Sex research is complicated for a lot of reasons. People use different definitions and may be motivated to under (or over) report their true behavior. It’s especially challenging to get accurate data when it comes to sexual activity that participants may not want to admit.
Gender and cheating
For instance, when it comes to gender and cheating, women may feel a greater need to cover up their extradyadic dalliances, as they tend to experience much worse consequences than men who cheat. Historically, male infidelity is more expected and accepted, while women’s affairs bring greater financial risk, custodial endangerment or even the threat of violence. However, research finds men are more prone to lie for even small rewards and are more likely to be “radically dishonest” than women.
For these and many other reasons, getting a solid read on the frequency of infidelity is hard. We may never really know what people are up to. While some studies suggest the gender cheating gap might be closing, surveys still consistently find that men are more likely to cheat than women. Which might be the reason you are wondering, ‘Is my boyfriend cheating?’
Infidelity can be a cover for abuse
Whether you’re married or just dating, cheating can be deeply hurtful. The betrayal of trust, violation of agreements, and use of deception are enough to end many relationships. Even without physical or sexual indiscretions, emotional cheating can be devastating. Sometimes, though, the stepping out is only part of a constellation of victimization. As part of their infidelity, some may abuse or neglect their partners, which can be even more damaging than the cheating itself.
In a piece for Psychology Today, therapist Robert Weiss describes how cheaters may also victimize their partners, “usually as part of justifying or covering up their behavior.” He says some people who cheat use putdowns and belittling, are controlling or manipulative, engage in threatening and intimidation, or even physically or sexually abuse their partners. These hurtful actions may be intentional or something inadvertent that they’re not even consciously aware of doing.
I put out a call on social media for experiences of having been cheated on and the replies anecdotally confirmed this idea. In addition to seeking romance and sex elsewhere, many of these folks’ partners became hypercritical, neglectful, controlling, accusatory, and generally mean. Check out their stories to learn more about how they found out they were being cheated on.
How do I know is my boyfriend cheating?
“One ex who cheated constantly accused me of being unfaithful and argued over me having any male friends. Another ex never remembered his lies, so the most mundane stories never matched up.” -Brandi
“Finding random dating or live cam sites, when he sent a text message of his dick, and when I hit reply it asked if I wanted to reply all.” – Laura
“My ex cheated on me and was often accusing me of it. Which seemed odd and I eventually called him out, like maybe he was the one cheating since he was always so concerned that I was. Turns out while I was home alone doing nothing, he was out cheating on me. That really is what gave it away for me and eventually I learned the truth.” – Jill
“Emotional distance on his end as well as a series of Facebook likes and comments on his page from a lady that seemed to know him very well, but who I had never heard of.” – Vanessa
“Never introduced me to anyone as their partner, girlfriend or otherwise at their place of business and in fact would rarely even introduce me at all to their colleagues”- Sonia
“In a non-monogamous relationship, we spoke about talking to one another before starting to date someone. This was his rule because he was still trying to acclimate to nonmonogamy. Turns out he was dating someone for months after work and started developing very strong feelings for them. He told them that we were non-monogamous and that I was in the know and she was ok with it. She eventually bumped into me and innocently mentioned a date that she went on with him and I was like whaaaaa?
So just about a month after he began seeing her, I started noticing him getting very nitpicky and critical of me. He would start arguments and be generally ornery. When I would tell him about the possibility of me going out on a date, he would get explosive. I would ask him what was going on and he would just say, “I’m still not ready for us to really date.” While venting to my brother I was like, “I feel like he’s doing some shady shit and is projecting shit onto me.” I’m not the kind to dig or search so I let life go on. When I finally got confirmation (5 months later) I was getting myself ready for a divorce and finally did.” -Rachel
“It was when it became difficult to make plans. He was too busy to get together. And I’d wonder, ‘is my boyfriend cheating?’”- Lorenda
“The guy was in love with his new girlfriend (we were poly). He started being really shady and neglectful and weird. No matter how much I tried to talk to him about it he wouldn’t be transparent with me. He’d deny, he’d placate me, anything but self-reflection. Which sucked, because I really liked the girl.” -Eris
“It was strange because I attempted to break up with him numerous times and yet he felt the need to cheat. A coworker tipped me off. He managed to talk down my suspicion but was together with the girl he told me ‘not to worry about’ after I finally managed to break up with him.”- Emily
“He started bringing home food that she made (they worked together) and said it was from “his friend Chrissy.” When I suggested that we all go out to dinner together, since I was excited to meet one of his friends, he told me she wouldn’t want to do that.”- Mauri
“Being bound to their phone and not letting it stay on the table when they exit a room, sudden interest to get in shape or change appearance, disconnection from shared interests, getting annoyed more easily, volunteering to do errands they wouldn’t normally do and returning without the thing they left for, and leaving the house on the drop of a hat without notification.”- Zeneca
“I didn’t know until after I broke up with him. I broke up because he was too controlling. I feel like that should have been a sign though.”- Amber
How can you tell is your boyfriend cheating?
There’s no foolproof method to figuring out if someone is cheating on you, although I’ve written extensively on signs that can clue you in. Even if there’s never proof or confirmation of infidelity, damaged trust is a significant issue that requires a lot of work.
It’s up to you whether the relationship ends or not. If you decide to leave, make an exit strategy that allows you to leave quickly, with consideration for the safety of yourself, as well as children and pets, and with a clear plan for financial independence.
If you decide to stay, this will require significant work on everyone’s part- to make amends and build back stronger. Here are the steps that experts recommend for salvaging a relationship marred by infidelity.
Rebuilding after infidelity
Genuine apology For an apology to be meaningful, it has to include a clear description of why one’s behavior was wrong and what hurt was caused. It should focus on the ways in which the betrayed person was impacted, not the reasons that it happened. Saying “sorry” is the baseline, and there needs to be a clear statement of commitment to not doing it again, including specific actions to take and steps to avoid tempting situations. This is not the time to turn the spotlight onto the struggles of the cheater or the ways in which the betrayed partner could be contributing better to the relationship, although those things will need to be addressed sooner than later.
Disclosure and rebuilding trust As Usher taught us, confessions are complicated. There are some who think the only way to restore trust is radical honesty, while others contend that if the truth is going to be needlessly hurtful and you’re only divulging the facts to alleviate your own feelings of guilt, it might be better to keep some secrets. A one-time dalliance that you’re committed to prevent from happening again is different from ongoing affairs or a string of bad behavior. Greater breaches of trust may require more transparency, including allowing a partner access to your phone, social media, and email.
Course correction Even if you stay together, know the old relationship is over. A healthy step is to acknowledge this reality and mourn the loss of it, while maintaining hope for the new, more experienced, less naive version. Like a team of detectives working together, figure out what went wrong and how you’re going to collaborate on keeping similar issues at bay in the future. Will you go to therapy? Do you need to change communication patterns, devote more time to shared activities, reprioritize your lives? Once you decide, work diligently to make those changes in real life.