In every relationship, there are easy conversations, and just as many more difficult ones. What you consider an easy conversation versus a difficult one varies, based on who you are and what you feel comfortable talking about. But, one conversation that's almost never easy to have is the question of infidelity. Cheating happens, and when you suspect infidelity in your relationship, it can be hard to figure out how to talk to your partner about cheating, especially if you have no proof.
I spoke to Nicole Richardson, licensed marriage and family therapist, and Grant H. Brenner, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, to get their advice on how best to approach a partner who you think may be stepping out on you.
"Generally, if the goal is to have a constructive conversation and potentially find out if something is wrong, rather than pick a fight or accuse them without being sure, it makes sense to speak when the other person is not engaged in another activity and is in a relatively receptive state of mind," Brenner tells Elite Daily. "It also may be useful to give some advance notice without disclosing the exact reason for the conversation, e.g. 'Could we set aside some time to talk tomorrow morning when we are both off from work? There's something I'd like to discuss,' or 'When would be a good time for us to speak about something which has been on my mind recently?'"
Richardson advises taking a similar approach, "Check in and tell them that something feels off or different in the relationship and you would like to explore that with them," she tells Elite Daily.
Brenner warns that if your partner is, indeed, being unfaithful to you, they may be very good at hiding it.
"There are many times people who engage in infidelity are very good at being deceptive and reassuring, so bring up specific concerns and observations which have made you feel suspicious, and see how they respond," he says. "If you continue to believe that something is amiss, trust your gut, and don't brush it under the rug. Ask your partner about it again, and if you really don't feel comfortable after multiple reassurances, it is a good idea to speak with a couples counselor."
Figuring out when to bring up your concerns can be tricky. To help lessen the blow to your partner a bit, Brenner advises giving them a heads up that you want to talk about something, while also ensuring both of you have time and are in a good place, mentally, to have the talk. If your partner comes home agitated from a long day at work, it's best to save the conversation for another time, when you're both at peace.
Is it ever the "right" time to talk about something like infidelity? Not really, but Brenner says there are definitely times not to talk about it. "Avoid bringing up the question of infidelity on holidays or anniversaries, for example," he explains. "Pick a neutral day when you have time and the headspace for a serious conversation. Even if they aren't cheating, there may be a lot to talk about."
Once you've broached the subject, figuring out what to say to your partner if you think they're cheating can be incredibly difficult. What you should say depends heavily on the type of relationship you and your partner have, and the kind of people you are, Brenner says.
"I'd start out by emphasizing the importance of the relationship and of trust, and be straightforward and tactful without being accusatory. When dealing with infidelity, 'innocent until proven guilty' is a reasonable approach." he says. Once you and your partner have agreed to talk, Brenner advises starting off the conversation with, "'I'm glad we have a chance to talk about our relationship. I value our relationship, and it means a great deal to me. It is important to me that we be up front and honest with each other. A healthy relationship is based on communication. Recently, I've wondered if there might be a problem in our relationship, because [whatever the concern is] it feels to me like you might be interested in other people. Am I picking up on something we should discuss?'"
Now, of course, you don't have to recite that verbatim to your partner, but try to touch on each of the points Brenner mentions. "And stick with the conversation, if there is a brush-off or an easy reassurance, he says. "At that point, be prepared to bring up examples of why you are concerned."
If you feel like there have been signs that your partner may be cheating on you, it's important to approach the subject with caution, especially if you have no proof, because "if you're wrong, it could [be] poisonous to the relationship," Richardson says. If they aren't cheating, they may feel hurt that you would even suspect them of cheating on you, which is why Richardson advises never to accuse your partner without concrete proof.
Remember: In order to avoid the conversation becoming messier than you intended, it's best to bring up your suspicions in a way that shows you're concerned about your relationship, and about your partner. Avoid sounding accusatory, and hopefully, your partner will respond accordingly. Tough conversations are never easy, but if you're careful, sensitive, and you come prepared, there's no reason you should leave the conversation feeling like you didn't get the answers you were looking for.
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