Statistics about how many couples are impacted by one or more emotional or physical affairs are hard to believe, for obvious reasons, not least of which is that estimates vary so widely. They range from 20-60% of men and 20-40% of women having an affair at some point in their relationship. No matter the exact number, the bottom line is that a large number of couples experience this form of betrayal at some point in their partnership, often after that affair has been going on for a while.
Upon discovery, you might wish you had put the signals together a bit faster. While this is not an exhaustive list, nor does the presence of any of these things guarantee your partner is stepping out on you, here are some clues that I’ve heard (sadly!) over the years that your partner might be involved with another person:
- Overnight business trips suddenly increase in number and length
- Work trips start expanding into the weekends, with the claim that more ‘prep time’ is needed or travel schedules are too tight
- Your partner, who used to drive home from meetings no matter the hour, suddenly calls to say she’s too tired and needs to spend the night in a hotel. When you call her back, she has turned off her cell phone
- You partner gets another phone and doesn’t share the phone number with you…or you stumble upon a burner phone
- You are doing the yearly insurance paperwork and notice that your partner has suddenly started to put a whole lot more mileage on the car than you would expect
- Things start happening that don’t make sense in the context of your own relationship. A partner disinterested in cooking suddenly gives you cooking instruction. Or a partner who has never cared at all about gift giving, fashion, or shopping suddenly shows up with the latest, greatest fashion candle set. A partner who has always hated reading suddenly has books on the bedside table. When asked about these types of surprising shifts, your partner avoids the question or gives an unconvincing answer.
- While you were having troubles before, your partner had always been willing to talk. Now she’s totally checked out and seems to care very little about anything that goes on between you…
- At the same time, she’s suddenly much more interested in her appearance – purchasing sexier clothes and wearing makeup, for example
- An unfamiliar phone number starts showing up on your bill, 7 days a week
- Recently you’ve had little success getting hold of a partner who was previously easily available by phone. There have been a lot of excuses such as “I had the sound turned off and forgot to turn it back on,” “I was listening to music” and “I was in the shower and didn’t hear it.” This continues, even after you’ve been very clear about how disturbing you find his inaccessibility.
- Your partner starts treating you as if you have done him some injury or are in his way, being inexplicably short-tempered and self-centered
- Conversely, your partner brings you jewelry, roses or luxury gifts that have no real explanation, nor precedent
- Whenever you walk into her office she suddenly minimizes the computer screen and looks guilty. You notice that it is often a “chat” screen, with different colored talk bubbles on it
- He’s not interested in sex with you anymore, nor in cuddling, or any other sort of physical contact
- For the first time in your relationship, he can’t get an erection but, surprisingly, he doesn’t seem to care
- She has a sudden interest in new sex toys and sex positions that isn’t put in any context, for example with an “I think it’s time to spice up our sex life” or "I came upon this great website..."
- She used to read new messages on her phone right away. Now she ignores them…but you notice soon afterwards she often disappears for a bit or goes to the restroom
- He does things that don’t make sense at all – like give the cat you needed to find a new home for to a co-worker 2 states away, rather than to the local neighbor delighted to take the animal
- He starts hanging out with an old girlfriend, but says ‘it’s nothing’
- To make things easy, your family has the same password for all computers. Then your partner changes his
- You start hearing too many stories about a guy she works with. They sound surprisingly positive and upbeat
- You find unexplained charges on his credit card bills for dinners at fancy restaurants or theater tickets
- He starts going to bars without you, and without any of your mutual friends
- He starts enthusing about how much fun it is to reconnect with old friends on Facebook. You sense he’s flirting...and really excited about it
- You find yourself feeling panicked when she is on business trips…particularly when she says she’s ‘having a late dinner with clients so don’t wait up to talk’
- His ex-wife, who still works with him at his home office, decides to take a call from your bedroom, lounging on your bed. When you complain, he says it’s nothing
Then there are the ‘smoking guns.’
- You are sitting next to your partner on a plane and notice he’s chatting on his tablet…and someone other than you has just written “Safe travels…love you!”
- Your husband’s affair partner calls you to tell you she has just spent three days in New Orleans with him
- While she is out of town, you receive a piece of mail addressed to your wife…and to a man you don’t know. You open it up to discover it is about a romantic vacation for the two of them
- You find someone else’s belongings in your bedroom
- One of his co-workers tells you what she sees going on because she ‘thinks you should know’
- You stumble upon suggestive pictures of him with someone else in his Google account
- You get an STD, even though you haven’t been with anyone other than your partner
An affair partner is like a black hole. You know something really big and dark is out there, but you can’t see it.
My personal experience is that you may well understand intuitively that your partner is having an affair long before you allow your conscious self to wrestle with that idea. That’s too bad, because living with a hidden affair is intensely stressful. You don’t get treated right when your partner is seeing someone else on the sly, but you can’t exactly figure out why. That really hurts.
Things will undoubtedly blow up once the affair is (almost inevitably) revealed. And that period of time immediately ‘after revelation’ of a partner’s affair will be one of the singly most painful periods of your life. But at least in the aftermath of the discovery you will be forced to sort through what the affair means to both of you - whether you should really be together, and how you got to that place at all. And you’ll finally have full information with which to work.
I will write about recovering from affairs later.
Remember – none of the signs in that first list guarantees your partner is having an affair. But if you see a lot of them, and if your relationship has shifted in inexplicable and surprising ways recently, you may wish to open your mind to the possibility that there is a third person in your relationship.