How do you put a face to infidelity? The answer is, you can't. Just as you were taught not to judge a book by its cover, it's near impossible to look someone in the eye and, in just one glance, know they're a cheater. The truth is, anyone can be unfaithful— it just depends on how you define the term.
Relationship counselor and clinical sexologist Dr. Martha Tara Lee of Eros Coaching said cheating is subjective because different people have different boundaries.
"Cheating can be emotional, and/or physical. It is all depending on how the person concerned is feeling," Lee told INSIDER. "Most people are more disturbed by the breaking of trust and the intimacy in the ‘rival' relationship, than whether there is sex involved."
According to a 2010 to 2017 General Social Survey issued by the Institute for Family Studies, 20% of men and 13% of women have had sex with someone who was not their spouse while married. And what's most heartbreaking about these statistics is, of those who had been cheated on and found out about it, most probably never saw it coming — at least, not until it was too late.
Anyone can be unfaithful, but while you shouldn't necessarily base your judgments off of the stereotypical cheats you see depicted in Hollywood, there are some common personality traits cheaters share. If any of the following red flags are waving right in front of you, it could be a sign your partner's up to something.
Cheaters like to keep their personal lives private.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that secrets are no fun unless you share with everyone. But not only are a cheater's secrets not fun, they're rarely shared with anyone.
A cheater's secrets can often be revealed through their recent calls list, in text messages on their phone, or a private folder in their email. But a locked phone especially, Susan Winter said, is a dead giveaway.
"Your partner doesn't want you to see their private activity, and therefore is purposefully excluding you from a vital portion of their lives." the New York City-based relationship expert told INSIDER.
Cheaters tend to put some pretty intense privacy setting on their personal lives too, so it's not just their romantic happenings they'll keep to themselves, Winters explained. They prefer to keep all personal details such as things about their family, who their friends are, and where they work on the DL, too.
"What do you actually know about your partner's life, their family, upbringing, and personal life?" Winters said. "A cheater keeps their cards close to their chest."
Cheaters will rarely, if ever, call you by name.
You might recall this trick of the trade from the 2006 teen dramedy "John Tucker Must Die," but apparently the three-time cheater's strategy of calling his three girlfriends "baby" and "sweetheart" wasn't just clever writing, it's a legitimate tactic cheaters use to make sure they aren't mixing up your name with their other partner's name.
Winters said cheaters will latch onto cutesy nicknames like "baby" and "sweetheart" so that the odds of a slip up are in their favor.
"Calling out the wrong name in the heat of passion is a faux pas that's hard to backpedal," Winter explained, while pet names are easy to remember, especially if someone is sleeping with multiple partners.
Cheaters know how to lie, and know how to lie well.
Don't feel bad if you've ever fallen for a cheater's false promises and lame excuses for canceling plans in the past. It's easy to do because they're eerily good at it.
So good, in fact, that LeslieBeth Wish, a noted psychotherapist, author, and founder of Love Victory said cheaters will sometimes lay the groundwork for future lies ahead of time in order to cover their tracks later on in the relationship.
"They might begin way ahead of time by telling you that their workload at the office just dramatically increased because of reorganization or people leaving," Wish told INSIDER. "These are lies, of course, so that when they are not with you, they have a great story to draw from."
What's even more disturbing about cheaters is that not only do they know what to say, they know how to say it, and how to carry themselves so that their body language doesn't give away a lie.
"They are masters at seeming believable," Wish explained. "They can look you in the eye and say things such as: ‘What a long day at work,' when they were actually with another person."
They aren't necessarily unavailable, but they aren't exactly available, either.
In the beginning of every relationship, there's a honeymoon phase when everything's coming up roses, and you can't keep your hands off each other. Eventually that all dies down, but even though you might not be showering one another with the same attention or affection that you were at the start of it all, typically some kind of spark is still burning.
But if your partner starts seeing other people behind your back, don't be surprised if the first sign of infidelity is distance.
"Now you're not sure when you're going to see or hear from your partner. When you reach out, you get no reply or told they'll get right back to you — which they don't," Wish explained. "Unpredictable contact is part and parcel of the cheater's profile."
They tend to rationalize their behavior, despite whether it's wrong or right.
You've heard the phrase "it's not you, it's me?" Cheaters tend to take stock in the reverse.
"Cheaters often say things such as: ‘My partner doesn't like to do what I like to do in bed.' Or, ‘Our relationship is un-fulfilling sexually and emotionally, so I have to get it elsewhere,'" Wish said.
Nothing a cheater does is your fault, but the second they start rationalizing their affair aloud to you, it can be easy to forget they acted on their own accord. Once they start making you doubt yourself, it could be a sign your partner is trying to get inside your head and make it so that you blame yourself for their "needing" to cheat.
A cheater's instinct is to beat around the bush if and when they're asked about the person they're cheating on you with.
Let's say you ask your significant other about a single friend or co-worker they've been cozying up to or talking a lot with recently. Are they quick to change the subject? If so, that's a blatant red flag your partner might be doing something suspicious.
Cheaters "deflect pointed conversations by changing the true subject and always minimizing their actions," award-winning therapist and survivor of psychological abuse, Shannon Thomas told INSIDER.
Cheaters are impulsive, and can't resist taking that risk despite what it might cost them.
Cheaters, like bullies, are fueled by power, and drawn to risk. This kind of behavior, however, is a reflection of something deeply rooted inside of them.
"In truth," Wish told INSIDER, " [cheaters] are deeply insecure people who feel flawed, unloved, angry, and, ironically, robbed of something that they needed emotionally in life as a child."
In other words, it's not you, it's them.
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