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Lucy Wigley

11 ways to 'spot infidelity' according to research, and #4 could be confusing

A man removing his wedding ring behind his back.

Can you spot infidelity? Research reveals the top 11 red flag behaviours to indicate a potentially cheating partner - our relationship expert shares her thoughts on the list.

Being married or in a long-term relationship takes a lot of hard work and commitment. If you're a woman in that position and have children, the strain of matrescence and the mental load on top of trying to maintain a functioning partnership, can feel overwhelming. If one person starts to feel particularly dissatisfied with the direction the relationship takes - lack of intimacy and low levels of excitement and fun are just a couple of factors involved - emotional cheating or full blown infidelity can happen.

We spoke to BACP registered therapist Charlotte Fox Weber, to gain a better understanding of cheating and looking out for it. Charlotte tells us "If you suspect that your partner is having an affair, it can be difficult not to drive yourself mad if you’re continually reassured that it’s all in your head. People can be masterful at covering their tracks if they’re determined to deceive. In addition to the usual signs, there are patterns that may indicate duplicity." 

The patterns and strategies in question, relate to a study that set out to identify behaviours individuals might use to conceal and affair. In the first instance, acts that were considered untrustworthy enough to end a marriage were identified by researchers. The 53 behaviours were then condensed into 11 strategies considered to be the top red flags to look out for to indicate a cheating partner. Charlotte shares her thoughts on some of the key behaviours with us.

11 ways to spot infidelity

  1. Being discreet. This usually includes the cheating partner meeting somebody in remote and isolated places, and areas neither of them will be known. They will also create believable excuses for their absence. Charlotte says "Making a meeting a work discussion can act as a cover, as can setting up a meeting under the pretence of getting advice about something or someone."
  2. Eliminating digital evidence. This can mean being careful to delete messages and emails, and thinking hard about what they share to social media. Charlotte says "If someone has no messages on their phone, it can be a sign of too much carefulness. A person living a double life can go to great efforts to keep up with the appearance of normalcy. It’s incredible how much people can compartmentalise. They can convince themselves that they are living life as normal by being responsible and assiduous. If people have splits in their lives and characters, there can be a staggering capacity to keep relationships separate."
  3. Keeping behaviour the same. Exactly as it suggests, the cheating partner will try not to change their attitude toward the existing partner - any change in their behaviour can arouse suspicion. 
  4. Showing more interest in you. In trying not to show they're invested in another person, a cheating partner can even go the other way and become far more affectionate to the person they're being unfaithful to. Charlotte explains "Some partners can still be extremely attentive and correct, while having affairs. It’s not black and white, and the vilification that follows can be devastating for the whole family. Deception is ultimately self-sabotage."
  5. Setting up email accounts you don't know about/having a burner phone. It's not unusual for those being unfaithful to set up secret email addresses and purchase an extra phone their partner doesn't know about. 

"They can convince themselves that they are living life as normal by being responsible and assiduous. If people have splits in their lives and characters, there can be a staggering capacity to keep relationships separate."

Charlotte Fox Weber, psychotherapist
  1. Adding extra security to accounts and devices that are known about. If a partner suddenly changes their passwords or sets up increased security on their devices for no reason, it could be time to get suspicious. Hiding their phone and keeping it on silent can also be red flag behaviours if unusual for the person. 
  2. Using friends to hide their activities. Their friends might not know they're cheating, but they make excellent alibis for the cheater's whereabouts. Someone might lie about being with a friend, and use work colleagues as an excuse for being late home. 
  3. Presenting the person they're cheating with as a colleague or friend. The cheater could even introduce the person they're having an affair with into their family life. This could be under the belief their existing partner would never think they'd have the audacity to do this if they were being unfaithful with this new person. Charlotte says "Some people hide in plain sight. Normalising someone as a friend of acquaintance can mitigate suspicion, and seeming naive can be a further way of backing a deception."
  4. Never appearing suspicious. This includes meeting the secret partner at less suspicious times, or as Charlotte tells us "Partners using weekly appointments can be a common cover." They might also start an unexpected new 'hobby' or to justify being away from the house.
  5. Infrequent contact with the person they're cheating with, or regularly changing who they they cheat with. Just what it says, a cheater might keep contact with the other partner to a minimum, or regularly mix up secret liaisons to instead have a stream of occasional partners.
  6. Keeping their routine the same. This involves going to great lengths to keep their appearance the same, and carefully controlling expenses so nothing unusual can be spotted.

As some of the strategies are similar or even conflicting, it should be pointed out that someone cheating wouldn't be using all of them. According to Psychology Today, more than 70% of study participants reported willingness to use at least seven of the strategies. Interestingly, those who scored highly in Machiavellianism - personalities inclined to be manipulative, lack empathy, self-centred and indifferent to morality - were most likely to engage in these strategies. 

For more on relationships, a relationship expert shares three psychological ways to know if you're still in love, and the daily habit all couples do that could be killing your relationship. If you're wondering how to spice up a relationship, these tips will help. 

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