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9 Subtle Signs Your Boyfriend Is Cheating On You, From Experts

Julie Nguyen
Author:
January 24, 2023
Julie Nguyen
Relationship Coach
By Julie Nguyen
Relationship Coach
Julie Nguyen is a relationship coach, Enneagram educator, and former matchmaker based in New York. She has a degree in Communication and Public Relations from Purdue University.

If you're reading this article, it's likely you're suspicious about your boyfriend's loyalty in the relationship. Call it a gut instinct or a nagging feeling that you can't quite shake—but whatever it is, something feels off. And you want to get to the bottom of it. 

To help you figure out if your boyfriend is cheating on you, experts share telltale early warning signs (from the subtle to the obvious), plus what you should do next. 

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How to tell if your boyfriend is cheating on you.

When it comes to matters of the heart, words can be clumsy at describing the felt experience. The same goes for infidelity: It's impossible to compile a list that will perfectly and accurately tell you if your partner is cheating on you. As licensed clinical professional counselor Jamila Jones, LCPC, tells mbg, there is no foolproof way to know your partner is cheating besides having an open and honest conversation about the unease and uncertainty you're experiencing.

For what it's worth, if you're not ready to open up the conversation because you want to feel sure before you say anything, Jones says the next best thing to "know if your partner is cheating is being aware of potential signs that could signify a lack of commitment on their part. Trust your instincts; usually when something doesn't feel right, it simply isn't." 

Ahead, a list of telltale signs your partner is likely cheating on you. 

9 signs your boyfriend is cheating: 

1.

He's super sneaky with his phone use. 

There are red flags you can spot in your boyfriend's behavior, and according to Jones, one of the biggest early signs of cheating can be found in his technological habits. "Look for sudden changes in behavior such as unexpected late-night phone calls, secretive text messages, or observe if they are suddenly glued to their phones even when you're in the same room," Jones says. Other examples are hiding you on his social media by archiving posts or curating a social media presence where he appears single. 

To that end, according to couples' therapist B. Marie Sanders, LCPC, "A locked phone that used to not be locked or a changed passcode that is now locking you out when they let you in before is a sign." Of course—there's always nuance to every situation. She notes if a partner has never given you access to your phone before, it's likely it's not a sign of cheating since some people are simply private. 

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2.

He accuses you of cheating. 

As Sanders puts it, "The biggest sign that someone is cheating on you is if they find every single little reason to accuse you of cheating, especially if you really haven't cheated or overstepped any relationship boundaries."

You know you're not doing anything wrong, but his erratic accusations may be revealing internal strife. Because he's behaving inappropriately, he may start to believe you are too as an attempt to transmit some of his shame onto you. If you bring up his behaviors and he exhibits gaslighting behaviors that deny your reality, take note. 

3.

The behavior doesn't add up.

The car seat on the passenger side is farther up than you're used to. He usually invites you out to hang with his work friends, but now he wants alone time. There are mysterious charges on his credit card or Venmo account taking place on the nights you don't hang out. He's dressing differently, arriving to dates late, giving you random gifts out of the blue, disappearing randomly, hard to reach on a work trip, unusually quiet without a reason, or trying out new sex moves in the bedroom.

In isolation, the list of behaviors seem negligible, but as a whole, they tell a different story. If there have been many odd behaviors that seem out of the norm of his typical personality, your suspicions might be onto something bigger.

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4.

He can't stop picking fights with you. 

A person who is cheating on you may start to pick fights: "They seem to be starting arguments and making empty threats to break up," Sanders says.

Meaningful conflict creates a bridge to bring you closer, but fighting for the sake of fighting only serves to push you apart. Perhaps he's comparing you to someone else, which is triggering an insecurity, or he's creating a problem out of thin air because of what's happening behind the scenes with him. If he's exhibiting mood swings and lashing out without reason, this could be a sign that he is dealing with some interpersonal turmoil—like an affair.

5.

Intimacy has changed for the worse. 

There was a time in your relationship when you couldn't get enough of each other. You felt extremely wanted and attractive to your partner. The passionate making out and sex was at an all-time high. Although all relationships experience a natural ebb and flow with intimacy, this new shift may be worth examining if the changes aren't accompanied by compassion but detachment

For example, it could feel like having a boyfriend who seems more distant, removed, and far away—like they're giving you the cold shoulder even though they insist nothing is wrong. If your sex life has changed for the extreme, start paying attention to their other behaviors.

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6.

Communication is indifferent and distant. 

This type of emotional unavailability could look like he's no longer sharing his location, he's texting less, or he's not as interested in the details of your life. Long conversations about your day may have dwindled down to the bare essentials, just enough to keep your connection going but not enough to make it thrive. You go on dates together, and you feel a loss of connection as you both go through the motions. 

"If you notice a change in their level of engagement or sudden unavailability when they used to always make time for you, these could be potential telltale indicators," Jones shares. "It is not advisable to make any assumptions without speaking to them first; however, paying attention to any details that appear off are essential steps in the process."

7.

He's critical of your behaviors. 

A 2017 research study1 found hostility is a surefire way to create distance and dysfunction in a relationship. If he's criticizing incessantly, he could be struggling with that stressful project at work, or—taken to its extreme—he could be feeling guilty about their indiscretion.

He might also nitpick some of your behaviors he was fine with before as a way to subconsciously justify why he is stepping out of the relationship to have someone else meet his needs.

Whatever it is, Jones recommends paying attention to an increase in tension as a sign something is amiss.

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8.

His behavior toward you is different. 

Perhaps there was a time in your relationship when they would have dropped anything to be with you. Now, they almost seem uninterested in your life and more involved in their routine and schedule. When you ask them out to hang with your friends or see your family, they may shrug you off as they prioritize their own life, friendships, and career. Their attitude has changed, and it's impacting the relationship. You feel like they're too busy for you, which may leave you feeling needy and insecure. 

It could be a positive sign that your boyfriend is nurturing an interdependent life within the relationship, but be wary if they're leaning into their own thing without including you in the conversation. If they're making room for their own life, work, friends, self-care rituals, goals, and new hobbies without you, the decreased desire for connection may be a sign of infidelity and that someone else may be in the picture. 

Studies2 show there are a huge variety of reasons men cheat: While sometimes it's simply about craving variety and having an opportunity presenting itself, oftentimes infidelity is a symptom of a bigger problem in the primary relationship, such as feeling a lack of emotional or physical connection, lingering anger at your partner, or a core incompatibility.

9.

Your gut is telling you. 

Beyond tangible evidence, you just can't shrug the feeling away. If this is persistent, Sanders notes this could be your gut instinct telling you something. Growing research3 suggests your gut feelings should not be prematurely dismissed. In fact, your brain may be weaving together past experiences along with present cues in the environment to intuitively aid your cognitive processing and decision-making.

"Always trust your gut," Sanders recommends, though she adds, "But sometimes, if you've got attachment or betrayal trauma, it's hard to tell the difference between your gut and your trauma. So, definitely seek counseling for that so you can learn to trust your gut."

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What to do if you think your boyfriend is cheating:

1.

Sit with your emotions. 

If you believe your boyfriend is cheating, this will be a painful and earth-shattering process to unearth the truth. Because of the potential pain it can bring, Sanders advises to conduct yourself in a way that matches how you feel. "Don't suppress your feelings; that will just cause you pain later on. If they ask what's wrong and you're not ready to talk about it, then say that you're not ready."

During this time, center your emotions as you take your time while you are figuring out the next step. Journal, talk about it with trusted friends who can listen to your emotions without judgment or the need for action, and lean on your self-care practices. Don't skip out on this step—it's crucial for your well-being.

"If they are cheating, then they can sit with that a bit longer while you figure yourself out. If they're not cheating and they're a good match for you, they're probably going to worry for you but will be fine," Sanders says. 

2.

Don't snoop.

To confirm your hunch, you might feel the urge to go through their phone, DMs, or read their emails, but Sanders recommends not invading their privacy. "You're either going to find something you don't like, or you're going to find a reason later on to be suspicious again," she says. Trust is sacred, and if you snoop without their permission, that means the trust is already broken. 

She recommends seeking therapy to work on the trust issues—regardless of whether they were warranted or not. Going deeper, Sanders points out it's a sign you may have a dysregulated attachment style since people with healthy and secure attachment styles don't feel the need to snoop since they engage in honest communication to mitigate this type of behavior. 

3.

Have the conversation.

"When feeling concerned about cheating in your relationship, it's important to have the hard conversations," Jones says. "While conversations surrounding cheating may not be easy to approach, it will undoubtedly provide clarity on the situation at hand so that you can decide how to move forward with confidence and certainty."

Don't worry about doing it perfectly. All you have to worry about is honoring yourself and making sure you're advocating for your needs. A confrontation is the only approach that will confirm what's going on. When you're ready, be sure to bring up any evidence you've gathered and bring up how you need to hear the truth—no matter how much it may hurt. Having a mutual, reciprocal relationship is what you deserve. 

During the conversation, you can say, "I'm noticing some things that are making it hard for me to trust you. I'm feeling insecure and afraid you might be cheating on me. I would like to open the floor for an honest conversation to see what's really going on so I can feel safe again in the relationship. Would you be open to talking to me?" 

Some cheaters may not be honest when they're confronted with their lies, so be prepared for them to not admit the truth. If this is happening in the relationship, you may need professional help so you can get to the root of what's going on.

4.

Know what you want.

Before having the conversation, and regardless of what happens during it, Sanders recommends you go in knowing what you want out of it—whether it's proof, answers, saying your piece, breaking up, or going to couples' therapy for a resolution. "Don't confront without a plan, or the conversation is going to go on forever," she adds. "Do what gives you closure. They made their choice, and you're free to make yours too."

What to do if he isn't cheating. 

If you had the conversation with your boyfriend and found out he wasn't being unfaithful, this might be the opportunity to look inward. If he wasn't cheating, that doesn't mean that everything is magically better and that your emotional state will go back to normal. Your concern about this indicates there are issues in the relationship that need to be addressed, which could be attributed to their distant or changing behavior or one of your insecurities. 

"If you've already done all the digging possible and you find absolutely nothing to indicate that your partner is cheating but can't shake the idea that they are, it may be something that you need to work on on your own," Sanders says. 

"Sometimes we carry betrayal trauma and attachment trauma into our romantic relationships. It's very human of you, and it's OK, but you have to heal that trauma in order for it not to taint and cloud your relationships," she says. "Finding a good counselor who specializes in attachment, emotionally focused therapy, or internal family systems can help you do exactly that."

FAQ:

What do you do when you suspect your boyfriend is cheating?

If you suspect your partner is cheating on you, it's important to inspect your own internal biases and begin taking an inventory of their behavior. Notice when they do something out of the ordinary, and when you feel ready, bring up your concerns to have your boyfriend address directly. 

How does a guy act after he cheated?

Each person is different, so each person will react differently in this situation. It may vary wildly from acting totally normal to changing their behavior to be a better boyfriend or suddenly picking fights with you for no reason. It's important to pay attention to chronic and consistent shifts in their behavior, and then bring up what you're noticing and fearing as soon as you can so the fears can be effectively addressed. 

How can you tell if your boyfriend is lying about cheating?

It starts by becoming curious about their behavior and taking stock of growing signs that point to infidelity in the relationship like the list above. Look out for patterns that reveal they may be cheating on you. Just know that policing their behavior to gather evidence can only go far. The healthiest approach is also the only way you will know the answer, which is by having a conversation with them. As you're talking to them, notice their body language and any attempts to avert the conversation with deflection and denial.

(Still want to know if he's telling the truth? Here's how to tell if someone is lying to you.) 

Is "once a cheater, always a cheater" true?


"Nope, sometimes cheating is really a one-and-done situation," Sanders says. "Some people feel so much hurt and regret after cheating that it's all the lesson they need to never do it again. However, if someone cheats more than once, that becomes a pattern, and patterns are very hard to break."

The takeaway. 

If you think your boyfriend is physically or emotionally cheating, the feeling can be difficult to pinpoint. The erosion of trust can happen slowly and imperceptibly until one day, you look up and realize your partner has become a stranger. Instead of fervent closeness, there's now an ocean of distance and unsaid emotions in between. 

Cheating can feel like a uniquely shameful experience, but unfortunately, cheating is common and happens among all age groups and income levels. You are not alone, and you are not to blame for this experience. To move forward, lean on your intuition, trusted support system, and your voice to gain the clarity you need so you can take care of your heart and do what's right for you.

Julie Nguyen
Julie Nguyen
Relationship Coach

Julie Nguyen is a writer, certified relationship coach, Enneagram educator, and former matchmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. She has a degree in Communication and Public Relations from Purdue University. She previously worked as a matchmaker at LastFirst Matchmaking and the Modern Love Club, and she is currently training with the Family Constellations and Somatic Healing Institute in trauma-informed facilitation.