My hands suddenly felt damp as I watched a woman I’d had a few classes with hook her arm into my boyfriend’s and say brightly, “Hey stranger!”
“Hey you!” he responded and patted the top of her hand.
Their eyes locked for a few seconds before they both turned to me.
“Do you know….?” my boyfriend asked me.
“Uh yeah,” I said, turning to her. “We’ve had a few classes together, right?”
She nodded and returned her gaze to my love. “I just had to come say hello when I saw you! Nice seeing you again!”
She unhooked herself and walked away. His eyes followed her.
I could feel myself start shrinking, as if my shoulders were collapsing into the rest of my body, like the whole of me was being swallowed. My mouth felt dry, so I quickly took a sip of my beer.
“What was that about?” I said quietly.
“What?” My boyfriend shouted.
I coughed and then overcompensated by saying it again way too loudly.
“Oh, nothing. She worked at that restaurant with me. We used to be close.”
“Oh,” I said and dropped my eyes to the floor. I noticed the chipped nail polish on my toes and winced when I thought of her nicely painted nails and perfectly-styled…everything.
Every relationship, even polyamorous/open/ethically non-monogamous, has its own definitions of what is okay and what’s not. My relationship was monogamous, and we were clear that this meant honesty and transparency. I had plenty of male friends, but I had good and clear boundaries in place with each of those relationships.
While I’d struggled with feeling jealous before at times, it hadn’t struck me as hard as it did in that moment. I’d immediately felt lesser-than watching that lovely woman hook her arm into my boyfriend’s.
In the car later, he said, “You were really quiet tonight.”
“Yeah…I didn’t feel good after ____ talked to you.”
“Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I just felt really insecure because she seemed to know you well and she’s super pretty.”
“You’re super pretty,” he said and took my hand.
I felt assured as the night went on, and he continued to give me the same attention he always did. Thankfully, I hadn’t viewed the “start” of something between that woman and my boyfriend. Our relationship did end, but not because he’d cheated on me.
Jealousy is a nasty monster that can pop up at anytime. It’s easy for us to wonder if there’s any truth to our worries, which is why it’s important that we communicate those ugly nasty worries of ours to our partners. Healthy relationships require honest and open communication, even about the ugly messy bits of ourselves. Without that kind of openness, intimacy can’t grow.
Unfortunately, sometimes our worries are founded. Sometimes you’re not just jealous, paranoid, or insecure. Sometimes you’re absolutely right because your partner is cheating on you.
How do you tell the difference between your own insecurity or your partner’s infidelity? Here are some things to pay attention to.
1. Don’t ignore your gut …
A 2014 study showed that intuition can be a powerful thing. Researchers asked over 50 couples about their history with infidelity in their current relationship. Researchers then filmed the couples interacting and asked third-party observers to assess whether either of the participants had ever cheated. The assessments by the third-party observers were surprisingly accurate, suggesting that our instincts are more reliable than we might expect.
If you have a persistent nagging feeling that your partner is cheating on you, don’t ignore it. Consider where your concerns are coming from, and make sure to talk openly with your partner about them.
2. … but also don’t let your gut rule your actions.
If you trust your partner, it has to show in your actions. Not trusting your partner can look like looking through her/his phone while they aren’t in the room, trying to get access to their e-mail, etc.
Fear can make us do a lot of irrational things, and your partner still deserves privacy whether you suspect them of cheating or not.
If you want to look through your partner’s phone, e-mail, etc., it’s time for you to have a conversation with them about it before you do something that could hurt your relationship.
3. Your relationship has changed.
While this isn’t always the case — some relationships stay exactly the same — some relationships do change when one member begins cheating. Maybe you aren’t connecting emotionally, sexually, etc. as much anymore. Maybe they’re busy a lot more and you see each other less.
A relationship changing isn’t always indicative of cheating, but if you’re unhappy with the change(s) and worried about them, talk to your partner. Every relationship will go through a season of famine, one where one has to sacrifice more than the other. Maybe s/he is working full-time and in school right now, and they’re too tired once they get to you at night. It could be that, or it could be because your sweetheart has gotten another paramour.
Whatever the reason for the change, if it’s a concern of yours, make sure to bring it up to your partner.
4. They’re spending a lot more time on their phone/computer.
In order for your partner to be with you and cheat, it’s likely that they’ll have to rely on their phone and/or computer to keep the communication alive.
Even if they aren’t cheating, if their phone/computer usage suddenly spikes, it could be a signal that they’re no longer investing as much time and energy into your relationship. They could be struggling with something personally or professionally, or there may be an issue with your relationship that they are avoiding.
Either way, it would be time to ask them about it.
5. They freak out about certain things.
You ask to check the weather on their phone, and they watch you intently while you’re on it. You tell them you have some free time tomorrow to take their car in for an oil change, and they blurt out, “No!” even though you know that they don’t have the time right now to do it.
Everyone deserves privacy, and you are not entitled to unfettered access to all of your partner’s personal items, but don’t ignore if your partner suddenly gets…weird about some of their things when they weren’t before. Maybe they start always taking their phone into the bathroom or they won’t answer it while you’re in the room.
It would be good to ask them what’s going on and try to trust their answer. Who knows? They might be planning something for your birthday coming up and don’t want you to find out!
If you’re worried whether your partner is cheating on you, your partner should know that. You should have an open conversation with them about all of your concerns and how you’re feeling.
If they are cheating on you, you’ll find out eventually. No one can hide forever. All you can do before you have actual proof is trust your partner (in your words and actions), express your concerns and needs, and then take care of yourself. If you’re jealous/insecure, that’s your problem to work through, and if your partner is in fact cheating, you can then decide what you need to do, whether it be to stay in or leave that relationship.
Previously published on medium
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