Friday, November 10, 2006

Dismaying Story #80: Catching a Cheating Spouse

Dear Andrew,

I've been married over a year now. Several years back, with my then-boyfriend now husband, there were issues of trust. More specifically, I did not trust him. I don't consider myself a jealous person, but the distrust was based on vague information, strange stories on his part, things that just didn't add up. Gut instinct, essentially.

Here we are, 3 years later, and I feel much better. I should say, I felt much better until last night. I went to bed before my spouse, as usual. I had been watching something scary on TV, and decided to leave the bedroom door open, something we don’t normally do. I struggled to fall asleep, and within 15 or 20 minutes, I noticed he was on the phone. This is not unusual. He’s got family in Europe and often talks to them late at night. What was unusual about this was that his conversation was in English. I could not hear anything specific, but I did notice his tone. It was soft, not something he ever adjusts when talking to family or friends, regardless of the time of day. They’re loud people. The TV, which he originally had on, was turned down. Shortly thereafter, he turned it up, loud enough to cover the conversation. It reminded me of the way he used to talk to me on the phone, way back when during our courtship; as if he was trying to conceal the privacy of our conversations from other ears. Only this time, I was the other set of ears.

I struggled to listen from the bedroom for a while, but thought, “This is ridiculous!” I walked out into the living room, sat down and watched TV while he continued his conversation. His voice increased in volume (as if now there was nothing to hide) and he lowered the volume of the earpiece. It didn’t matter. I could tell it was a woman. The conversation seemed to change course when I entered the room. He began filling in details about his work day. Then it turned to some conflict at work. He eventually said, “I’ve gotta go” and hung up. I didn’t ask anything, but continued to watch TV. He immediately informs me that this assistant manager was calling him for his advice, and he was being dragged into a problem at work that he didn’t want a part of. Only problem was, his phone never rang. It was 11:00 at night.

My husband has a history of lying about things that are seemingly small, in order to avoid conflict. The problem is, those small lies created doubt in my mind, particularly on a night like last night. I hadn’t noticed any of these lies until a few months ago, when I caught him in a very strange lie, but couldn’t expose him. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not a jealous or suspecting person. So why did I lay in bed last night fantasizing about finding his phone and checking to see who made the call and who received that call? And his phone? Out of sight. Not by his bedside this morning and not in the living room. The basis for my insecurity is a sporadic and unsatisfying sex life. Andrew, what sort of advice can your offer now that you have some insight into the mind of a wife who fears her husband is seeking physical companionship from another woman? We absolutely cannot afford the cost of therapy at this time, though I believe we desperately need it.

Signed, Suspicious

Dear Suspicious,

Those who have discovered that their spouse has been having an affair often comment that the signs of the infidelity had been evident for a while but they chose not to believe them. Your account of the late night phone call does not make you seem like a jealous, insecure wife. On the contrary, it sounds like your instincts are spot on. His behavior did not fit with familiar patterns and he lied about receiving the phone call rather than making it. I would be suspicious too.

Your letter also suggests other ongoing problems in your marriage. There are trust issues dating back some time, an unsatisfactory sex life (which means it is almost certainly unsatisfactory for him as well) and he has a habit of telling lies. This sounds like a high-risk situation to me. According to the FAQFarm article Signs of a Cheating Spouse, here are a few of the common indicators:
  • They act distant. Your intimacy level goes down.
  • You stop having sex, or have sex less often.
  • Someone from the opposite sex calls that you never heard off. Perhaps they say it is a business call.
  • They develop a special interest in appearance and personal grooming.
  • They start having unexplained time away. For example, a trip to the store for some milk takes an hour, or they frequently call to tell you they will be home late, e.g. they are helping out a friend, their truck broke down.
The first few items from that list could be taken directly from your letter. There are other signs and I suggest you look at the article.

Another danger sign is something you didn't say. When a marriage is in good shape and the trust level is high, then life is an open book. Neither partner has anything to hide so asking questions is not considered threatening. If that had been me and my wife in your story, I have no doubt she would have immediately come back with, "What do you mean someone called you? The phone didn't ring. And I could hear that it was a woman's voice." All the cards would have been on the table immediately. I'm not saying that is what you should have done (see below), just that your silence is one more indicator of a less-than-trusting relationship.

In your situation, I believe you reacted appropriately by saying nothing. I have seen several resources that advise you to keep your initial suspicions to yourself, including an article called How to Catch a Cheating Spouse. This article suggests several reasons for waiting:
  • If you are wrong, your lack of trust can hurt your spouse and damage your relationship.
  • Your spouse is apt to make more mistakes if you act trusting and dumb than if you accuse them.
  • If they are cheating, you should wait to accuse them until you have enough evidence to prove it and you're ready to take action.
  • For your own sake, you should wait until you can handle their response. Suspecting is one thing; having them confirm their adultery is much worse.
I suggest you should try to gather the information you need to confirm whether your suspicions are true. You said you can't afford therapy, so I suspect the same is true of a private detective. If so, the article also offers several ways you can gather information on your own, including the following:
  • Keep a detailed journal of your spouse's activities. See if there is a pattern to your spouse's 'extra' times away.
  • Record times and dates of phone calls that are hang-ups and/or wrong numbers. Call unknown phone numbers from a pay phone, say nothing, see if you can identify who answers.
  • Check the mileage on the car before and after trips.
  • Become unpredictable. Show up at your spouse's office for lunch without notice. Say you're working late when you plan on being home early or on time.
  • Read their email.
  • Go through their wallet or purse.
We all have a tendency to avoid looking for answers when the result might be bad news. In a case like yours, though, finding out the worst is still better than not knowing.

Regardless of whether he is cheating, you are right in thinking that your marriage has issues, with a general lack of trust and closeness at the top of the list. If you decide to work on those issues, here are a couple of quick suggestions:
  • Sharing positive experiences tends to build closeness. Find ways to have fun together on a regular basis.
  • Trust develops when both partners live life as an open book. Ask him if he is willing to do so, and get in the habit of having absolutely no secrets from each other.
Of course, these suggestions may be difficult to achieve if he is in the habit of lying to you, or if he is indeed cheating. Not all marriages survive that kind of betrayal.

I wish you luck in your search for answers.

All the best,


  1. Not only does he lie and cheat --- he thinks she is stupid! She doesn't need advice --- she already knbows the score.

  2. When there is a true love and respect between two people, there is trust, plain and simple. If you can't trust someone, you can't have a relationship.

    The question you have to ask yourself is why you settled for being with someone you couldn't trust. The problem, in essence, is not with him; it's with you. You chose to sell yourself short instead of believing that someone could come along that you DID trust. You put up with half a relationship for all this time. You know the answers to your questions. Why don't you take a leap of faith and believe that there's something better out there for you? Because trust me, there is.

    Take good care,

  3. He's a cheater and a liar and she is weak and in denial. Unless they have children, she needs to get out quickly. If they do have children she needs to spend more time investigating these matters.

  4. I was married for 22 years, and absolutely trusted my husband! There were many signs which I chose to ignore... until I couldn't take it any more! He had changed... To make my story short, I installed spyware in his computer... the best thing I ever did!!!! have to be ready to accept whatever you find! It will be the hardest shock you will ever get! ... but, ultimately, is better than living in the dark!

  5. There are times in almost everyone’s married life when catch cheating spouses the situation becomes tough due to one reason or another. It is easy to lose fidelity and broke someone’s trust but it takes lots of courage and sensibility to keep calm and let the storm pass.