If you suspect a partner is cheating, it’s important to stay grounded and have all the information you need before taking action. Knowing some of the predictors that a partner may be prone to cheating and the signs to look out for can help you make an informed decision about what to do.
Predictors a person may be prone to cheating
While it is not possible to definitively predict if a person will cheat based on their personality, background, or circumstance, research shows there are certain indicators to look out for that might determine whether a person is predisposed to cheating behavior. Below are just a few factors to consider.
Investment in the relationship
Taking inventory of the strength of a relationship is important when trying to predict whether or not infidelity is more or less likely to occur. Social exchange theory relies on the investment model, which weighs the likelihood of infidelity based on three factors:
- Satisfaction level in the relationship
- Availability of quality alternative partners
- The level of unrecoverable investment, meaning resources poured into the relationship — shared mortgage, pets, furniture, etc
Psychology Today sums up the investment model to show, “When satisfaction and investment levels are low, and high-quality alternatives are abundant, infidelity is more likely.”
A person’s background or circumstances
Child, couple, and family therapist Dr. Fran Walfish, Psy. D. tells O. school that in her expert opinion, some circumstances that may lead people (more commonly men) to become serial cheaters include, “early abandonment/separation trauma by their mother or father.” She explains that, “Examples include divorce, a parent leaving and not returning, or an angry parent who rages toward the child unexpectedly and abusively (physically or verbally).” In her experience, she has also found that people (more commonly women) are often compelled to cheat “when they have sustained long periods of mistreatment in the relationship.”
Certain traits or characteristics
Dr. Talal H. Alsaleem, PsyD, LMFT Founder of the Infidelity Counseling Center and the creator of Systematic Affair Recovery Therapy, tells O.school that some of these traits might include:
- Deceitfulness and disregard to the rights of others
- Lack of remorse and empathy
- Need for excessive admiration
- Arrogance and entitlement
“Serial cheaters tend to lie frequently, even about minor things that are unimportant. They also exhibit complete disregard for the rights of the other partner in the relationship. This can manifest through having double standards in the relationship as well as consistently taking advantage of their partners to achieve their own ends,” Alsaleem explains.
He says that serial cheaters can be “unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others” and will “use physical appearance to draw attention to self and are uncomfortable in situations in which they are not the center of attention.” In addition to behaving in ways that are “often sexually inappropriate, seductive, and provocative,” Alsaleem warns of behaviors where a person expects “favorable treatment or automatic compliance with their expectations.”
Predictors there might be cheating in a marriage
Some studies have shown there are things to look out for in a marriage to determine whether cheating is likely to occur. For example, one 2007 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology surveyed over 2,000 married individuals over a 12-month period and found that infidelity was predicted by “greater neuroticism and lower religiosity.” The study also found that “wives' pregnancy also increased the risk of infidelity for husbands.”
A Florida State University study found that infidelity occurs in an estimated 20-25 percent of marriages. The study found that summer was the most likely time for infidelity to occur, perhaps because that is when the most travel happens and new, potential partners are more readily available. Psychology Today notes that the study also found that, “Cohabitation before marriage is associated with an increased likelihood of cheating (perhaps through its association with more permissive attitudes about sex).”
4 signs of cheating
The reasons why people cheat can sometimes be unexplainable or a plethora of reasons all rolled into one. While those reasons rarely justify the action, it’s important to understand them so you can better process what’s going on. In addition to knowing the possible reasons for cheating, know the signs to look out for. As with predictors, these signs don’t definitively mean a partner is being unfaithful. They simply are meant to serve as check marks to help you determine if your suspicions can be confirmed.
1. Lies and secrets.
Matt Lundquist, founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy, puts it most succinctly: “[Does your partner] have a known history of cheating in other relationships (or with you)? Is there a pattern of lying about other things? Very few people can sustain a pattern of cheating without leaving clues.”
Lies are objectively an easy one to spot, especially if you know your partner’s day-to-day routine very well or can tell if their poker face is subpar. It can be more difficult, however, to know if your partner is being truthful if they don’t outwardly lie, but harbor secrets instead.
The “clues” Lundquist mentioned can be found in your partner potentially being more protective over their cell phone or what they’re doing on their laptop. Perhaps your partner isn’t being honest about how or where they are spending their money. Perhaps they are selectively omitting key facts about where they’ve been.
Dr. Alsaleem advises that “secrecy is one the most common elements of infidelity” and can be spotted in “closing out of chat windows when a partner walks in the room,” “deleting the computer history,” “erasing online interactions,” “deleting texts,” “pretending to be working on something else when engaging in internet infidelity behaviors,” “password changes,” and more.
2. A change in their general behavior.
Being with someone for a while means you can usually tell when they’re happy, sad, hungry, or horny so it’s important to assess any changes in those things when you’re wondering if they’re being faithful.
Licensed mental health professional, educator, and author Evan Fredrick suggests that those contemplating their partner’s fidelity should question: “Has their general behavior changed? Are they more emotionally distant? Do they initiate sex less than before?”
Dr. Alsaleem echoes similar sentiments, highlighting selfish behaviors and superficial conversations as red flags. “When you don't feel close to someone, you are less inclined to think and or care about their needs and desires, because you feel that they don’t care about yours,” he says, adding that a “lack of intimacy breeds lack of trust and a decrease in vulnerability. This means you are less likely to have a deep, soulful conversation with your partner about your hopes, dreams, and the things that bother you.”
3. They’re spending less time, physically and emotionally, with you.
This is abundantly clear if you live with your partner, but if you don’t and your partner is suddenly not available as often as they usually are, it could be a sign of cheating (it could also mean many other things).
Ellen Kenner, Ph.D,clinical psychologist, tells Woman's Day that “when you see that your partner is not emotionally connecting with you, but making excuses to be away from you, that is one key sign of an affair” and adds that if “your partner seems to have a lot more work drifting into the wee hours of the night, more weekend calls to be at work or on a ‘business trip,’” it could be that your partner is creating time to be with someone else.
All of this comes down to the bond you and your partner share. Wanting to see the person you love is a key element to intimacy so keep checking in with yourself and your partner. “When the bond is strong, we tend to spend a lot of time with our partners enjoying mutual activities. When the bond is weak, couples start drifting apart and seek out separate activities alone or with other people that they feel close to,” says Dr. Alsaleem.
While gaslighting can qualify as a change in behavior, it can be more insidious and less easy to immediately notice. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve asked your partner about whether they’re cheating, pay attention to how they respond to the question. Specifically, Lauren Peacock, relationship expert and author of Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog.: Stories About Divorce, Dating, and Saying ‘I Do’, says to note if your partner often flips the script.
“Anytime that a partner is cheating, usually the biggest tell is when they are confronted by it and they deny by turning it around onto their partner,” Peacock told Woman’s Day. “Maybe they blame their significant other for watching too many TV shows that put ‘crazy thoughts’ into their head when in all reality, they’ve simply figured out what’s been going on behind their back.”
So, when your partner turns the tables, with no grounds of their own to launch those accusations, keep your antennae up.
Once you’ve assessed the situation to the best of your ability and you feel that there are clear signs your partner is cheating, it may feel tempting to catch the cheater in the act. But the best thing to do is to confront them and have a conversation. Creating a space where both you and your partner feel safe to talk freely and openly is crucial to getting such a conversation going.
When confronting a partner, try to stay cool, calm, and collected. Share how you’re feeling and what you’ve noticed has been off about the relationship. As Dr. Walfish tells O.school, “one pathway to extra marital affairs is poor or breakdown in communication.”
“Talking is the glue that holds people together. When folks stop talking about issues, especially resolving conflicts, sex stops and one may look outside the marriage for emotional and physical gratification,” she says.
The bottom line
It’s certainly possible that the predictors and signs you’ve noticed were indicative of something other than overt cheating or micro-cheating. But if they aren’t, open a discussion with your partner to hash it out and get all the information you need. Having this kind of conversation can be difficult and emotional, and it can help to seek couple’s counseling. If you find your partner is cheating, know that it is possible to forgive a cheater and move on in the relationship. But, at the end of the day, only you and your partner can assess what work you’re both willing to do to go forth as a team or as separate entities.