"I think he's seeing someone else. My heart says he is but I don't have any proof. I finally asked. Made him mad. Said I was crazy. But I still worry that he is. How can I know if he's having an affair?"
The question comes often from wives and husbands across the USA and other parts of the world. They call us, send us an email, or post a private message on Facebook. Sometimes they tell their story; other times they succinctly state their bewilderment. In their hearts, they feel strongly that their spouses cheat, but their minds waver between conviction and confusion. They do not wish to do damage to their marriages by false accusations, but worry that they are being played as fools.
Surfing the Internet for clues of infidelity can create more questions than answers. Some recommendations for determining whether a spouse is unfaithful are ridiculous, some harmful, while others make sense. I suggest a solid grip on reality and a dose of healthy skepticism when reading advice from angry abandoned spouses or from sites selling a product to "catch" a potentially straying spouse.
Based on my work with thousands of marriages, I offer the following suggestions for those who fear their spouses cheat.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Before considering whether your spouse may be unfaithful, ask someone who knows you well and whose insight you trust to evaluate you. Specifically, ask your wise friend if she considers you insecure, jealous, or frequently anxious. If your friend indicates that you are, carefully consider whether your fears stem from your own inner struggles rather than from your spouse's actions. If you have doubt as to whether your worries may be of your own making, visit a pastor or counselor about your fears before taking any steps to explore potential straying by your spouse.
Sometimes a person hurt in a previous relationship may struggle with trusting their current spouse. That creates misery for both. Continual suspicion can build enough resentment in the distrusted spouse that he no longer wants to live in that marriage. Therefore, take the step of examining your own insecurity before doing or saying anything that indicates to your spouse that you think she may be cheating.
However, as the old witticism goes: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that someone isn't out to get you." If after you evaluate the origin of your fears you still feel that something is amiss, cautiously examine the following.
WHAT IS MISSING?
When I am on talk radio and someone calls with a question about a potentially straying mate, I ask about three missing matters – time, money, and affection. No one appreciates accounting for every minute of every day. Therefore, people resent a spouse who insists on knowing where her mate is at all times and an accounting of everything he does. Those who do so eventually drive their mates away emotionally, if not physically.
On the other hand, when time regularly goes missing without reasonable explanation, it might indicate hidden behaviors. Affairs take time. If your spouse is repeatedly out of contact and offers no sensible explanation or becomes angry when you ask, that may indicate trouble.
Unfortunately, with current technology, time spent with a paramour does not have to be time away from the home or office. Therefore, missing time may not be time away; it may be time spent in the same house with you or coworkers, but private enough to facilitate communication with someone else.
Affairs typically are expensive. When a person becomes emotionally involved with another, often he spends money on her. Presents, meals together, hotel rooms, and more add up quickly. Though missing money may indicate problems other than adultery such as gambling, drinking, pornography, and more, secretly spent money nearly always means trouble.
Because most affairs involve emotional connection to another person, they typically reduce emotional closeness with the spouse. Early in an emotional involvement with another, a husband or wife may increase emotional interaction with his or her mate for a couple reasons. One is that the new involvement intensifies all emotions. The other is guilt. However, as emotional bonding with the lover increases, the straying spouse usually begins to distance herself from her spouse. Hugs, kisses, tender phrases, and comfortable conversations taper off. Lovemaking decreases and may cease altogether.
While there may be other causes for missing emotional connection than infidelity, any dramatic reduction needs examination. The lessening may not happen rapidly. Therefore, sometimes a person does not realize it while it happens, but eventually becomes aware.
From my perspective working with marriages, I perceive missing time, money, or affection as indicators of a problem. If the "missing" occurs in only one area and is not significant, it may mean little. If the "missing" occurs in more than one area, or if it becomes noteworthy, it likely means a great deal.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR SPOUSE?
If sufficient doubt exists, the worried spouse needs to express his fears. It works better when spoken as one's worries rather than the other's behaviors. For example, "I worry that I don't know where you are for hours" usually evokes less defensiveness than "Where are you when I try to find you?"
The important thing is that the anxious spouse communicates her need for reassurance and then gives him the opportunity to give that assurance.
If he responds with anger, strong defensiveness, evasiveness, or by attacking her, she should consider whether his response reasonably reflects the situation. For example, if her seeking assurance came across as an attack, it may be understandable that he reacted badly. If so, then she should change her approach and try again, making effort not to attack but to communicate her fears.
If he continues to react negatively, she should consider going another step to discover why he refuses to answer honestly or to reassure her about their relationship. This is especially true if the potentially straying partner begins to do or say things that question the worried mate's grip on reality. It seems that a common tactic among straying spouses, especially men, is to create confusion within the wife about her mental state.
A key point to remember is that a spouse who wants to be in a marriage will hear her husband's fears and reassure him. She will agree to accountability for time, money, and more. As she does, fears quickly subside and the relationship secures itself. If she refuses to offer adequate reassurance or to become accountable until security reestablishes itself, she demonstrates a lack of concern about continuing the marriage.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN?
If you fear that your spouse is straying, and she does not offer reassurance and accountability to provide you peace, there are steps you can take to investigate. However, before taking those steps, please understand the potential negative consequences.
Private detectives, phone line recorders, software to record keystrokes, GPS trackers, and more offer means to discover everywhere your spouse goes and everything he does. Using any or all of them may gather evidence of his unfaithfulness. If you wish to catch your spouse and use the information to get a divorce that favors you financially or otherwise, they work well. However, if it is because you want to save your marriage that you desire knowing whether your spouse is cheating, using any of these tools may do more harm than good.
If your spouse is cheating and you catch him, expect him to react angrily and with great offense. Though he broke your covenant, he will resent the actions or tools you used to catch him. That does not mean that using those tools makes your marriage unsalvageable, or even that using them would anger him more than catching him accidentally. It does mean that you should not be surprised if he becomes furious that you used them.
If they help you bring the matter to light, perhaps using them is good. If they so offend your spouse that he leaves you, you may have done nothing more than slightly speed his abandoning your for his lover. If they cause him to act rashly, you may have sealed the destruction of a marriage that might have been saved. Unfortunately, there is no possibility of knowing in advance how he might react to your actions.
The real problem comes if your spouse is not having an affair, nor secretly doing anything bad, and discovers that you used a private detective, GPS tracking, or other technology or methodology with the intent of catching her doing something wrong. Expressing yourself is necessary to resolving your doubts; secretly sleuthing is not. While it may be a way to know for sure what is happening, it carries the risk of hurting her so badly that she will find it difficult to trust you again.
I am not stating emphatically that you should not use those methods. However, I am encouraging you to think them through very carefully before employing them. If you have the slightest doubt, talk with a wise friend, minister, or counselor before taking such a step. From my experience with many marriages in crisis, I believe it much wiser to ask, confront, and diligently pursue the truth directly with your mate than to use outside sources, technology, or violation of privacy. However, if you feel you must, proceed with the awareness of possible consequences.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?
If you seriously worry that your spouse may be involved with someone else and are not ready or willing to violate her privacy to discover whether you are correct, I strongly recommend another method. Insist that she go with you to counseling or to an intensive marriage workshop. Tell her that you cannot be assured until she does, and that you are not making a request but a requirement for the sake of your marriage. If you know a counselor in whom you have confidence, schedule an appointment. If you feel that you would have a greater likelihood of your spouse attending a short marriage intensive rather than several weeks of counseling, consider our three-day weekend called Marriage Helper 911.
There is no assurance that counseling or a weekend intensive will confirm your spouse's faithfulness or unfaithfulness. However, it carries a strong likelihood because it deals with real life issues. During the weekend, for example, people often privately admit their affairs to their spouses, and because they had an entire weekend with trained and skilled helpers, they dealt with the affair there. On the other hand, people who doubted their spouses have attended the weekend and left with the reassurance that their doubts were invalid and the marriage intact.
Living in doubt is destructive. Truth sets one free. The method for learning the truth can make the difference in saving the marriage or ending it forever.