'I Work With Cheaters. Here Are My Top 6 Signs to Spot an Affair'

As a counselor and psychotherapist, I have worked with clients across general practitioner (GP) surgeries, private practice, charities, universities and mental health settings. This has included a diverse range of adult individuals, couples and groups and I have been fortunate enough to help clients with an array of personal and relationship issues, including those who have experienced infidelity in a relationship.

Over the course of 11 years, I have learned that the reasons people cheat are complicated, varied, and rarely what they first seem. I have seen examples where cheating has been a cry for help, a sign one or both partners are not coping, a desperate attempt to save the relationship, or an indicator that one partner is feeling trapped. Sometimes, it's even part of a wider pattern of addictive, self-destructive behaviour.

We talk about "cheaters" as though it is a fixed personality that defines them, but in my experience it's usually more complex than this. I've also observed that cheating is not gender specific, and though many cultural narratives lead us to believe that a "cheater" is a morally bad person, in my experiences, cheating behaviour is rarely about good or bad.

When clients discover a partner has cheated, it can be difficult to reconcile this behaviour with the multitude of other ways in which the cheater might have been loving. When children are involved, the discovery can be harrowing and adds an extra layer of complexity around what feels like a struggle between doing what's best for the children and doing what's best for the person who has been cheated on.

But, I believe that phrases like "once a cheater, always a cheater" aren't really helpful, and the pressure to leave a relationship from well-meaning friends and family is often a lot easier said than done.

Not every relationship has to break down after cheating, sometimes I have observed that it's a symptom of something wrong between the couple, and this issue can be worked through in relationship therapy.

infidelity, cheating, relationships, therapy

Other times I have seen partners who have had to take some time and support to eventually work out that they do want to leave. Of course, either option is painful, and recovery from betrayal takes time. Remember, cheating isn't always even about sex—betrayals can happen in a multitude of ways. But gut feelings are a really important factor. Nobody but you knows the truth of what goes on inside your relationship, so while the following signs below might be an indicator of cheating, trust yourself to know what's right, and seek out help for yourself if necessary.

Sign 1: They've become really good at lying at the little, innocuous things

Did you see your partner unexpectedly at the mall the other day, but when you casually ask what they were doing, they told you a long-winding story that sounds plausible but unnecessarily detailed? Does it seem like they're making things up on the fly? A sudden feeling that your partner is not being entirely truthful can be an indicator of infidelity. I had one client who spotted her partner in a part of town she hadn't expected to see him. She was then ignored when she waved and later that evening had him feign surprise at being seen. Her partner then asked a lot of questions about being spotted, which can be a tool used by cheaters to try and decipher whether they have been caught out. Sadly, my client later learned her partner had been at a bar with his recent liaison from a dating app.

Sign 2: They get defensive at well-meaning interactions

You might have the best of intentions towards your partner but they assume you're trying to catch them out at every turn. I have seen countless examples, in relationships where one partner is cheating, of innocent questions like, "why is the ketchup in the fridge not the cupboard?" being met with disproportionate responses such as, "I just forgot to put it there! What, don't you trust me!?"

Sign 3: They gaslight you

Sometimes, and particularly in the case of domestic abuse within a relationship, the type of interaction described in sign two could actually be an indication your partner is gaslighting you. The person cheating could well be the one asking questions with the intention of tripping you up.

I have had a client who had cleaned up all the dishes, but then returned back to the kitchen later only to find dirty plates by the sink. Her partner suggested she was lying to cover up something else, and questioned where she'd been all afternoon instead of tidying. It turns out he was cheating on her.

I recommend that if you are being made to feel "as if" you're cheating when you're not, or if you're being made to feel like you don't trust your partner, gaslighting may be occuring. If this gaslighting is part of a wider pattern of domestic abuse, I would urge you to reach out to an organization that can help you.

infidelity, cheating, relationships, therapy
Katerina Georgiou is a counselor and psychotherapist based in London. Katerina Georgiou

Sign 4: They accuse you of accusing them of cheating or they (sort of) self-confess

I have had instances where a client has seen a situation such as arguing about the laundry and the next minute, their partner has blurted out something like, "what, you think I'm cheating!?" Interestingly, cheating wasn't even in my client's mind at the time, but it eventuated that the partner who blurted this out was indeed cheating. The reality is, guilt can often gnaw away at a person who's cheating, and lead to fear that you've "found them out". This will lead to unravelling and what amounts to a near self-confession, without directly saying it.

Sign 5: You got together via cheating, or they have a history of cheating

Some clients who met their partner when they were both in other relationships have gone on to cheat, or they are cheated on, in their new relationship together. In my observations, the pattern of cheating follows is often similar: once the day to day reality of living together hits, pangs of unhappiness return and they once again find refuge in another shoulder to cry on.

If you and your partner were cheating on your previous partners when you got together, there's no reason why this couldn't happen again. And, the conditions that brought you together could make you more paranoid than usual. Unfortunately, once paranoia creeps into a relationship, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your partner has a history of cheating, I suggest thinking about the reasons that led to them cheating in those past relationships. Did the betrayal coincide with the relationship hitting a blip?

Sign 6: Online and phone activity has altered

This one is tricky, because it could indicate cheating, but there could be an equally innocent explanation. Perhaps their cell phone pings, it's a message from someone you don't recognise and this keeps happening. Or their Google search history is bringing up questions like where to go out for dinner, when you and your partner haven't recently eaten out. A common example is where a married couple sync their various devices to one another, and then forget they've done so. The phrase "I no longer love my husband" appeared on one client's Google history.

None of these signs are guarantees that your partner is cheating. But, if you keep finding yourself feeling suspicious that something's up, and every attempt to question it is batted away with an explanation, start paying attention to your instincts. Of course, if you're in a domestic abuse situation, this changes things hugely, and it is important to take steps to receiving help—that could be confiding in someone close to you, or reaching out to an organization that can help.

But otherwise, consider when your suspicions began and how would you feel if your partner were cheating. Whatever the answer, it may be useful to seek out a therapist for yourself just to talk some of these feelings through.

Katerina Georgiou is a BACP-acccredited counsellor, psychotherapist and freelance writer based in London. She was previously a Samaritans helpline listener and a life coach for Mind supporting care leavers. She is the host of Sound Affects Podcast, exploring candid conversations about music and mental health with rock stars. For information and inquries, contact her at www.kgcounsellor.com

All views expressed in this piece are the writer's own.

U.S. and Canada: The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project: 1-800-832-1901

UK: National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
ManKind Initiative: 01823 334244