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Infidelity: why it's better not to know

Date

Sandy Smith

Keeping it together ... very few relationships fail due to infidelity.

Keeping it together ... very few relationships fail due to infidelity.

It's the ultimate betrayal between a couple, but infidelity does not need to be the end of your relationship or your sanity.

When Sarah* became suspicious of her husband's behaviour, she wanted proof that he was cheating. She obtained spy software for the home computer and discovered he was sending and receiving emails from a woman via a secret Gmail account. Instead of confronting her husband, Sarah engaged the services of a private investigator and provided details of a business meeting her husband said he was attending on the Gold Coast. Investigators obtained covert video of Sarah's husband having dinner with a woman then going to a hotel room together. The next morning when her husband said he had scheduled a game of golf with clients, the couple were filmed enjoying a shopping trip and lunch. Sarah got the proof she was looking for and was devastated.

With 44 per cent of people admitting to cheating in a relationship, according to this year's Great Australian Sex Census — infidelity is widespread and suspicious partners are turning to technology to catch them out.

Jarris Fuller, from private investigators JFA Brisbane, says he frequently encounters women who secretly check their partners' phones, email or Facebook accounts searching for signs of cheating. "Women generally tend to have a better 'sense' for infidelity in their partners and, in around 80 per cent of cases I've worked on, their fears are proven correct," he says. "Someone being overly possessive of a phone, even taking it to the toilet, is usually one of the first signs that something might be 'going on'," says Fuller. "That tends to make most women even more keen to check out the phone, but it also becomes a bit of a Catch-22 situation and 3 am phone checks are not uncommon."

According to a report by Telstra 40 per cent of Australian women admit to checking their partner's mobile inbox for flirty texts and 24.5 per cent claim to have caught out a partner 'flirtexting' with someone else by text message or email.

But what toll is this kind of surveillance taking on our relationships and our sanity?

Websites such as Truthaboutdeception.com are brimming over with the insecurities of suspicious partners. One woman writes: "I have every password to every account (bank, phone, email, etc) my boyfriend has. I found a piece of paper in his drawer with them all written down. Will I ever tell him? No way. Do I check them? Occasionally. But honestly I'm trying not to. It's so easy to make nothing into something and become obsessive. I've been there and it's not fun."

Clinical psychologist Dr Seth Meyers, writing in Psychology Today, says that checking up on a partner "seems to have become so common that people actually feel comfortable — or justified — to disclose such behaviour." Meyers highlights the dangers of snooping. "When someone reaches the point of secretly accessing their partner's voicemails, texts, and emails due to suspicions of infidelity, all has been lost in the relationship — regardless of whether the cheatee's investigation proves guilt or innocence. When someone starts breaking into his partner's phone, the cheatee reduces himself or herself to desperate actions and often ends up engaging in the same kind of inappropriate behavior that the cheater engaged in to begin with." Instead, the cheatee should behave with integrity, writes Meyers. "The number one goal in a relationship should be that you can say that you're proud of who you are in the relationship — that you're good, kind, and respectful. Even if you sense that the relationship is going to end because of your partner's cheating."

Dr Lissa Johnson, a Sydney based clinical psychologist agrees that snooping on a partner is counterproductive: "It is human and absolutely understandable to want to snoop when things feel awry in your relationship. And technology makes that much easier than it used to be, so it's tempting to let yourself lapse in a moment of weakness. However, the costs usually outweigh the short term relief." The long term costs she says are "your self-respect, the integrity of your relationship, your partner's trust in you and the emotional distance you create by going behind your partner's back. Ultimately, snooping to relieve your suspicion is like gambling to relieve stress. It might provide short term relief but it only inflames the original problem and can leave chaos in its wake."

Instead of spying, Johnson too recommends an honest approach. "At the heart of a healthy relationship is the willingness to confide, be vulnerable and honest, express feelings and needs in a respectful way, and to treat your partner's needs and vulnerabilities with care. Difficulties and conflict in relationships are opportunities for greater closeness – for learning about yourselves and each other, evolving as people, and finding out how to better meet each others' needs. By snooping rather than confronting problems you are robbing your relationship of important opportunities to deepen and grow."

Infidelity can have a range of causes and often comes from a place of fear or pain, says Johnson. "There may be avoidance of conflict, fear of abandonment, fear of loss of self, insecurities about attractiveness, a need for approval or adulation, or a lack of other means of responding to problems in a relationship. The better you understand it, and the more support you get, the less likely you are to act recklessly."

Johnson admits the discovery of cheating partner can often elicit strong emotions and unleash the desire for revenge. "Betrayal can be excruciatingly painful, and that is human," says Johnson. "It is also human to be angry and to want to lash out. To avoid acting recklessly in the grip of strong emotion, find outlets for your feelings other than revenge or desperation," she advises. "Get support from people who care about you; talk about it with compassionate friends; write about it in a journal. Focus on making sense of the betrayal in a way that doesn't demonise or dehumanise anyone, yourself included."

Lyn Fletcher, Director of Operations for Relationships Australia NSW, also recommends thinking through the consequences before you act. "Don't deny your feelings but deal with them appropriately. Being angry and lashing out is not appropriate. You're doubling the problem by lashing out at the other person. That's not going to change their mind; in fact, all it's going to do is fuel the evidence that they've done the right thing."

However those who find themselves dealing with a cheating partner can take heart from Relationships Australia's Relationships Indicator 2011 report. It cites infidelity as the reason behind only 11 per cent of couples going their separate ways, implying that cheating is easier to overcome than financial difficulties, which, at 26 per cent, is the leading cause of break-ups. Fletcher agrees with the findings: "History is littered with betrayals, but only a very small percentage of couples don't survive adultery. Life goes on."

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Relationships Australia has been a leading provider of relationship support services for over 60 years. Counselling, relationship education programs and family dispute resolution services are available nationwide. If you need help to create positive and respectful relationships contact Relationships Australia at 1300 364 277 or visit: www.nsw.relationships.com.au.

74 comments

  • I admit it... I looked through my (now ex-)partner's phone and here's what I've learnt.... There's no win. Either you find "proof" of infidelity, which is heartbreaking, or you don't. The problem with not finding anything is that we don't take this as "proof" they're not being unfaithful. We continue to snoop, assuming we just didn't find anything this time. It's a vicious circle and is a result of trust already having been removed from the relationship - something snooping will never return. I can't promise to never snoop again, but I hope I remember my own advice, should my fingers ever get twitchy near my current partner's phone. It's just not worth it.

    Commenter
    M
    Date and time
    June 25, 2012, 1:22PM
    • Yep know the feeling, ruined my last relationship due to this, though looking back now it was probably a good thing due to compatibility.

      I've done it once in the first few months with my now partner, and confessed straight away. He was angry but happy I'd admitted it. No further issues. Have to say its amazing what difference a guy that doesn't try to hide his phone/email/online messages makes on my insecurity versus having a "private" person. I know which one I need and which one I dont ever snoop with now :)

      Commenter
      Jen
      Date and time
      June 25, 2012, 3:13PM
    • Snooping around your partners email, phone or hiring a private investigator. even if you find nothing it is TOO LATE!

      You are not trusting your partner.

      Relationships are built on trust, if you do not have it, confront it together and build it. Say "Honey, I have feelings that your not telling me something, your flirting or worse" Get it out in the open.

      The best thing that happens is that if they are off flirting and/or cheating on you, they will feel guilty and probably change their behaviour without you knowing. If they aren't then their reaction to this question should put you at ease.

      Its a win both ways you look at it.

      If not see a counsellor. Don't stalk them.

      Commenter
      Barney
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 25, 2012, 7:03PM
  • It just depends on the situation. If you're young, have no kids yet, and snoop to find out if your fears are correct, then there's no harm. Just find out and then dump him/her. Snooping is not ideal but unless you're just ultra paranoid, you usually find what you're looking for.

    Commenter
    R
    Location
    Inner West
    Date and time
    June 25, 2012, 1:26PM
    • If I found out my partner was looking through my fb/phone/email etc I would consider that betrayal almost as bad as cheating in any event...God I am glad I found a sane woman...

      Commenter
      meh
      Date and time
      June 25, 2012, 1:34PM
      • I have have no problem with my partner snooping as I have nothing to hide. How you could see it as betrayal is beyond me.

        Commenter
        Things that make you go hmmm
        Date and time
        June 25, 2012, 2:51PM
      • @things that make you go hmm - Exactly right! If you have nothing to hide, then why be secretive?!

        Commenter
        Abi
        Location
        Melb
        Date and time
        June 25, 2012, 4:37PM
      • i'm with meh- if your partner trusts you that little with no justification then you got a problem. i have been guilty of checking an ex's phone- and my fears were well and truly founded- however i knew at that point that the relationship was over anyway as i already had the doubts- and if i couldn't bring myself to trust him then he wasn't the person for me. of course once i checked he didn't trust me either- fairly i would say. but i'm glad i found out what a skeezey lying twerp he was and got away before i caught something.

        Commenter
        Nerf
        Date and time
        June 25, 2012, 5:00PM
      • My husband and I have nothing to hide, so we're welcome to look at each other's e-mails, facebook, etc. We hardly ever do, though, because we trust each other, and if we look at fb it's for entertainment, not to look for evidence of infidelity. We also trust each other enough to not bother checking each other's phones, though if he or I did look, I doubt either of us would have an issue with it. (He has volunteered his password without me asking and I don't have one, but neither of us has ever bothered looking). It's only necessary to look if you have good grounds for suspicion, and we don't have that.

        Commenter
        MO4
        Date and time
        June 25, 2012, 6:32PM
      • Its a lack of trust which is disappointing.

        I have a web email account which details email well before I met my current flame. I don't want to delete it, I see it as an easy way of going through my lifes diary in private.

        Yet she gets on and searches through it for my email to past lovers, past behaviours when I was a completely different person. She is only going to find the one email which makes her unhappy. Not look and find many that make her gush with happiness.

        People need to think about the cause of their suspicions before going to search for the effect.

        Commenter
        meh
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        June 25, 2012, 7:12PM

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