A questions I am asked frequently is “How can I tell for sure if my partner is cheating?” My internal response is often “Why do you feel you need to know?” I might or might not ask that directly but the answer is not all that obvious and is very pertinent.
To me, the fact that the person asking doesn’t trust his or her partner and wouldn’t think to ask the partner directly or to trust the answer if s/he did ask is much more of a problem. What causes the person who asks that question to suspect infidelity? The answer to that – for instance the partner is behaving differently, acting coldly, has cheated in the past, is not having sex at home as often or at all – are also very clear indications of a troubled relationship.
I don’t think anyone who has ever asked me about a suspected cheating partner has ever asked themselves why they need or even want to know. To the questioner the answer would often be obvious: “Of course I’d leave the relationship!” And again I would ask why “‘Of course?”
Many relationships survive an infidelity. Sometimes the relationship is even strengthened by the conversations following the revelation – how the straying partner felt about going outside the relationship, the reasons he or she gave themselves, their feelings about the hurt it caused the partner.
The non-straying partner, the “innocent” one, often gets to see what part she or he might have played in the partner’s infidelity. No, this is not blaming the victim. Despite common adages such as “A man won’t stray if he’s getting it at home” or “Men stray because they want sex and women stray for emotional connection”, the hardest thing for some injured parties to grasp is that the straying partner did not do this TO them but acted FOR themselves. An infidelity does not necessarily mean that anything is lacking in the primary relationship or in the primary partner. In other words, an opportunity for a pleasurable experience presented itself and the person took it without thoroughly considering the consequences or assuming “what my partner doesn’t know won’t hurt them.”
In most relationships there are certainly differences in how a one-time casual event vs. an ongoing friendship might be handled, or a hook-up vs. a deeply emotional affair. Its meaning to both partners needs to be evaluated. Is one thinking of leaving? Are there problems within the primary relationship and, if so, are they fixable?
Here, I think, is the crux of why one might feel the need to know of a partner’s sexual or emotional transgression – to be able to repair whatever might be lacking in the primary relationship and to better understand one’s partner’s needs and motives.
Most people I speak to say what hurts most about infidelity is the deceit involved, not the sexual act or acts themselves. Dishonesty within an intimate relationship breaks trust and trust is part of the basic fabric of intimacy. We need to be able to trust our partner not to intentionally hurt us, and though lying about an outside relationship is often done to protect the partner from the hurt of knowing there is sexual interest elsewhere, it is often the discovery of those particular lies that does the most damage.
If it is your partner who is suspected of going outside the relationship ask yourself if you honestly want to know and why you do. What does it mean to you and what do you believe it means to your partner? What do you want to do about it if what you suspect is true? After you’ve had that honest heart-to-heart conversation with yourself then see if it’s possible to have the same kind of honest heart to heart discussion with your partner. If it isn’t, perhaps a therapist might help the two of you to reach that level of honest communication. Then you can decide whether to repair what is reparable or to end a relationship that is irreparably broken. In any case, whatever you do, think before you do it and be sure you know what you’re doing and why….even if your partner did not.