Is your partner cheating on you?
One of the biggest warning signs that your partner is cheating on you might be right in front of your face!
No one wants to believe that their partner has been unfaithful – but it happens. Studies have shown that anywhere from 25% to 72% of married men and women will, at some point in time, have an affair. There are many myths around why people cheat, it really doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not your partner loves you or if there is enough sex in the relationship – but this post isn’t about the reasons why, it’s to point out a big warning sign, that people often miss.
On a regular basis I hear people trying to piece together clues to figure out if their partner is cheating. People can spend countless hours ruminating, and getting overwhelmed by anxiety when they suspect the one they love is having an affair. They can go to great lengths to ‘catch them in the act’ – like invading their privacy, placing friendships at risk, jeopardizing employment, the list goes on and on. It’s all rather exhausting.
I have found there is one, key ‘clue’ that seems to almost always get missed… and it’s the one that often makes finding out that your partner is cheating much more painful.
It’s called projection.
Projection is a psychological defense mechanism where a person is engaging in behaviours that they are uneasy with, that they know are unacceptable, or contradict how they view themselves – so instead of changing the behaviours or taking responsibility for them – they ‘project’ those behaviours onto someone else.
A person who is constantly accusing their partner of having an affair, or who is excessively controlling because they say they can’t trust their partner not to cheat, or who ‘punishes’ their partner for even the slightest misstep (such as glancing at an attractive person on the street) … are often the ones doing the cheating themselves.Think about it… they are showing you their mindset!
However, here’s the exception: if you have had affairs in the recent past, or are having an affair right now, this blog post does not apply to you. In your case, your partner is suspicious because they have every right to be!
When projection occurs it often seems “out of left field”, or so ridiculous and often insulting, that you don’t even know how to respond. People on the receiving end of projection will wonder “where did that come from?!?” or ask “what on earth are you talking about?!?”.
When your relationship is important to you, and the person you love seems to be in distress, believing it’s all “your fault” (even though you’ve done nothing wrong) can be incredibly uncomfortable. As a result, you may become hyper-vigilant of your own actions, finding yourself going out of your way to prove you’re not cheating, and to show your love and devotion. You may find yourself willing to do things you never would have done in the past – like cutting yourself off from friends, quitting activities, or even quitting jobs, all to avoid upsetting your partner and prove yourself.
With all these efforts of trying to demonstrate your loyalty and ‘save the relationship’, you become very distracted from what is really going on. When the affair is discovered, people who have been on the receiving end of projection feel incredibly hurt, frustrated, confused, and betrayed.
What should I do?
Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with many people who are trying to recover from infidelity; and for the record it is absolutely possible for couples to heal from an affair and move forward with a healthier, and often, stronger relationship. HOWEVER, when there has been projection – recovery is much more difficult, and often the degree of betrayal means it just not possible. In these cases it’s not the affair that destroys the relationship; it’s the behaviours used to hide it that are far more toxic, abusive, and ultimately devastating.
If you think you might experiencing projection in your relationship – it may be time to take a step back,take a look at the bigger picture, and maybe even talk to someone about what you’re going through.
If you are the one who is doing the cheating and projecting in your relationship… to be blunt… knock it off. Grow up, take responsibility and either: <1> end your affair, and focus on healing and repairing your relationship; or <2> end the relationship, and set your partner free of the selfish, harmful, chaos you’re creating.
Joy Sereda is an ACT therapist, a Registered Clinical Counsellor, a Registered Social Worker, and the Clinical Director of the Summit Counselling Group. You can read more about Joy, and all of the Summit counsellors on their bio pages.
Summit Counselling Group is made up of six, professional, and compassionate Registered Clinical Counsellors. We work with individuals, couples, adults, children, adolescents, and families from our West Broadway office located in beautiful Vancouver, B.C.