Trust is the cornerstone of a healthy and thriving relationship, but when suspicions of infidelity start to creep in, it can shake the very foundation of that trust. While jumping to conclusions is never wise, it’s helpful to have some kind of guideposts to help sort out whether there’s something to be worried about, or whether your partner is just having an off day. To that end, here are some common red flags that could indicate your partner might be straying and offer insights on how to address these concerns.
A new lack of emotional closeness in communication
One of the earliest and most consistent behaviors linked to infidelity is a noticeable emotional distance between you and your partner. If your once affectionate and communicative significant other seems to have become distant overnight, it may be cause for concern.
This may look like feeling like you have to dig for information about how they feel or what they think where they used to offer it enthusiastically, or trying to initiate a conversation about your feelings that used to be easy but now gets shut down. Changes in their behavior may look like avoiding eye contact, being less engaged in conversations, or seeming preoccupied with thoughts that they’re unwilling to share.
Of course, one should never assume that these are an admission of infidelity, or that cheating is the only explanation for behavior like this — depression, burnout, or other problems in the relationship are all very plausible reasons why someone’s affect or emotional openness might seem to shift as well. It’s possible your partner also has some avoidant tendencies, which may not have been as obvious in the early “honeymoon” stages of a new relationship — while this can feel challenging, it doesn’t always mean a partner is cheating.
Unexplained changes in communication patterns
Communication is the bedrock of any relationship, so when your partner’s communication patterns change, it can be a signal that something is amiss. If they’re suddenly secretive about their phone, hesitant to share details about their day, or become defensive when asked innocent questions, it’s time to take notice. This can mean not just a change in someone’s emotional openness, but a seeming reticence to communicate about anything at all.
If your partner used to respond to your texts during the day immediately, and now it takes hours; if they used to invite you out with friends or at least recap the evening to you and now make vague allusions to what their social plans might be; if they seem irritated when you ask even basic questions about their day, it may be a sign that something is up.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the issue in question is cheating — but bad communication is always bad news for a relationship, so if these patterns sound familiar, it’s important to address the issue. That doesn’t mean badgering your partner, flooding them with calls or texts to try to hear more from them, or going through their phone or computer — all of which can be signs of unchecked anxious attachment.
A sudden shift in intimacy (and unwillingness to talk about it)
For most of us, sexual intimacy is a core element of our relationship, and any significant changes in this area can be a potential indicator of issues, including infidelity. Of course, not having sex as often as you wish isn’t a one to one correlation with cheating; not having enough sex is the number one issue all couples fight about. But If your partner has become disinterested in physical intimacy very recently when you previously had a healthy sex life and there have been no other major changes — increased job stress, depression, relationship conflict, changes in health or body image, it may be worth paying attention to.
A change in intimacy can also look like sex itself changing — does your partner suddenly feel far away during sex, or like their heart isn’t in it? It’s easy to get in your head about things like this, sometimes in unproductive ways, but if something feels different, you can pay attention to that feeling.
Overall, trust your instincts
It’s never a good idea to jump to conclusions — it’s possible for fundamentally healthy relationships just going through a rough spell to suddenly be in real trouble when one person accuses the other of cheating. After all, being accused of something you didn’t do is also a breach of trust.
But on the other hand, intuition plays a powerful role in relationships. If your gut feeling is telling you that something is off, it’s essential to trust yourself. While it’s crucial not to jump to conclusions based solely on feelings, a persistent sense of unease should prompt open and honest communication with your partner. The “something” that’s off may not actually be cheating — sometimes, infidelity can seem like the most likely culprit just because it’s many of our biggest fear. But if you think something is wrong in your relationship, it’s worth finding out what it is.
What should I do if I think something is wrong?
Choose a calm and private setting to discuss your concerns openly with your partner. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and avoid placing blame — and avoid accusing them of anything specific and asking them to defend themselves. Instead, name what you’ve noticed — “I feel like we aren’t as emotionally connected, and I notice that you don’t share with me as much anymore,” and encourage them to share their perspective on any changes you’ve noticed in their behavior.
Relationships can be complex, and if you’re considering having these tough conversations in your relationship, it may be a good time to seek the support of a professional. A therapist or counselor can help facilitate communication and navigate the challenges you may be facing.