27 April 2005

Cheating: Are you just being suspicious?

You think your partner might be having an affair. Should you investigate or are you being paranoid? Health24 investigates.

In facing the realities of life, it is necessary to be somewhat suspicious. After all, things are not always what they seem. Sometimes we need to be alert to signs of possible trouble, to question superficial appearances.

On the other hand, sometimes things are exactly what they seem. Not every rock has a worm underneath it. In the first case, we see far too little; in the second, we see far too much. So the task is to get the dose right, to be suspicious enough, but not more than is appropriate to the situation.

We are often too reluctant to face unpleasant facts. If we're not suspicious enough, we may overlook the obvious, avoid fixing things while they are still fixable, and make it far too easy for others to exploit us. Or we may fall in love with our own conspiracy theories and become over-suspicious, bending everything to fit our pessimistic expectations. The trouble with this strategy is that excessive, paranoia can drive our partner into eventually doing what we feared, even though our fears were in no way true when we started.

It is difficult to decide how thoroughly to investigate our suspicions. Do you go the whole hog, and hire a private detective? Do you simply ask your partner frankly to confirm or deny an affair? If so, do you believe what they say?

The curse of the cell-phone
Cell-phones have made it far easier to cheat - to contact a lover from anywhere, to call home pretending to be somewhere other than where you really are. It has also made it easier at times to discover that someone is cheating. Skilful frauds and criminals understand the need to leave as few traces as possible, but to judge from the questions that stream into Cybershrink's Forum, a remarkable number of cheats choose foolishly to communicate with their paramour frequently, not only listing their cell-number in their phone, but with multiple SMS which are lovingly preserved. A spouse who examines the partner's cell-phone frequently seems to discover many odd numbers, and some very odd and revealing SMS. One wonders why. It is as if the cheater likes to collect the guilty SMS as souvenirs of the affair, to savour and gloat over.

It then becomes a common problem for the spouse who, secretly snooping, discovers such messages. They feel impossible to ignore - yet how do you raise them with your errant spouse without revealing that you were snooping and not respecting their privacy - and enabling them to turn the confrontation into an argument about privacy and your misdeed, rather than about their greater dishonesty and bad faith?

Clues that may suggest that cheating is occurring
In the earlier stages, while both parties to the cheating are still being very careful, the usual signs may not be present. But a perceptive partner may notice intuitively a sense of change, or "something different" in their spouse's behaviour. There's a sense that they're further away from you, even when in the same room. They avoid emotional intimacy and cosy chats, as they have a secret to keep, and fear that it may leak or slip out.

They may be less interested in sex, at home - or perhaps, if over-stimulated by the affair, more interested than usual. They're less attentive to your moods, even to what you're saying. They become more concerned by their appearance, even when there's no occasion you know of to require such extra grooming. Someone who was a cheerful slob suddenly becomes concerned about weight and shape and maybe joins a gym.

They may show a degree of what looks like personality change, perhaps seeming preoccupied with thoughts of something else, or more outgoing and jolly than usual.

They become hypersensitive, much more so than usually, to any sense of criticism from you, or to even innocent questions from you about where they're going or what they're doing while out. Perhaps irritable when you try to chat about daily events. And some would suggest that there are signs worth recognising in yourself, especially if you find yourself denying that your partner could have an affair, and trying to find reasons to feel re-assured about this.

The more traditional and less likely to be innocent signs are stereotypes like lipstick on the collar or condoms in the cubby-hole. There might also be more absences from home which are not convincingly accounted for.

But remember that all these "signs" can also have perfectly innocent explanations, and none are specific to affairs or cheating. - Prof M.A. Simpson, Health24's Cybershrink


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