When Hillary, 28, found a balled up movie ticket stub in her long-term boyfriend’s jeans pocket when doing a load of laundry, she immediately knew something was up. “I remember noticing the date—it was from two days before, when he bailed on me to catch up on work,” she said.
It might not have been the textbook way of catching a cheating boyfriend, but Hillary spent the rest of the night going over every moment of her relationship.
“I couldn’t help myself…I went through his phone when he was in the shower and came across somebody named Kelly,” Hillary said. “Turns out, Kelly was his ex-girlfriend from college. They’d been dating on and off behind my back for a year.”
Hillary’s story is not unique—cheating happens; about 20% to 25% of men and 10% to 15% of women have admitted to cheating on their partner. If you suspect your partner is cheating, there is a preferable way to try and “catch” them—without necessarily going behind their backs or making baseless accusations.
The best way to catch a cheater
According to Penelope Lynne Gordon, Women’s Empowerment Coach, if your gut is telling you something isn’t right, something probably isn’t right. And, frankly, it’s important for your own personal sanity to check if your suspicions are valid or not. On paper, it is better to approach your partner directly and talk to them about your concerns. However, doing so is unlikely to get a cheating partner to confess on the spot.
To test a partner’s trustworthiness, you may have an attractive friend or relative flirt with their significant other to see if they take the bait, or create a false social media account and engage in flirtatious banter. The only downside is your mate may claim they knew you were behind it all along.
If you still have suspicions, consider the following methods, where not prohibited by law:
- Ask them to recount their whereabouts in reverse order: When someone’s telling a lie or recounting a false cover story, they’re basically reciting a scripted speech. Asking them to go over the details in a different order may trip them up.
- Hire a private investigator: A PI may have the skills and resources to keep tabs on your partner and uncover evidence that may help you make a decision.
- Use a people search service: Searching for someone online may reveal social media accounts and other online activity that you never knew existed. Your partner could be doing their cheating out in the open, just under an assumed name or social media handle.
The ethics of busting a cheater
Before digging into someone’s privacy, it must be understood that doing so could cause irreparable damage to your relationship—imagine how you’d feel if you learned your partner suspected you were cheating when you’d done no such thing. What’s more, more extreme actions like going through someone else’s private phone or accounts may be illegal—or even dangerous. Nobody responds well when they’re caught behaving badly, so treading cautiously is imperative.
“Before anyone decides to play private detective they need to determine if cheating is a deal breaker,” said Kevin Darné, author of My Cat Won’t Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany), “Some people get a kick out of proving how smart they are by showing the cheater they figured out what she or he were doing.”
Darné said that if cheating is an absolute deal breaker (and according to the American Psychological Association, it accounts for 20-40% of divorces in the United States), it is assumed you will walk away. If it’s not a deal breaker, then busting a cheater is simply a “gotcha” move that only serves your own ego. If you are not planning on leaving there’s little point in confirming your mate is a cheater—if it doesn’t bother you, why make a fuss out of it?
Whether you’re caught completely off guard or you’ve been suspecting your partner for weeks or months, catching your partner cheating is an emotional rollercoaster—for everyone involved. But if one, or both of you, are breaching each other’s trust, it’s best to get things out in the open as soon as possible so you can choose to repair the relationship, or cut your losses and move on.