What to Do if You Suspect Your SO is Cheating

You’re too observant for your own good — you always notice the little things. The lopsided smile on their face as they text that girl on their phone — the smile they used to give you. The strand of hair in their bed that’s blonde — not your brunette locks. Every day, each little sign begins to construct a seemingly infallible narrative in your head. Every minute, you can’t help but grow more irritated at your SO. And yet, although the suspicions grow in your head, you can’t bring yourself to do anything about it.

Cheating is hard for both people involved. Guilt, suspicion and lack of trust can eat away at a relationship without proper confrontation and resolution. We’ve talked to experts and students on college campuses to give you five steps to follow when you suspect your SO is cheating. Whether your suspicions are true or not, your fear definitely needs to get resolved.

1. Talk it out with your family and friends

You don’t have to go through this alone. A third party can help you clear your thoughts and give you a fresh perspective. Talk to someone who knows both you and your SO as a couple, whether that’s a family member or a good friend. Let them know your suspicions and see how they respond. Their insight on your situation can help confirm or assuage your suspicions. Maybe they know that your SO has cheated in a relationship before, or maybe they feel that your SO would never hurt you like that. That information can give you an outside view on your relationship, which is definitely helpful for you to gather your thoughts.

At the same time, don’t take the opinion of another person too strongly. Use it to guide your thoughts, but don’t take it too seriously. Even if your SO has cheated before, maybe they’ve changed and wouldn’t do that anymore. And even if your SO is kind-hearted, maybe that’s why they’re too afraid to reveal the truth. Keep that in mind as you talk with your family and friends — your intuition is what matters most. Along with that, make sure to talk only with people who you know won’t gossip. It’s not going to end well if your SO finds out about your suspicion through the grape vine rather than from you.

Anna Trojanowska, a freshman at the College of Charleston, says that even if you feel uncomfortable talking with other people, you can still find other ways to express your concerns. “If you feel that you need help, talk with a trusting friend or family member,” she says. “If you don’t feel like socializing about this topic because you feel it is too sensitive or personal, I highly recommend writing your thoughts down in a journal or simply a piece of paper. Trust me, this really helps. You will feel a little weight of emotional relief once you get some of your thoughts and feelings out.” Keep that in mind if the topic is too personal for you to discuss.

2. Make sure your suspicions have evidence

The police can’t barge into a house without a search warrant, just like you can’t accuse your SO without proper evidence. Think carefully and determine what actions make you feel suspicious. Are they canceling plans more often? Do they hide their phone from you, text more often around you or talk about a specific girl quite a lot? Did they show more affection toward you before all this began? These are all good questions to ask yourself — along with others that apply to your personal situation. If you find yourself answering “yes” to a majority of your questions, you might have a cheater on your hands.

However, it’s important that you don’t blindly accuse your SO with half-baked, imaginary evidence either. It’s easy to get caught up in delusions and manipulate events to fit your preconceptions — and that’s not fair to your SO. Believe it or not, it’s quite hurtful to be accused of infidelity when you’re actually not cheating at all — it’s a huge breach of trust. You might lose your SO if your accusation ends up wrong. That’s why you should invest time into backing your suspicions with solid evidence. Even write down your reasons if it helps organize your thoughts. It’s not something to take lightly. Be methodical, precise and, most importantly, logical. Don’t make an impulsive assumption and ruin something beautiful.

3. Avoid stalking potential suspects on social media

While your first instinct might be to comb through every potential suspect on your SO’s Facebook (and consider whether you’re more attractive than them), please don’t do that. By obsessing over the “other person,” you’re stooping down to their level. Your only concern in this conflict is your relationship with your SO. It doesn’t matter who they cheated on you with — what matters is that they cheated! That’s what you’re worried about, and whenever you begin to obsess, stop and remember that your focus should be on yourself.

Along with adding more worries than you need, looking for a suspect will only further heighten your imagination. Whenever you see your SO talking to that person, even completely platonically, you’ll only grow more suspicious by the minute. That emotion-charged suspicion will most likely be unfounded. While it’s definitely important to catch patterns in your partner’s actions (like texting the same girl over and over again), don’t create patterns where they don’t exist.

4. Identify your feelings and set your emotional boundaries

In the end, however the relationship will turn out, your emotional state should come first. Never let someone get you depressed, really — it’s not worth it. Identify your personal feelings about your SO. Do you feel like you could have a future together? Or, could you see the two of you breaking up after a while? Especially in college, some relationships can’t last simply due to distance after graduation. If that’s the case, is it worth it to break down over some person whose name you’ll barely remember in 10 years? Definitely not.

Keep those emotional boundaries in mind. It might sound harsh, but don’t care about them if you don’t have to. If they’ve been cheating, they’ve lost the guarantee that you’ll care about them anyway. By loving yourself and keeping that first in your mind, you can get through any heartbreak. On the other hand, if you really did love them and saw a future together with them, that’s definitely a tougher situation to handle. Still, remember that these same concepts of loving yourself and creating boundaries hold true for you as well.

Rhonda Ricardo, romantic expert and the author of Cherries Over Quicksand, notes that when a relationship turns sour, it’s important to keep your personal goals in mind. “If an SO leaves a relationship there is going to be heartbreak and it’s not an easy time, so make sure you keep your goals in front of your eyes, to stay focused on the hopes and dreams you have for your life,” she says. “Keeping prominent photos or works about your life purpose/goals and physical exercise will help you focus on the positive and less on the broken heart.” You lived your life just fine before you met your SO, and you can live just fine without them as well.

Anna reminds us that in the end, your life is in your hands alone. “In my opinion, no one deserves to be cheated on, so the relationship wasn’t meant to be,” she says. “Life has its ups and downs and it is in your power to think positive and take matters into your own hands. You are in control of your life and you have the choice to leave a relationship if you feel that it is threatening. Life is too short to stand in time and worry about the possibility of your partner cheating on you again in the future.” As you prepare to confront your SO, keep those words in mind. Either way, you will get through this — don’t ever doubt that.

Related: Should You Forgive Your SO For Cheating?

5. Confront your SO with logic, not emotion

Now that you’ve gathered your evidence, talked with your support system and identified your personal feelings, you can confront your SO. Be upfront that it’s going to be a serious conversation. Call and let them know that you’d like to talk about your relationship, and set a place and time where you feel most comfortable — and where you can easily run to a friend afterward if things don’t go too well (remember, you are your #1 priority right now!).

When the conversation starts and you let them know your suspicions, don’t let your emotions take hold of you. Instead, calmly explain all the evidence you’ve observed over the time you think they’ve been cheating. Most importantly, don’t get mad and immediately accuse them. Make sure you use qualifiers like, “You seem to be texting this girl a lot” and “I think there might be something going on between you and her.” That way, they know you’re giving them the benefit of the doubt — and will hopefully retain some trust in the relationship if they end up clean.

Your SO is most likely going to vehemently deny the claims, whether they’ve been cheating or not. At this point, you need to keep pushing. Keep showing them your evidence and carefully notice their reactions. Do they seem nervous? Maybe a little guilty? Latch on to those attitudes and question them about it. Eventually, they might give in and confess. And if they don’t, and counter your evidence with real evidence of their own (text logs with the suspected girl, genuine reasons for missing dates, etc.), they may not have been cheating after all. It’s your choice if you choose to believe them or not. Just make sure you decide carefully.

Bridget Higgins, a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, notes that the decision ultimately comes down to trust. “I’ve been in a relationship with cheating involved, although I didn’t find out about it until after we broke up,” she says. “Sadly, when it comes to cheating, there is no easy way to address the problem. You can confront your SO directly. But if lying is already involved, then there’s no way to know whether your SO is telling you the truth. I think it all comes down to trust. Cheating, as sucky as it is, is totally out of your control. If you trust your SO and what he/she is telling you, then you just have to let your fears go about cheating.”

If you decide to trust your SO, it can be extremely hard to simply let go of your fears about such a heartbreaking issue. Ricardo gives us great advice on how to start. “Remember how we all appreciate those that give us the benefit of the doubt (usually without expecting an explanation because they know you are trustworthy) including an SO, friends and family,” she says. “Then extend that same benefit of the doubt to your SO even if you suspect they may be cheating, and give them a chance to explain away your fears.” Like Ricardo says, give your SO a chance to eradicate your fears. Let them love you – things might end up better than before.

And if you genuinely trust your SO, then believe them and don’t worry about cheating anymore. Make compromises and construct a plan with your partner to establish trust again. Maybe ask them to text you more often and let you know where they are so that you don’t need to feel suspicious. If you still feel threatened after a while, then it might be time to end the relationship. Never stay with someone who doesn’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated. You are in control of your life and you can choose to leave a relationship if you are not happy. Never forget that and good luck, collegiettes!