Subtle Signs of Cheating

“I don’t know why they call it adultery, there is nothing adult about it…”

Patrick Scheidegger, 2023

These indicators aren’t meant to be alarmist but if your gut is trying to tell you something, they could prove useful.

By Suzannah Weiss

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Most of us tend to give our partners the benefit of the doubt as far as fidelity goes. But the truth is, signs of cheating do exist. In fact, according to a 2016 survey, one in four married and cohabiting young adults admitted to cheating, while only half confess.

You probably know the obvious signs of cheating, like lurking on dating sites long after getting into a relationship or always coming home late without a solid excuse. But in order to really ID a cheater, it pays to watch for subtle signs that aren’t as overt.

The following indicators aren’t meant to be alarmist—almost all of them can have alternate explanations—but if your gut is really trying to tell you something, they could prove useful.

Your relationship started as an affair

For some people, there is some truth to the saying “once a cheater, always a cheater.”  John, 44, says he should’ve seen it coming when he got into a relationship with a married woman. “We were good in bed together, but she enjoyed being good in bed with others, too, apparently.”

They regularly accuse you of cheating

Beyond being classic projection, this tactic serves two purposes, says Healing Infidelity Coach Caroline Madden, LMFT. It puts you on the defensive so you don’t have the chance to consider the opposite possibility, and it makes them look so anti-cheating that they couldn’t possibly do it to you. It could also be a genuine reaction to them realizing that since they got away with cheating, you probably could too.

They’re taking out a lot of cash

Cheaters often use cash when they take their secret partners out so that their S.O.’s can’t track where they’ve been, says Rhonda Milrad, founder and chief relationship advisor of Relationup. But if you share a financial account, what you can track is a spike in ATM withdrawals.

They’ve suddenly got new sex moves

Of course, it’s possible they’ve just been doing their research—in which case, great if you’re into it—but other signs of cheating combined with a very noticeable change in sex routine could mean they’re picking up those new techniques from someone else and discovering new things they like, says Milrad.

They’re suddenly hyper-critical of you

Cheaters will sometimes try to justify their actions by making their relationship out to be so bad that they had no choice, explains Madden. She typically sees this happen in situations where the cheater feels they’re in love with their cheating partner, since they have a sense that their affair is happier than their relationship. 

Your typical relationship issues seem to  disappear

Madden’s clients are often surprised to find their partners are cheating because they thought everything was going well around the time the infidelity started. But sometimes, the reason things are looking up is that the needs that weren’t met in the relationship are being met elsewhere.

They’re paying more attention to their looks

If your S.O. is once again hitting the gym, buying new underwear, or taking a newfound interest in shopping, they could be in an early stage with someone else, says Madden.

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They forget what stories they’ve told you

If your partner frequently starts stories with, “Did I tell you this already?” it could mean they’re having trouble keeping track of multiple confidants, says psychologist Colleen Long, PsyD.

They’re confiding in you less

Becoming less inclined to discuss problems with you could be a sign that your partner’s been venting to someone else, says Long. Even if they’re not sleeping with anyone else, this could point toward emotional cheating.

They keep strict tabs on your schedule

Lauren, 33, says her ex started to ask when she was coming home from work more often when he was cheating. Now, she sees he was trying to figure out when he and his cheating partner would have the place to themselves.

They have random new interests

“My ex had been content to listen to about eight songs, total, during our entire time together,” Julie remembers. “A bunch of new CDs without any writing to identify their contents—and a sudden interest in a whole host of new music—was due to the influence of this new partner.” Attachment to a particular place can especially be a giveaway: Julie’s ex insisted on joining a gym because of a climbing wall when he didn’t even climb. It turned out his secret girlfriend was a member.

Cheating was accepted in their family

Looking back, John thinks his ex’s parents should’ve been a clue. “She came from a family where her mother and father both cheated on each other and she told me that,” he says. “But her parents were still married. So they set an example for their daughter to follow.”

 They get irate when you try to confront them

Someone who hasn’t cheated will likely have a good explanation for their suspicious behavior and do what it takes for you to feel confident. A cheater, however, may get defensive because you’ve blown their cover, says Milrad. “It is very common for cheaters to deflect responsibility and get irritated by your questions. They often try and shut you down and even criticize you for being too controlling or suspicious.”

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If you’re constantly accused of cheating, your partner may be the unfaithful one

“Guilt transference” is a ploy commonly used by cheaters. If your spouse is unfairly accusing you of cheating, she might be hiding something herself…

My wife worked in a high-powered male-dominated field, while I work in decor and deal with many women. She started accusing me of flirting when she heard me talking to clients on the phone, then she kept asking me whom I was seeing when I went on calls to clients’ homes.

I was innocent and didn’t see the signals that SHE was cheating and trying to deflect any suspicions I might have had about her, since she often worked late and travelled for work.

The truth came out when I saw her lover’s texts on her phone, which she thought she’d lost. 

But I found it stuck under a seat of her car when I drove it in for repairs as a favour to her.

Wrongly Accused

It must’ve felt like watching a magician’s performance of the Great Transferring Act. You got wrongly accused and hounded about things you never did, while the swirl of accusatory questions and unfair blame kept you from seeing the reality.

Her daily sham production — the powerful job, her time spent with her lover, playing the wife role back home — all made for a drama which she had to keep going so you wouldn’t even look for the truth.

It’s a destructive ploy that’s not uncommonly used by determined cheaters. Many therapists have noted this “guilt transference” among people who refuse to take responsibility for their own misbehaviour.

You haven’t said that it’s over. But it’s hard to imagine that she would drop her self-righteous pose to admit she’d been the bad guy in the marriage, and want to repair it.


I met this guy through a mutual friend whom I trusted. Though he lived out of town, he did business in my city and visited me often. We became intimate and I thought he could be the One.

I ignored the small concern about why he didn’t contact me much during the week when he was in his city, unless he was in his car. 

He’d phone me when travelling to clients, and he’d say the most romantic things and wind me up about our being together again.

But once when he travelled abroad and didn’t contact me at all, I was hurt and told him so when he returned. He kept saying he “couldn’t do that,” and it suddenly clicked. 

He was travelling with another woman. It turned out she was his fiancée and they were married a few months later. What a scumbag! I no longer think much of our “friend,” either.


Duped and Disgusted 

That was no friend, if he/she knew the guy was already deeply attached, and/or a proven player (since he was pretty practiced at deceit).

A lover who only calls you from a car usually signals that he/she’s a cheater. It means the person can’t call any other time. It’s likely you weren’t the only other person this guy was stringing along, even while he was engaged.

He’s also the kind of unashamed rogue who may try to reconnect after newlywed life makes him feel hemmed in (I give that about six months max). 

Don’t even have the conversation with Scumbag, or he’ll try winding you up again.

The lesson: Check out your “small concerns” in any next relationship. Look for reasons that make sense. Otherwise, recognize the red flags and follow them to whatever’s being hidden.


Tip of the day

If you’re innocent but constantly being accused, look closer at who might be the cheater.

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