask them specific questions about events that don’t add up, like, “John said you guys went to the bar on this or that day, can you tell me what happened that night?”
What to Do If Your Partner Cheated?
Cry about it?
Once you’ve uncovered your boyfriend or husband’s cheating, you have a big decision to make. Should you stay or should you go?
In most cases, we think you’re better off leaving, but in some situations, there’s a good case to be made for sticking around.
The Case for Leaving
Infidelity can be earth-shattering. It breaks your trust in your spouse and it shakes your own sense of self. Additionally, the length you may have had to go to uncover the cheating will leave a mark on you, and it’ll be very hard to let go of that distrusting mindset.
How can you stay with someone after they betrayed your trust so profoundly?
It’s very difficult for a relationship to bounce back from this, with one study suggesting that ultimately, 85% of relationships don’t survive infidelity. It’s already difficult to heal from such a betrayal as the individual that’s been cheated on, but it’s even harder to heal the relationship itself.
There is nothing that forces you to stay in such a relationship. Not children, not family expectations, and not money. If you feel that you’ll be happiest and healthiest if you leave, then leave.
Additionally, there are circumstances where there shouldn’t be any internal debate. If your cheating partner doesn’t show remorse or interest in stopping the infidelity, leave.
If your relationship is still young, then you need to leave. You don’t even need to find hard evidence of cheating—a likely suspicion paired with non-committal or sketchy behavior is good enough. There is no reason to stay with someone who finds themselves cheating after only being with you for a year or two, let alone a few months.
The Case for Staying
Dan Savage often says that if you’ve spent most of your life in a monogamous, committed relationship, and only cheated once or twice, then you’re actually pretty good at monogamy. Many relationships bounce back from this kind of one-off cheating.
Sometimes, the discovery of this kind of cheating leads to important conversations and renewed investment in the relationship. Your relationship can even come out stronger on the other end!
These are the key signs that show that perhaps your relationship is worth salvaging:
- You have been together for a long time and the process of uncoupling will be complicated and logistically difficult
- The cheating was relatively minor or short-lived, and your partner is not a serial cheater
- You think you’ll be able to get over the betrayal or disgust with your partner
- Your partner shows remorse and has given you a real, heartfelt apology
- You’re both ready to start the hard work of rebuilding your relationship, perhaps with the help of a relationship counselor
Can a Cheater Change?
Cheating is an action and not necessarily something that’s fundamental to your partner’s character. In other words, a person who cheated on you won’t necessarily do it again. Earlier above, we examined both the circumstantial reasons that can lead to cheating as well as serial cheating which can be more pathological.
One study discovered that 45% of cheaters do cheat again, while 55% (in other words, the majority, albeit not a large one) remain faithful in future relationships. While the data doesn’t extend towards cheating within the same relationship, we suspect the numbers would be similar.
A person that cheated just once or twice because of circumstances may cheat again, but it’s not a guarantee. It doesn’t require a fundamental personal change, although it does require a serious commitment to rebuilding the relationship and being a better partner.
Should You Confront Your Cheating Partner?
You don’t have to confront your cheating partner. In fact, we even recommend against it, although we know that’s easier said than done. When confronted with their own behavior, even in the most gentle and kind way, people often lash out aggressively, either with denial or with their own accusations.
If you’ve decided you want to break up with your partner, you might be tempted to bring up their cheating and have a big fight. The truth is you’d be better off just ending things, without giving them a chance to blow up at you.
Confronting a Cheating Partner Safely
If you do decide to talk to your partner about their infidelity, we have some tips that’ll keep the conversation calm, neutral, and safe.
- You need strong evidence of cheating before you talk to your partner. Accusing someone of cheating without a strong basis never ends well. If your partner didn’t do it, they’ll feel incredibly hurt, so it’s not an accusation you can make lightly.
- Plan what you’ll say in advance. Practice staying calm, focusing on the facts, and avoiding emotions or opinions.
- Consider what you want to get out of the conversation. Have actionable demands or next steps in mind, including a few different options based on what your partner has to say. These can include anything from, “I want you to move out by such and such date” or “I want to start relationship counseling next week.”
- If you’re really angry, find a friend who’s willing to listen to you vent. Get all of the anger out of your system before talking to your partner.
- Plan to have the conversation in a quiet, neutral place where you both feel safe, but without anyone around who can overhear you.
- As Esther Perel recommends, avoid asking for details if they admit to cheating. You can ask them why they cheated, but asking about the how can be incredibly painful.
How to Heal from the Betrayal
One step at a time.
The most important thing to do after you uncover your partner’s infidelity is to work on yourself.
Remember That It’s Not Your Fault
Your significant other’s infidelity is never your fault. Uncovering an affair can be a blow to your self-esteem, and it can be even worse if your partner is extra shitty and tries to frame things as though it was your fault.
However, even if he cheated because of some supposed issues in your relationship, it doesn’t excuse his actions. It was still him who made the decision to step out and betray your trust. While it can be explained and forgiven, it can’t be excused, and you should never be blamed for what he decided to do.
It’s still important to try and understand what went wrong, especially if the affair was the result of some sort of crisis in your relationship. Only do this as a way of learning for the future, and not as a way of beating yourself up or thinking about what could have happened.
Breakups, especially following cheating, can really shake up your sense of who you are. It’s a huge upheaval, so while talking to friends and family can be helpful, seeing a therapist is often the best course of action. A therapist will be the non-judgemental ear that allows you to vent and helps you to come up with strategies to rebuild your sense of self and self-worth.
It’s helpful even if you decide to stay with your partner, despite the infidelity. If you do decide to stay with a cheater, relationship counseling is recommended, as well. It’ll allow you both to work through the conflict and rebuild your relationship in a healthier way.
In a similar vein to seeing a therapist, finding a self-improvement strategy that works for you will help you see yourself in a new light. It’ll also help you fill up your time with useful, meaningful projects.
Self-improvement can take all kinds of forms! You can learn a new skill, try a new workout regimen, join a book club, whatever it is. The key is to force yourself to come out of the experience with the ability to see yourself in a new, loving light.
When you’re in a relationship, it’s often easy to lose touch with friends and acquaintances. Sometimes, you lose out on friends that you had as a couple but not as an individual. This is your chance to reach out and connect with people—you’ll be surprised how happy they’ll be to hear from you! This is always a healthy way of filling up your time.
If you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable reaching out to, starting a hobby that involves other people can work well instead. This can be a sports team, a board game group, a hiking club… the options are truly endless. If you already have a hobby or activity you love, but it’s more solitary, you can find local Facebook groups of others who participate in the activity, and leverage that to make new, real-life friends.
Start Dating… Eventually
If you’ve separated from your cheating partner, you need to work on yourself for a bit before dating again. Sure, you can have a hot one-night stand (especially if your friends take you out drinking as a means of consoling you), but cultivating a real relationship immediately after the breakup will be difficult. In all likelihood, you’ll have a hard time trusting, and even after months of healing, you might still find yourself suspicious of new partners.
Once you do feel confident that you’re mostly over the breakup, start dating again, but take it slow. Don’t force yourself into a new relationship, and take your time with potential dates. This way, you’ll be able to take your time vetting potential partners and learning who is truly deserving of your trust.
Stronger for Knowing
It's a bird, it's a plane,
it's a woman who got cheated on.
Having someone you love and trust cheat on you is difficult and painful. Not knowing for certain is unbearable, so you find yourself having to investigate the person who is supposed to love you the most.
We’ve given you the tools to survive this awful situation, but what’s next is up to you. Whether you choose to leave your cheating partner or decide to stay, knowledge will empower you to do the right thing.
You will heal and you will be stronger.