Secret phone conversations. A new gym membership. Extra charges on the credit card. Less intimacy and more distance. These are all signs your partner may be cheating, according to Oprah Daily. And, of course, there’s your gut feeling, telling you something isn’t right.
PsychCentral reports that in a 2021 survey of 441 people conducted by Health Testing Centers, over 46% of people in a monogamous relationship revealed they had an affair. Of that group, 22% never admitted the affair to their partner.
If you think your significant other may be cheating on you, it can be an emotional time, and your decision-making skills may be hindered. "You are panicking right now and probably not thinking clearly," explains psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Kathy Nickerson. "Your brain is in crisis mode and you are making decisions based on fear, not logic." With that in mind, you’ll want to avoid the no. 1 mistake most people make when they suspect an affair is happening.
The no. 1 mistake is connecting with other people involved in the affair
In an exclusive interview with The List, Dr. Talal Alsaleem — an award-winning marriage counselor and the founder of the Infidelity Counseling Center — revealed the biggest error people make when they think their partner is cheating. "A common mistake people make when they are suspicious, is reaching out to who they think the affair partner is or that person’s significant other," Dr. Alsaleem said.
Dr. Alsaleem says the major reason for wanting to confront everyone involved in the affair is to "gather information or set boundaries." Psychologist and couples counselor Nandita Rambhia further acknowledges on Bonobology, "This is a sensitive situation and a confusing place to be in. It is easy to operate from a place of ‘I have been wronged and must act immediately.’ When we get really suspicious, we try and find out what our partner has been doing, where, and with whom."
Despite the temptation, you should also rule out revenge. "Trying to get even keeps your anger alive, and keeps you in a state of negativity, which will prevent you from moving on and going forward in your life," explains relationship expert Jane Greer to Reader’s Digest.
Why contacting anyone else can be a bad idea
While it may seem like you’re clearing the air for everybody involved, and getting all the facts and dirty details in an effort to decide how you should proceed in your relationship, you could be causing more harm than good. "The problem with reaching out to the suspected affair partner is that whatever information you receive from them will have to be taken with a grain of salt," says Dr. Talal Alsaleem, who is known as the father of modern infidelity counseling. "Especially if infidelity is actually taking place."
You’re seeking the truth, and what you may be getting isn’t an accurate picture. "I have seen many affair partners exaggerate or minimize the questionable interactions," says Dr. Alsaleem. It could be that your significant other shared a kiss, but their kissing partner says it was more than that. Or the opposite could be true, and the kiss may have led to something else.
Relationship expert Dr. Jane Greer agrees that connecting with your significant other’s affair partner isn’t a good idea, explaining to Women’s Health, "The conflict is between you and your partner — not the other [person]. If anything, move away from any further contact or communication with that person. The goal is to have no involvement."
There may be unexpected consequences for reaching out
Dolly Parton may have sung about a peaceful interaction with mistress Jolene, but the reality about confronting the people involved in your partner’s affair could be much more volatile. "As far as reaching out to the suspected affair partner’s significant other, this usually leads to unnecessary verbal and physical altercations," warns Dr. Talal Alsaleem. He or she may think you’re lying, and could feel shocked upon hearing your revelations. It could "end up with severe legal ramifications" too, says the infidelity expert.
The divorce law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, LLC notes that confronting the affair partner themselves could also lead to questionable results. "Regardless of whether you know the person your partner is cheating with, no one likes to be confronted," the legal office notes. "Especially in cases such as this, individuals tend to react severely. Please, don’t needlessly risk your safety."
There’s also the possibility you could be encouraging further interactions between your partner and their suspected lover. "It is almost guaranteed to create more contact," states Rick Reynolds, founder and president of Affair Recovery. They may tell your partner about the confrontation in an effort to be comforted, and it could bring the two closer together.
What you should do if you suspect your partner is cheating
If you think your partner is cheating, talking directly to them is the first step. "I would say take a major pause before rushing out to confront the other woman," says psychologist Nandita Rambhia for Bonobology. "Remember, your relationship is primarily with your partner, so it is better to … let them talk, explain their side, air their thoughts out."
Relationship expert and psychotherapist Alex Carling suggests writing down what you want to say before having the conversation. "There’s nothing wrong in taking a list with you … It’s 100% normal for our thinking to be affected when we are managing intense emotions," Carling notes for Insider. "It’s a good idea to establish beforehand what you want them to know and what you want to know from your partner."
"I always recommend that my clients not reach out to the third party or their family members," reiterates Dr. Talal Alsaleem. However, you should talk to someone. "If you learn that your partner has cheated on you, I strongly suggest that you not sit alone with that information," advises Robert Weiss, psychotherapist and sexologist, per Psychology Today. "Talk to a trusted friend, your pastor, or a therapist. Just don’t sit there along with your fears and feelings. Reach out and find empathetic support."
How to move forward whether the affair is real or not
While your partner’s behavior may lead you to believe they are cheating on your relationship, it’s possible there is no affair. "But these [behaviors] remain indications that something is wrong in their life and/or your relationship," warns Robert Weiss, per Psychology Today. "It might not be cheating, but there is almost certainly something that you and your significant other need to talk about."
If it does turn out that your partner has been cheating, you do have options. "Couples can and do recover from affairs. Many, many have, and many, many will," notes couples therapist LuAnn Oliver on PsychCentral. For Reader’s Digest, licensed counselor Samantha Burns notes, "Rather than looking backward, think of creating a new chapter, or even a ‘second marriage,’ where you can learn new skills, repair the dysfunctional dynamics, and come out as a stronger, more connected couple."
Oliver also points out that if staying together isn’t working, "Divorce, also, isn’t the end of the world. For some, it can be a doorway into new opportunities." Burns adds, "There is no shame in staying, and there is no shame in leaving."