Something’s up. Maybe you stumbled across an inappropriate text or perhaps there’s just a different energy in the air. Either way, your suspicions are growing, eating at you as your imagination begins to shift into overdrive.
Summoning your courage as you straddle the line between wanting to know and wanting to believe that everything is okay, you ask –
“Are you having an affair?”
And the response is volleyed back.
You’re not sure how to feel. It’s the answer you want to hear. Want to believe. But at the same time, you’re not sure if you do believe it.
In some ways, you’d prefer a confirmation of your fears, because then at least you would know where you stand.
Obviously someone isn’t telling the truth. But is it your partner or your own fears?
As you try to unravel the truth, begin by considering the reasons they may be denying an affair –
They may be innocent.
This best case may be the real case. It’s possible that you misinterpreted something or allowed your fears or past experiences to reach false conclusions. Of course, you also have to be careful not to rush to the perceived security of this assumption too quickly. Because once we believe something, we inadvertently seek confirmation that it is true. And you don’t want your denial to offer a safe hiding place for a cheater.
Just as you don’t want to provide a safe haven for a cheater, you also don’t want to create a hostile environment for an honest person where they are constantly bombarded with fake accusations. This is why it’s important to pay close attention to your reactions, trust yourself to see and handle the truth, and keep your eyes open in regards to your partner. Don’t excuse their stuff and also don’t accuse them of yours.
They may believe they are innocent.
Perhaps they define infidelity differently than you do and so even though they’ve crossed your line, they are still safely on the innocent side of their own demarkation. This happens often when there is an emotional affair; the betrayed partner is picking up on the emotional distance and redirected attention while the other proclaims their integrity is intact because the clothes have stayed on. Before accepting their proclamation of innocence, ensure that you are indeed talking about the same thing.
This can also happen when the betrayer is a pro at compartmentalization or rationalization. They see themselves as a “good” person, someone who would never cheat on their partner. And so they participate in impressive mental gymnastics in an attempt to reconcile their actions with their beliefs about themselves.
They may come up with a reason that the affair is inconsequential (“We only have sex. There is no emotional component, so it doesn’t impact my marriage.”). Or, they may keep that side of themselves completely separate from their normal guise, often using alcohol or other substances to help block out (or excuse) their actions.
This situation can be tricky to suss out, especially if they only show you the “good” side. Pay attention to how they handle mistakes and embarrassing situations. If they have a tendency to secret these relatively banal things away, it’s an indication that they have a tendency to split when experiencing shame.
They may be trying to have their cake and eat it too.
“But I want them both!” you can just picture this person insisting like a spoiled toddler while stomping their feet. This is the stereotypical selfish cheater. They want what they want and they don’t expend too much energy thinking about how it might impact those around them. They lie not because they particularly enjoy lying, but because they want to get away with this for as long as possible. They are not worried about the truth hurting you; they are concerned about the impact the truth will have on their fun.
It’s rare that someone would only act selfishly in regards to a relationship. Instead, it tends to be their general approach to everything in life. Consider if they generally lack empathy and have a tendency to consider their own needs at the exclusion of others. These sorts of people will often speak of how they deserve happiness and may play the martyr or victim routinely.
They may be too scared to admit the truth.
They know they messed up. They know the truth will hurt you and they don’t want to hurt you. On one level, they may believe they are doing the right thing. Protecting you. On another level, they are afraid of seeing the hurt, the betrayal in your eyes and knowing that they are the one who put that there.
This puts you in a tough place. Your suspicions make you anxious and their response makes you frustrated and confused. Your emotions are high, yet the best way to uncover the truth is to stay calm so that they feel safer in revealing it. Is it fair to ask you to temper your emotions when they are the ones misbehaving? No. But then again, nothing about infidelity is fair.
The good news is that this is the type of cheater that often feels great remorse for their actions. They are ones most likely to take responsibility when they are ready to face the truth. Patience may be called for here as you give them to space to summon up the courage needed to speak, but you also have the right to set your own boundaries about what you will not tolerate.
They may enjoy the power that comes from deception.
These are worst type of cheaters. The actual affair may be ancillary to them; their primary motivation is the power and glee they gain from manipulating those around them. Although this type of person is obvious in some ways, when you’re under their spell woven with gaslighting and emotional abuse, your view is blurry.
These are the cheaters that will respond with outrage at your accusation, no matter how damning the evidence is against them. They will turn the fingers back at you, painting you as crazy, irrational or unfaithful in your own right.
It’s very difficult to see gaslighting when you’re in it. If you suspect that this may be your situation, talk to others you trust to gain their perspective and find a way to take a little break from the relationship to give yourself some space to think clearly.