Technology and social media are fast turning privacy into a thing of the past, which is making it increasingly difficult to hide an affair—but easier to catch cheaters. This is exactly what one man found out recently when his wife unlocked his phone with his own fingerprint while he slept during a flight.
After discovering his extramarital behavior, the woman faced off with both her husband and the cabin crew, causing the pilot to perform an emergency landing and remove the entire family from the plane.
Perhaps she’d read the enlightening survey by Superdrug Online Doctor that analyzed the most common and damning behaviors of cheaters. According to the numbers, private passcodes are one of the most obvious signs of an adulterous partner.
A total of 1,000 people were polled for the survey, revealing habits that people found to be suspicious and the action they took to uncover the truth.
Considering that infidelity is discovered in 41 percent of marriages, it’s little wonder people go to some pretty extreme lengths to expose their partners. But whether they like what they find out is another story.
Warning bells and surveillance methods: What do they say about us?
Infidelity can mean different things to different people. For some relationships, emotional infidelity can be seen as just as bad as physical.
Monogamy and love marriage are both relatively new concepts and accordingly, so too is the concept of ‘infidelity.’
According to sexuality counselor Jessica O’Reilly, PhD, infidelity wasn’t always so commonplace.
“Non-monogamous relationships have been the norm throughout most of human history,” she says. “Monogamy and love marriage are both relatively new concepts and accordingly, so too is the concept of ‘infidelity.’”
Although she believes cheating has probably only increased among women as they’ve moved out of the domestic sphere, she thinks it’s seen as far more taboo today than it was in the past.
“In terms of attitudes toward infidelity, I believe that we are less tolerant than in previous decades,” she says. “Cheating is still judged harshly, and women of my generation are more likely to break up with a partner after an affair than women of my mother’s and grandmother’s generation. We have more options—we can stay single, find another relationship, or opt for a consensually non-monogamous relationship.”
Humans have been having extra-relational sex since the beginning of time.
O’Reilly thinks that digital communication and media have allowed for greater exposure and discourse on infidelity, which can give the illusion of an increase in cheating. Just think about Ashley Madison, the infamous online dating site for married people who are looking to have affairs.
“Humans have been having extra-relational sex since the beginning of time,” she says. “We’re simply talking about it more now.”
Lisa Brateman, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist in NYC, thinks that society is becoming far less tolerant of cheating as our expectations of relationships evolve.
“There is a growing acceptance of divorce, pre-marital sex, living together, and having children before marriage,” Brateman says. “The negative attitude for cheating is high since divorce has become a more acceptable option than cheating.”
When you combine increased awareness of infidelity with a growing negative judgment, suspicion is at an all-time high. And if this survey is anything to go by, then people are going to some extreme lengths.
Some of the red flags for potentially adulterous behavior are pretty standard. Finding their partner leaving the room to use their phone, smelling of perfume or aftershave, and keeping nude photos on their phone were all signs that more than 30 percent of people found highly suspicious.
Changes in routine and personality—such as decreased sex drive or moodiness—were also noticed.
Perhaps most alarming of all is the fact that 31 percent of people who contracted an unexpected STI from their partner reported that they didn’t feel suspicious beforehand.
According to Brateman, “secrecy is the biggest red flag.” Think: changing passcodes, using locked furniture such as filing cabinets, and not sharing details about their day. If they’re not sharing those details with you, they may be sharing them with someone else instead.
“Changes in a partner’s behavior can be indicative of a physical or emotional affair,” Brateman says. “A sudden desire to work out and dress differently are common red flags, although there could be other reasons for this.”
Even the subtlest of changes could be enough to warrant suspicion, especially when they happen over a short period of time. But don’t forget the not-so-obvious signs.
“What is not talked about can be revealing,” she says. “For example, if a partner comes home from a four-day business trip and doesn’t talk about the trip, that could be a sign that he didn’t attend. People do not like to talk about something that hasn’t happened for fear of being discovered.”
She cautions to pay attention to decreased or changed interest in sex (such as new techniques), increased interest in grooming, and defensive behavior that doesn’t match the situation.
In a loving relationship your partner wants to know how you are feeling.
“When you let your partner know that something feels different, and her response is defensive or aggressive, it may be because she is deflecting or hiding something,” she says. “In a loving relationship your partner wants to know how you are feeling. This is part of the process of resolving what feels different or uncomfortable.”
Psychotherapist Mia Adler Ozair has similar tips for catching a potentially unfaithful spouse.
“Does your spouse shower right away when they get home when they never used to? Are they working odd hours? Do you have a hard time getting in contact? Has any baseline behavior changed?”
Maybe you’ve noticed a few of these signs in your partner. What’s next? According to the survey, people mostly attempt to uncover the truth using technology. Over 40 percent of people polled admitted to snooping on their partner’s phone, computer, or social media, with varying degrees of success.
The method that had the most success predates the telephone itself: secretly following them—54 percent of people who physically followed their partner found proof of cheating.
If you’re looking to ‘catch’ your partner cheating, you probably have bigger relationship issues than the extramarital sex itself.
But before you bust out the binoculars and disguises, O’Reilly says you may want to reconsider why you’re feeling so mistrustful of your spouse in the first place.
“If you’re looking to ‘catch’ your partner cheating, you probably have bigger relationship issues than the extramarital sex itself,” she says. “If you think your partner is cheating, you probably want to examine why you’re suspicious and have a conversation with them. If you need to snoop through their messages or hire a private investigator, many of the foundational elements of your relationships—trust, security, open communication—are clearly lacking and you’re going to have to address these issues regardless of whether you ‘catch’ them or not.”
It is imperative not to fill in the blanks and jump to conclusions about the signs of infidelity.
Brateman also cautions against jumping the gun when suspicions begin to fly.
“Sometimes emotional or sexual distance can be perceived as ‘she must be cheating.’ It is imperative not to fill in the blanks and jump to conclusions about the signs of infidelity.”
The people surveyed did reveal that confrontation was a better way to get a confession than simply snooping, with a success rate of 42.8 percent. If you must confront your partner, make sure to do so in the right way.
Suspicion is not fact.
“Telling her that you have begun to wonder if something is going on because you have noticed certain unusual behavior is a better way to address your suspicion,” Brateman says. “Give examples of the behaviors you have noticed without accusing. That is a healthier starting point to open up the conversation. Suspicion is not fact.”
Is ignorance bliss?
While a lot of attention is given to detecting and catching a partner, there’s still one very important thing to consider: the aftermath. How do you react to discovering your partner has been cheating? Or finding nothing and doing some serious damage to your relationship?
The survey showed that although people didn’t feel an immense amount of regret for snooping after discovering infidelity, they rated their regret 4.9 out of 10 when their detective work uncovered nothing.
Does this mean that it’s better to remain unaware? It may have been considered out of bounds to question your husband’s mysterious absences in the 1950s, but some people still abide by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” method. There’s even the old adage that cheating will only strengthen a marriage. But O’Reilly doesn’t quite agree.
It can be difficult to recover from this, but it’s doable.
“I’ve read the recent suggestions that cheating leads to stronger relationships, but I would suggest that this is the exception—not the norm,” she says. “It’s true that an affair can have positive outcomes—a willingness to have more open, vulnerable conversations—but in many cases the obstacles to overcome can be greater, at least in the short term. Ultimately, cheating is a form of betrayal. It’s a contract violation. It can be difficult to recover from this, but it’s doable.”
Ozair agrees that a faithful relationship is what’s best and can lead to a life-changing level of intimacy.
“Having and being a faithful partner opens the door to what can become a truly deep, meaningful, and life-changing connection with your spouse,” she says. “The idea of truly being there for someone, having someone’s back, and knowing someone has yours is an incredibly powerful feeling that usually elevates both people to entirely new levels.”
If everyone who cheated broke up, we’d have very few people in relationships.
But what if cheating has occurred? Is there any way to move forward together, or is separation the only option?
“An affair certainly doesn’t need to mean the end of a relationship,” says O’Reilly. “If everyone who cheated broke up, we’d have very few people in relationships.”
She’s right; 31 percent of marriages last after the discovery of an affair—and that’s not counting couples who aren’t married.
It takes a long time to heal after a betrayal.
But according to Brateman, those who do decide to stay together have a lot of work ahead of them.
“Infidelity is one of the most sabotaging behaviors for the health of a relationship,” she says. “Cheating on a partner damages trust that impairs the safety and commitment in the relationship. It takes a long time to heal after a betrayal. Relationships cannot survive mistrust.”
She says couples must work hard to rebuild that broken trust and address the humiliation of betrayal.
“When both spouses are willing to do the emotional work to restore their relationship they can repair the damage,” she says. “In time, forgiveness and honesty will help rebuild the trust that was broken. They will need to re-commit themselves to the marriage. If one spouse is unwilling to do this, though, the marriage will suffer.”
O’Reilly has seen couples successfully move past infidelity and “cultivate happy, fulfilling relationships.” She has noticed a common formula among those who are successful, which includes working with a professional to “sort through pre-cheating and post-chasing emotions.”
“The person who cheated takes responsibility and doesn’t [make]—or stops making—excuses,” she says. “I believe you’re more likely to do it again if you deflect blame and make excuses.”
Ignorance may not actually be bliss, but confronting the truth isn’t easy either. As much as it may hurt, it’s important for both parties to put in the effort.
“They exercise this trust as opposed to exercising control as a means of relationship preservation,” she says. “That is, they accept that trust is partially earned and partially given; if you need to monitor your partner, you’re not giving them the trust required for a happy relationship.”