It’s a thought that nobody in a monogamous relationship wants to consider: My partner is cheating on me.
Unfortunately, people can and do have affairs while they’re in a committed relationship. Those affairs may be physical, emotional or both, but the bottom line is, anyone is capable of cheating—and women are just as likely as men to be unfaithful.
A 2011 study by researchers at Indiana University found that men and women in heterosexual relationships cheat at about the same rate: 23.2% for men, 19.2% for women. But once age is factored in, men and women are more likely to cheat at different stages of a relationship. The Institute for Family Studies reported that married 18- to 29-year-old women are more likely than men in the same age group to have sex with someone other than their spouse.
Why do women cheat?
There are countless reasons why women in a relationship or marriage may be unfaithful. The Cut interviewed seven women in their 20s to 40s on why they cheated on their husbands and boyfriends, and their answers varied greatly:
- Lack of intimacy with their current partner
- The excitement of casual sexual encounters with a new person
- Stress at home
While some experts posit that women are more likely than men to cheat for emotional (rather than physical) reasons, Gilda Carle, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of “10 Signs of a Cheater-to-Be,” believes there are more similarities than differences between the genders and what motivates people to cheat.
“I’ve seen both genders cheat for similar reasons: feeling unloved by their mate, anger and boredom,” Carle said. When love and respect are missing in a relationship, some people may be tempted to stray. “Acting out by cheating is an immature way to allegedly bring some relief to someone’s hurt ego,” said Carle. “But it will never solve the issue that needs to be addressed.”
Warning signs of cheating
People who are cheated on often ignore the warning signs, said Carle. Some of those red flags can appear in any relationship, regardless of how serious it is or how long you’ve been together. Universal signs of cheating may include these behaviors and signals:
1. She’s unusually affectionate. If your partner is paying extra attention to you and being more affectionate than usual, she could be trying to misdirect your suspicions that she’s cheating. She could be compensating for the guilt and regret she feels about cheating on you.
2. She’s emotionally distant. On the flip side, Carle noted that emotional distance could also be a sign that your partner is being unfaithful. She may still be physically going through the motions, but her heart and mind could be elsewhere if she suddenly acts cold or indifferent toward you.
3. She’s spending a lot of time on her phone (and doesn’t want you to see her screen). Has your wife or girlfriend become strangely secretive about her screen time? Does she get defensive when you ask who she’s talking to, or leave the room when she gets a phone call? It could mean she’s chatting with a love interest outside of the relationship—whether it’s via text, social media or even a secret dating app account. You can run a discreet search on your partner to see if you uncover any dating profiles or social media accounts she may be hiding from you.
4. She regularly checks out other people when you’re together. A recent study concluded what many of us already suspect: A wandering eye doesn’t bode well for a relationship. The researchers, who followed 233 newlywed couples over three and a half years, found that the participants who instinctively looked away from other attractive people and viewed romantic alternatives as negative behavior were more likely to have a successful marriage.
5. She has cheated on past partners. Unfortunately, when it comes to cheating, the predictor of future behavior is often past infidelity. Researchers from the University of Denver found that people who engaged in sex outside their first romantic relationships were three times more likely to cheat again in their next relationship.
Signs your wife is cheating
In a marriage (or any cohabitating relationship), cheaters often have to work a little harder to hide their behavior from the person they live with and see every day. These subtle signs could indicate that your wife is seeing someone on the side:
1. She’s spending a lot of time with a neighbor. According to one study, women are more likely than men to have an affair with a neighbor. In fact, 21% of those surveyed said the level of risk involved with cheating so close to home “makes it more exciting.”
2. She’s hitting the gym more often. If your wife has shown a sudden interest in getting in shape, it might not just be about her health. Nearly three-quarters of the members who belong to the extramarital dating site Ashley Madison reported their primary motivation for exercising is maintaining interest from their extramarital lover.
3. She’s making excuses not to go out. Carle said a spouse who comes up with reasons not to join you on outings, especially with your family, could indicate cheating.
4. She’s doing a lot of solo activities. If you and your wife used to run errands together, and suddenly she wants to go alone, it might mean she’s planning on doing more than grocery shopping.
5. Her technology habits have changed. Cheaters who don’t want to get caught are often careful to cover their tracks, especially when it comes to technology. There could be a reason your wife has recently changed all her passwords, stopped using shared devices or reduced her social media use.
Signs your girlfriend is cheating
Cheating can be harder to spot in a new relationship or when you don’t live with your girlfriend. You may want to be careful if she exhibits any of these signs of cheating:
1. She goes into excessive detail when you ask about her day. If your girlfriend has always been chatty about her activities, this might not be cause for concern. However, if she’s giving you more details than usual about every minute of her day, it could be that she’s trying to corroborate her own story and avert your suspicions of what she was really up to.
2. She bails on your dates. If your girlfriend used to always be up for a night out and now she’s canceling plans because she’s “busy” or “just wants to stay home,” it might mean she’s spending her time with someone else.
3. She suddenly has a new group of friends (and doesn’t want you to meet them). If your girlfriend doesn’t seem to want you around when she’s hanging with her new friends, she might be trying to emotionally separate herself from you.
4. She ghosts you, then comes back without an excuse. According to Carle, a partner who seemingly disappears and then comes back into your life like nothing happened could have been seeing someone else in the interim.
5. She’s become much more private. If your girlfriend seems withdrawn and distracted, but refuses to talk to you about what’s on her mind, there’s a chance she’s hiding something. It may not be a secret lover, but there’s probably a reason she wants you to stop fishing around.
Signs she’s cheating with a co-worker
Those of us who work in an office may spend more time with our colleagues than our spouses and families, so it may not be altogether surprising that people cheat on their partners with a co-worker. According to a study conducted by Simply Hired, 17% of women involved in an office relationship said there was cheating involved on her part (whether it was just her, or both her and her lover). Additionally, female respondents were 8% more likely to be involved in a cheating scenario.
That said, your wife or girlfriend’s long hours at work could mean nothing more than her dedication to her career. However, if you continue to suspect something is amiss, here are possible signs that she might be involved with a co-worker:
1. She’s working longer hours. This is a classic potential sign of cheating in any relationship, but it’s especially likely to be your partner’s excuse if she’s cheating with someone at work.
2. She’s getting more work communications at home. If she’s started receiving constant after-hours calls, texts and emails from colleagues, it might not necessarily always be about work.
3. She doesn’t want you coming to office parties anymore. You used to be her plus-one to all the company gatherings, but now she’d prefer to go solo.
4. She says her boss wants her to start traveling. This may be the truth, but if it doesn’t make sense for the role she’s in (and she hasn’t mentioned a promotion or job change), she might be making an excuse to take a “business trip” with her lover.
5. She’s making an extra effort on her appearance or work attire. Fancy new work outfits and taking time on her hair and makeup every morning might mean she’s trying to impress someone in the office.
Signs she’s cheating in a long-distance relationship
Are you “out of sight, out of mind” to your long-distance girlfriend? Here are a few hints she may be seeing someone closer to home:
1. Her communication patterns have changed. Long-distance couples often fall into specific communication routines, especially if they’re in different time zones. Missing your regular Skype dates or decreasing the number of calls and texts between you could mean she’s busy communicating with someone else.
2. She’s stopped answering you right away (or at all). At the beginning of your relationship, she may have responded to your texts within minutes and always picked up on the first ring. It could be a red flag if she suddenly seems to be out of reach.
3. She only wants to call you when she’s out of the house. If your long-distance girlfriend is secretly hooking up with someone else, it makes sense that she’d want to take your calls when she’s away from that person.
4. She won’t acknowledge your relationship on social media. Some people are more private in their digital life, and that’s OK—but not if her status says “single” when you’ve discussed being in a serious relationship, or if she mentions other friends, but not you, in her posts.
5. She’s always talking about one particular friend. In long-distance relationships, your girlfriend might be eager to tell you about the important people in her life, especially if you haven’t had an opportunity to meet them yet. However, if she’s constantly bringing up a specific “friend” of her preferred gender, it might make you a little suspicious.
What to do if you suspect she’s cheating
Convinced that your girlfriend or wife is being unfaithful? It’s important to give her the opportunity to explain herself and have an honest conversation about it. However, Carle recommends doing some self-reflection before you confront your partner.
“Your power is in your self-reflection,” she said. “Confront yourself as to why you’ve accepted your cheater for as long as you have.”
When you’re ready to talk to your partner about your concerns, you don’t necessarily want to go on the offensive and angrily demand to know if she’s seeing someone else. Instead, calmly explain that you want to talk to her and have the conversation in a safe, supportive environment. Gather your thoughts and tell her how her recent behavior has made you feel. You may wish to ask her if she’s been unhappy and whether there’s anything you can do to work together to improve your relationship.
It’s also important to note that if you and your partner haven’t discussed exclusivity, what constitutes infidelity or whether you’re both on the same page about your expectations for the relationship, she may not consider her behavior “cheating” at all.
The bottom line: Decide what you want out of a relationship before figuring out whether you want to either forgive your partner or move on.