Current infidelity statistics reveal that in over one-third of marriages, one or both partners admitted to an extramarital affair. This number might actually be low because affairs are under reported. Other research estimates indicate that nearly 60% of all individuals will engage in an affair at some point during the marriage.
As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I do a lot of affair recovery work. My clients have taught me that sometimes there are obvious signs that the faithful spouse misses and sometimes there are no signs at all, because (sadly) some folks are just that good at compartmentalizing. The signs below are not meant to represent an exhaustive list and if present, may not necessarily mean your spouse is cheating. Every relationship is unique and you will have to discover the truth for yourself in your own situation.
- Emotional Distance is a huge clue that something may be wrong in your relationship. It’s hard to be emotionally invested in two people at the same time so the guilty partner creates space. The emotional distance works to create a shield that protects them from discovery. If you notice conversations becoming more superficial and your spouse withdrawing more and even becoming secretive, it could be because he/she is growing closer to someone else.
- Critical Attitude over the things that never bothered your spouse before such as your weight, wardrobe choices, not having things in common, the way you clean the house or cook, your appearance or even your sexual preferences and zeal between the sheets. Being unfaithful creates a lot of tension and requires the guilty party to focus on the negative aspects in the marriage. In a way, having a critical attitude helps the guilty partner justify their decision to continue their extramarital liaison.
- Guilt drives behavior changes. Most people cannot handle the guilt of cheating, so they respond by either showering the unassuming spouse with gifts, attention and affection or they withdraw. They may avoid eye contact and communication efforts aimed at explaining their behavioral changes. The guilty mate may pick fights, especially when the faithful spouse does something nice because it creates mixed emotions and forces the cheater to think about their actions.
- Grooming improves during an affair. The cheating partner may suddenly pay closer attention to their looks, change fragrances or begin wearing a fragrance, purchase a gym membership, a new wardrobe or lose weight.
- Evasive or unreachable when he/she used to be accessible. Text messages are not given priority and phone calls are not answered or returned. “Client meetings,” “projects” and “business trips” increase with a hyper focus placed on work responsibilities while at home.
- Defensiveness is a form of self-preservation. It is a way to blame your partner and says, “It’s not my fault, it’s your fault.” Defensiveness when attempting to address suspicions or making an observation about recent behavioral changes can be an effort to hide an affair.
- Blaming the faithful spouse for all the marriage problems and only seeing the marital relationship in negative terms. Often the infidel will flip the script and begin keeping tabs on the faithful spouse or accuse them of being paranoid, delusional or insecure.
- Change in behaviors such as listening to new music, picking up a new hobby, an increase in privacy, shutting doors that used to be left open, becoming more confident or more flirtatious with other men or women. It takes money and passion to fuel an affair, so look for changes in spending, a desire to suddenly control the family finances and credit card statements, working longer hours and pulling away from church or extended family.
- Sexual intimacy fizzles out or abruptly stops. The guilty partner moves to the guest room or the couch for “better quality sleep” because “snoring” or “restlessness” is keeping them awake. Paradoxically, intercourse sizzles with requests to try new positions and techniques.
- A new “friend” enters the picture and more and more time is spent with them. Talking less about interactions with certain colleagues that used to be the topic of conversation can also warrant suspicion.
Prior to exploring trauma with a new client, I assess their needs and ability to cope with traumatic symptoms. After ensuring stabilization and increasing coping strategies we are ready to begin the arduous journey of unpacking the damage from all the psychological and emotional wounding. For me, writing is a coping skill I use to deal with the traumatic symptoms of adultery. It is a way to make sense of nonsensical things. A way to re-write my life narrative, gain clarity and leave a legacy.
Not every marriage can be saved after an affair. Not every marriage should be saved. Mine was, but it’s been a long way back to me. Since my husband’s confession 16 months ago, I have laboriously toiled through the wreckage of my feelings in an attempt at finding normal (again). I have cycled through intense emotions that at times have been dark and frightening and on other occasions, completely out of character.
Affairs rip families apart; they are devastating to everyone involved. My initial emotions were shock and fear. Shocked that the one person who stood with me before God, family and friends and covenanted to forsake all others had rammed a dagger in my back. This affair partner (AP) actually thought she was taking my man. In my one communication with her I told her to leave my husband alone and she replied, “…It is not for you to say with whom I am in contact with at this time. This is out of line.” In an email exchange earlier that day she told my husband, “I have interviews in North Carolina in December.” Now she was plotting to move to my zip code! The fear that my husband might actually abandon our family for this desperate person enslaved me. I could not shake loose the shackles of anxiety.
His betrayal left no area of my life untouched. As I crossed the threshold from 2015 to 2016, I had but one goal: saving my marriage. We attended marriage therapy for months sifting through the affair details. We stabilized our relationship, repaired the breaches and increased our emotional intimacy. Yet there are still questions I will never have answers to, questions that haunt me to this day. As I stand on the precipice of 2017, my chief goal is to rediscover me.
It’s been a while since I wrote my last article. I cycle through these periods where I struggle to articulate what is in my soul. I withdraw until another story brews in my spirit and then I put fingers to keyboard. I’ve decided to take a break from blogging for now and work on my book- title to be announced after I obtain my ISBN.
I believe in the sanctity of marriage and it is not okay with me that most relationships do not endure the pressures of infidelity. Survivors of adultery are often left without a voice. We are told not to air our dirty laundry because no one needs to know our business. We are shamed and asked “What did you do to make him/her stray?” We are admonished when we do share our stories and feel we need to hide. It is more acceptable to talk about all our ailments and diseases or post pictures of our daughters on social media wearing scantily clad outfits and bikinis than it is to talk about infidelity. Adultery is a pandemic, it is a global problem of epic proportions and it is ripping families apart, but no one wants to talk openly about it! Just boggles my mind!
I recently finished my latest John Maxwell book, Intentional Living. He asks his readers three questions: (1) What makes you cry? (2) What do you sing about? (3) What do you dream about? The answer to all three questions for me is, my marriage and my children. So for their sake (yes I said “for their sake,” it could happen to them one day), I am breaking the code of silence and I am writing and I will continue to write until I die because marriage and family are my passion. I am sharing the story of our reconciliation, redemption, grace and forgiveness. I am talking about my emotions and the agony of betrayal. This is not something you “just get over.” It doesn’t go away after a month, or six months, or a year. This isn’t the same thing as overdrawing the bank account or spending frivolously at the mall.
It has been nine months since I discovered my husband’s affair and every time I think about it (which is pretty much every hour) I get angry. I still break down and sob in his arms at night because last summer after 20 years together, I stopped being enough for him. In spite of all my anger and pain, I have forgiven him and I am learning to trust again. If I can do this, others can too- but how will they know if we don’t talk about it?