7 Signs Your Spouse May Be Cheating

"I had no idea..."

A curious thing often happens when a husband or wife discovers that their spouse has been cheating. As they begin processing through waves of grief, shock, betrayal, depression, excitement, anger, and confusion, many start in an initial state of bewilderment. They often didn't see it coming. In time, however, clarity emerges. They gain perspective. Their sense of "I had no idea" gives way to "how could I have missed the signs?" 

As it turns out, the signs of adultery are often glaringly obvious. Here are a few warning signs to consider when evaluating the strength of your marriage. 

(Note: The following list contains some common symptoms of adultery, but this is not a diagnosis. The occurrence of any of these issues isn't inherently a cause for concern, but it should raise some questions. Professional counseling can help you get to the bottom of the issues facing your marriage.)

1. Unaccounted for Time

The cliche is "spending too much time at the office," but life is often more complex than cliches. Other areas of unaccounted for time can include: 

  • Errands that take longer than expected
  • An increase in "emergency" meetings, including school, business, personal, professional, and/or religious meetings
  • Stay-at-home spouses who have a sudden decrease in their usual daily productivity
  • Trips to the doctor, gym, spa, pool, etc., that fail to result in prescriptions, dirty clothes, or increased health

2. Drastic Changes in Interests

Suddenly your wife develops an atypical fascination for a particular TV show. Or maybe your husband suddenly decides that his favorite musical genre is indie folk. Or maybe there's a sudden desire to get hyper-involved in political or religious activities, beyond the scope of their normal interest levels. If you can't understand where the change is coming from, be sure to talk it out with your spouse. For sane people, every change in behavior has a cause and a reason. It may be a genuine, healthy interest, or it could be indicative of a new romantic influence in your spouse's life. . 

3. Sharp Increase in Hostility

In order to manage their cognitive dissonance, a cheating spouse often has the subconscious urge to vilify their spouse. An adulterer will try to make you the "bad guy," in an attempt to justify their own misdeeds in their own heads. It usually goes something like this: "I'm only having an affair because my husband/wife is ________." [Fill in the blank.]

  • Ungrateful
  • Angry
  • Sexually incompatible 
  • Not godly enough
  • Disrespectful
  • Distant
  • Not understanding
  • Impossible to please
  • Selfish
  • Ugly
  • Other: ________

Everyone has moments of conflict in their relationships, but if you're noticing a sharp and unprovoked increase in hostility, disrespect, or antagonism coming from your spouse, your spouse may be subconsciously attempting to cast you as the villain in their narrative playing out in their head.

4. Sudden Withdrawal from Friends and Family

People distance themselves from those who will condemn their behavior. This is true even when the behavior is known only to the perpetrator. It's a subconscious defense mechanism. If your spouse is suddenly withdrawn from your usual social circle, it could be a sign of marital trouble, whether or not they've even crossed the line with anyone else. For instance, a husband who is thinking of leaving his wife may seem to suddenly lose interest in spending time with their extended family and mutual friends. The distant spouse may have a seemingly out-of-the-blue desire to change jobs, schools, cities, or churches. Such things are social experiences. As such, the desire may have more to do with leaving the people than actually leaving the situation. Change can be a good thing, but check to make sure that the desire for change is the result of healthy and honest growth — not merely an attempt to hide.

5. Limited Financial Disclosure

An almost universal problem among adulterers is a lack of full financial disclosure with their spouses. I've often met with victimized spouses who admit to having been clueless about their family's finances. In extreme cases, they were completely in the dark regarding their spouse's income, bank accounts, expenses, lines of credit, debt, and/or investments. With modern banking, it's now easier than ever to conceal one's financial footprints, but there are ways to be smart about your finances:

  • Use a free service like CreditKarma to monitor your own credit, and ask your spouse to let you see their report as well.
  • View your spouse's pay stubs — not just the deposits in your account. (With direct deposit, one can easily conceal a raise, bonus, or even a portion of their take-home pay by simply allocating a percentage of their paycheck into a separate bank account.)  
  • Ensure that you have online access to all bank and credit accounts.
  • Annually, review your family's tax returns prior to submitting them to the IRS.
  • Ensure that your name is legally on all accounts, businesses, mortgages, car titles, etc., that you want to own.
  • Become a full and knowledgeable partner of all shared finances. Through budgeting, monitoring, and partnership, make sure that you always know where the dollars are coming from and where they are going.

6. Secretive Phone Usage

This is often the canary in the coal mine. If your spouse is hesitant (or outright refuses) to let you use their phone, it's usually because they're hiding something: texts, photos, social media messages, Snapchats, emails, browsing history, financial transactions, etc. While that "something" may not necessarily be adultery, secrets are a cancer that can consume and kill your marriage. Want a simple test? Right now, casually ask your spouse for their phone. If they balk, you've got a problem.

7. Excessive Control

Marriages should be mutually submissive and beneficial. Both parties should have a healthy sense of their own personal equality, agency, and freedom. A marriage should not be like a boss-subordinate, master-slave, or parent-child relationship. Such control dynamics can materialize in many ways, but they're fundamentally unhealthy. If your spouse requires you to seek their "permission," you're in a controlling relationship. If your spouse doesn't "allow" you to use social media, leave the house, drive, spend money, have certain friends, etc., it could be because they're attempting to keep you restrained from or unknowing of something they're doing.

Micro-management is a sign of insecurity. This is as true at work as it is in marriage. If your spouse dictates the tiny details of your life (e.g. your clothing, hobbies, friendships, etc.), it could be a sign of their own sense of risk in your relationship — even if that risk is of their own doing. If you're not in agreement with the boundaries or guidance your spouse imposes on you, do your best to investigate why they're making such demands.

What to Do

If you find any of these red flags to be recurring in your marriage, please don't dismiss them. At a certain point, denial becomes culpability. Invest the time, energy, and emotions needed to find understanding. Professional counseling can help open up the lines of communication between you and your spouse. (And, if you're worried about the cost, many churches, universities, and non-profits offer free or discounted counseling services.) There may be a sound, healthy reason for your spouse's behavior, or there may just be innocent oversight or miscommunication at play, but take the time to get to the bottom of it. Your marriage is the single most important and consequential factor of your human life. It's worth fighting for.

— John