If you find yourself in that frightening, disorienting position of suspecting an affair, the uncertainty can be torture.
How do you find out for sure? What should you do first? These are some of the questions clients ask. So, today I’m giving you three concrete steps you can start out with in order to find out the truth.
Your intuition could be spot-on. Or, you could be over-interpreting what you’re observing. The first thing you should do is try to take a long, honest look at yourself.
Do you tend to be jealous?
Do you have a pattern of being jealous of past partners? Do you tend to be jealous of things other than people, such as work and hobbies? Do you have a pattern of feeling insecure about your partner’s feelings?
Of course, it is very difficult to assess oneself.
So consider what your friends who know you best would say. Would they call you a jealous person?
Now if you decide you do have a problem with jealousy, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should drop the issue. After all, it’s possible it’s a both/and situation: you are jealous AND your partner is having an affair. But admitting you have a tendency to be suspicious will help you assess things more accurately.
Try to Get Proof Before You Confront
Here’s a big problem for ethical, well-intentioned people who start to wonder if their spouse is straying: Is it O.K. to “spy”? As in search phones, emails, drawers, etc.?
If you’d asked me 10 years ago, I’d have said, Take the high ground and don’t compound the mistrust.
Now I say it’s O.K. to spy to find out for sure–IF you have good reason.
A person having an affair will almost always deny it the first time he’s asked. And then be more careful about covering his tracks. So, if you confront without proof, you can actually make it harder to find out the truth. I’ve seen too many people go through long, painful periods of uncertainty. You doubt your perceptions, you doubt your sanity.
“Infidelity limbo” is a horrible place to be.
A second reason is that it’s not just your emotional health that’s at risk, but your physical health, too.
Lastly, if you have good reason to suspect an affair, I think you’re morally justified in doing what would normally be an unacceptable violation of privacy. The sooner you have evidence, the sooner you can start to repair your situation.
Of course, you don’t want to violate your partner’s privacy without good reason.
You don’t want to let your emotions run away with you and throw respect out the window.
Your solution is to first study the situation without spying. If you notice a pattern of classic signs of an affair then, I believe you have cause to search areas considered private.
These days, one of the first signs is being very possessive about one’s phone. Always having it close. Taking it to the bathroom. Not wanting anyone else to look up information on it.
More time than usual away from the family is obviously a possible sign. Now, with electronic communications, those times might be shorter. She’s not seeing him, she’s texting him. Your wife might keep you waiting longer than usual while you start the car, she might take longer to walk the dog, or take longer to check work email in the evening.
A change in sexual interest is another sign. You might assume there would be less interest, but actually sometimes a cheating spouse has a renewed interest in sex, period. The important thing to look for is a change.
Similarly, your husband might talk a lot about a certain person at work, or suddenly stop talking about her. And maybe take pains to make sure the two of you don’t cross paths.
This Huffington Post article has an exhaustive lists of signs of infidelity.
Remember, you’re looking for changes in behavior and you’re looking for a pattern, not just one or two things that seem different.
O.K., you’ve done your soul-searching, and you think you’re seeing a pattern. Now you need to talk.
As anxious as you are, you might want to give yourself some time first. You want to get into the right mindset, so you don’t criticize, attack or just unleash on him. You want to be calm and constructive.
It helps to focus on what your goal really is.
If you want to gather information, then it doesn’t serve you to raise his defenses. You want to make it as easy as possible to open up to you. If you want to save your marriage, then you want remember you’re still talking to someone you love. A tall order in this situation, I know.
The best approach is to simply and objectively describe what you’ve observed.
Say why it makes you think your partner is having an affair, and how it makes you feel.
For example: “I’ve noticed you going into the bathroom to talk on your phone, you don’t tell me as much as you used to about your day and your co-workers, one in particular. You stay up later than I do most nights now, when we used to go to bed together. And we aren’t having sex hardly at all. I’m very anxious and scared that you could be having an affair.”
If you think it’s more of an emotional affair, maybe one your partner isn’t even aware of yet, you could say, “I’m worried you’re on a slippery slope with Carolyn and that you could be headed toward an emotional affair.”
It’s very common for a cheating spouse to counter-attack and try to make you feel guilty for not trusting her. If she does, you’ll be glad you did your “due diligence” and have some solid evidence, or at least strong signs. Then you won’t be so easily manipulated.
The more defensive you wife is, the more likely she is to actually be having an affair.
An innocent spouse might be initially upset, but her main concern will be reassuring you, and understanding why you would think such a thing.
If you decide there’s actually not an affair going on, there still may be other less dire, but still important issues you need to work out.
I sincerely hope that this issue of the newsletter is completely useless to you, because you will never need this advice. But if you do, I hope this helps you start taking action, so you can get out of “infidelity limbo.”
For an in-depth treatment of how to handle affairs, I recommend these two classic books: “Not Just Friends” by Shirley P. Glass and “After the Affair” by Janis Abrahms Spring.