Is Your Spouse Cheating? (DE Wave)

A reader sent me an email in reaction to my column a few weeks ago about jealousy and cheating. She writes, “I liked your article about being suspicious and jealous of your husband or wife, even though there’s no evidence that he or she is having an affair. But what, exactly, is ‘evidence?’ Should I get suspicious if my husband leaves the house or ‘works late’ with no explanation? What about separate credit cards and email accounts? Or secret phone calls? How can I know the difference between just quirky behavior, behavior meant to hide something, or just paranoia on my part?”

Thanks for your note. Simply put, “evidence” means facts. If you suspect that you see hard evidence of infidelity, I suggest that you first step back and take a look at your relationship. Are you happy or unhappy? For one thing, it forces you to think about things you haven’t thought about in years, like, what exactly do you expect out of a relationship? The answer can be highly personal, but I maintain that there are some answers that apply to everybody. One is the need for integrity. We say a spouse has integrity if you can be reasonably certain that he will do what he says he’s going to do, and that he always means what he says.

Another measure of a satisfactory relationship is how much you actually look forward to going home to this person. When talking to someone about his or her marital unhappiness, I know that something is seriously off when he or she wants to avoid going home. Call it “evidence” if you want, but it’s a breakdown of love and good will.

You mention some examples of this, such as separate credit cards, secret calls, etc. Are these indicators of an extramarital affair? Maybe. But they are also evidence of a breakdown in connection and trust. Extramarital affairs are almost always symptoms, not causes. Affairs sometimes develop because of the erosion of love – and eventually trust – between the partners. When trust breaks down, suspicion and jealousy develop. In this sense, whether there is (or isn’t) an extramarital affair matters less than the fact the two partners are losing their emotional connection to one another.

If you find yourself obsessing because you have evidence that your other half is cheating, but he or she flatly denies it, then you’re in one of the most heart-wrenching and frustrating situations imaginable. My advice would be to stand back, take off your detective cap, and focus on what might be missing from your relationship.

Although people sometimes do inexcusable things, it’s not always wise to focus on blame at first. Blame, valid or not, distracts from the more important issue: Does this marriage or relationship consist of two people who are really getting something out of it? In other words: Is it mutual? Marital relationships are based on mutuality and connection.

Of course, when an affair is suspected, sometimes it’s important to know for sure what’s really going on. If the relationship is over (or even if it can still be salvaged) you need to know what did or didn’t happen. You might not ever really know, especially if there is a break-up. But sooner or later the truth has a way of worming its way out. Even if it doesn’t, you can at least discover the most important thing: Whether or not it’s time to move on.

If you have solid evidence to suspect an affair, you have to get past the emotions and recognize that this was a CHOICE he or she made. Some marriages and relationships can actually survive the damage done by an affair – not because of successful detective work, but because the two of you managed to restore the connection and good will that brought you together in the first place. This is the root of the issue. What’s done is done. Now the question becomes whether your relationship is strong enough to try and patch up, or if it’s time to let it go and move on.

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