Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Warning Signs of Infidelity


This is the third article in a series on infidelity. The first two articles were published in the Southern Neighbor and are also available on my web site described above. This article will provide information about warning signs and began a discussion about the first steps to take to resolve this serious challenge to your emotional stability, your marriage, your family and children. I will discuss changes you sense in yourself, changes you perceive in your marriage, changes in the behavior of your spouse as well as changes in his or her schedules and habits. Of course there are different types of affairs, and each will have its own different clues for detection. Some unfaithful spouses are na´ve and full of guilt, leaving obvious signs in their trail. Other affairs grow slowly out of friendships, with the changes in this outside friendship almost undetectable until the affair is consummated. In other cases the unfaithful spouse will take elaborate steps to avoid detection. Some marriage partners have a sexual addiction, seeking sexual trysts without long-term affairs.

Often the first change you will notice is a sense of unease and change in your comfort level with doubts being raised in new areas of your life. With hindsight, betrayed spouses recall vague doubts, intuitions creating suspicions, gut instincts that something is wrong. You may notice little things that don't add up, and you find "pieces of the puzzle" before you can put the whole puzzle together. These nagging doubts and suspicions are particularly important if you have not previously been suspicions or jealous. However, individuals who are always jealous will not be able to notice this kind of change, and in fact may be driving their spouse away with their chronic accusations and suspicions.

You may also notice changes in the patterns of your marriage. You may find yourself with uncertainty about issues which were previously a source of trust and security in your marriage. Obviously marriages do change over time, and not all changes will signify that one spouse is entering into an affair. However, the marriage is likely to be solid when spouses are best friends, when they share their deepest thoughts and intimacies, and when they turn to no one except each other for comfort and support. Some marriage changes may indicate the beginnings of an affair, especially those that seem to indicate a spouse is stepping outside of the marriage or someone is slipping into a close relationship with your spouse. When, for example, a spouse stops saying "I love you," it may be time to start asking why. New signs of jealousy without paranoia may be normal reactions to impending signs of deterioration in the marriage relationship. The most suspicious changes are signs of lying and secrecy, with this new pattern of deception likely indicating the intrusion of an affair relationship into the marriage.

Reasons for the changes noted above are usually related to changes in the behavior of the spouse who may have initiated an affair. Changes in your spouse's appearance or behavior are noteworthy especially when there are no other obvious reasons to explain the altered behavior. While guilt may cause the unfaithful spouse to give extra attention or presents, or to even show increased sexual interest at home, the changes are usually unpredictable and temporary, related to factors outside the marriage. At other times your spouse's unpredictable behavior will seem critical and defensive, even starting arguments as if to push you away or storm out of the house. While some unfaithful spouses try to make sure their behavior appears totally predictable, normal behavior patterns are hard to maintain during the highly charged romantic and sexualized atmosphere of the affair relationship.

Most obvious will be changes in the unfaithful spouse's habits or behavior which are direct clues about an affair, always accompanied by some degree of lying and secrecy. Lies may be total fabrications, stretching the truth or may be errors of omission. The unfaithful spouse may show a new preoccupation with personal appearance, making transformations to appear younger, more attractive or sexy. Unexplained new interests or activities not shared with the marriage partner may originate in another relationship. An increased desire for privacy along with changes in schedules may result in more unexplained behavior and time out of the home. Cell phones may be guarded, and computer messages may be hidden or erased. Finally, changes in expenditure patterns, especially if accompanied by increased secrecy or denials, may indicate spending on the new romantic interest.

If this sounds like your marriage, what should you do? The first step will be increased vigilance. Pay attention to the changes in yourself, your marriage and your marriage partner, without drawing conclusions initially or making accusations. Most important, look at the patterns in your marriage, looking for changes signaling a need for improvement. Any or all of the changes described above may signal a need for marriage counseling. Especially if you wonder about an affair, the most helpful initial strategy will be to attempts to improve the marriage relationship. A professional can help the couple navigate the fine line between jealousy and angry denial, directing the couple inward toward marriage improvement and recommitment to the marriage vow of fidelity.