It's easy to file cheating under "BS you'd never stand for." But the truth is, infidelity is complicated. For starters, there are different types of cheating (physical and emotional). Plus, people cheat for allllll kinds of reasons (see: reasons people cheat). And cheating doesn't need to mean the end of your relationship—some couples bounce back stronger than ever. (Yes, really: 6 Women Share How Their Relationships Survived Cheating.)
As if monogamy (or lack thereof) isn't challenging enough, cheating’s many faces (the Facebook cheater seeking an emotional connection with someone he went to college with or the husband getting it on with his coworker) make it hard to spot. Fortunately, psychologists and behavioural experts say that infidelity usually involves some of the 12 signs of cheating below.
Have your suspicions? Gently broach the topic, suggests Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., chair of the department of counselling, adult, and higher education at Northern Illinois University. Try something like, 'Lately, I’ve felt that our relationship isn’t as important to you as it once was' or 'I may be off base, but I’m wondering if I’m not enough for you anymore and if you’re seeing someone else?'. "If your partner isn’t cheating, you don’t want your accusations to be so vehement that you damage the relationship," she says.
You catch him in lie after lie (after lie).
Did one of his coworkers seem surprised to learn your partner was married? Did your partner tell you he was going out with work colleagues when you know that wasn’t the case? "Repeated deception is a sign your partner may be cheating," says Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the book Tell Me What You Want. "Infidelity usually involves a lot of lying and deception."
He passes on date night or isn’t interested in sex.
Stepping away from intimacy can be a red flag. "It signals a giving up or turning away," says Nicolle Zapien, Ph.D., dean and professor of psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. “The question, then, is why.” If he is cheating, it could be that his emotional or sexual needs are being met elsewhere, meaning he no longer needs to get them from you. I know, ugh.
He suddenly takes forever to get ready.
"Unless there’s someone important we want to impress on the job or the dress code changed, it’s unlikely that many of us would suddenly enact a 'personal makeover' when we’re working alongside the same people for years," says Degges-White. A newfound interest in his appearance could signal he’s trying to impress someone who isn't you.
He’s obsessed with his devices.
Remember how much you loved texting when you first started dating? Yeah, a new partner has a way of making you want to check your phone. "He might be addicted to work—or to a relational alternative," says Wendy L. Patrick, Ph.D., a behavioural expert and author of Red Flags: Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People.
"Texting is the cheater’s preferred method of communication," says Degges-White. (Same goes for DMs and Snapchat.) It can be a silent but deadly threat to a committed relationship—when someone is able to carry on a private conversation even in the company of a spouse."
He slams his computer closed.
Unless your spouse is looking for an amazing birthday/anniversary/holiday gift for you, slamming the screen clearly indicates he’s checking out something he’d rather keep from you, says Degges-White. It could be innocent, like a video game he knows you’re sick of him playing, or it could be messages with a lover. Video games aren't so bad in comparison, huh?
You notice strange expenses.
Spot random charges at a restaurant near his work that you’ve never heard of? See random Amazon purchases that aren’t yours or his? Unexplained expenses aren’t always a sign he’s cheating, but they can be suspicious, says Zapien.
He has weird excuses for his whereabouts.
If he’s spending time with someone else, it only makes sense that he’ll tell you he’s helping his coworker set up for his kid’s birthday party or delivering a portfolio to a client. If these outings sound off, Zapien says they're reason for speculation. Sometimes, people with substance abuse issues lie to their partners in strange ways, she notes. Other times, odd excuses signal infidelity.
He goes MIA.
"Your relationship could be in trouble when your partner begins to drop off the grid," says Patrick. This is more likely to happen with a partner you’ve been with for years, she says, but he could be spending time with someone else if he's suddenly incommunicado for no reason.
He keeps mentioning someone else’s name.
Think that if your partner were cheating you’d have no idea who the other person was? Not always the case. "If a new name keeps bubbling up into the stories your spouse is sharing, there’s a possibility that the person attached to the new name is bubbling up into your spouse’s work life and private life, too," says Degges-White. "No matter how old a person might be, when they fall into a deep infatuation, they have a hard time not talking about the object of their adoration."
He’s showering you with gifts or compliments.
It might be genuine, but it might be too good to be true. "Guilt can be a powerful motivator, and if the attraction of the affair is too strong to resist, guilt may be allayed by treating the unsuspecting partner more kindly than normal," says Degges-White. "'The mindset is, 'I can't stop cheating, but I can be nicer to my spouse.'"
You just know.
Ever just *feel* like you know something’s off? If you’ve seen other signs that could signal cheating and the feeling is sticking with you, go with it: experts say that intuition can be a powerful tool in decision making. "We often ignore these intuitions only to have them confirmed later," says Zapien.
You find actual evidence.
Zapien notes that if you find hard evidence of an affair, most cheaters will deny it. Worse? "Many people prefer to ignore the evidence," she says.
How to handle it: "Be direct if you know for a fact that your partner is cheating," says Degges-White. "You might calmly state something like, 'I know that you’ve been unfaithful, and I need you to know that this isn't okay with me.'"
What to do.
Of course, everyone (and every relationship) is different, so while these signs may be linked to cheating, they can't prove that your partner is unfaithful. Instead, they could be signs that your partner is suffering, sad, or that you're insecure in the relationship for another reason. Regardless, if something is "off" it's worth discussing the issue with your SO.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.