If your partner is actively having an affair — or even thinking about starting to stray — you might be able to tell by the changes in their online habits. While you can't put the blame on the likes of Instagram or Facebook, there is a link between social media and infidelity. And that's because, in many ways, "social media has made cheating more accessible," Theresa Herring, LMFT, a Chicago-area couples therapist, tells Bustle. "What starts off as a harmless communication can spiral into a full-on emotional and/or physical affair."
It has a lot to do with the easy access to other people, and the attention they can provide. "People use social media to cheat when they are unhappy with their lives and/or their relationships," Herring says. "It usually [starts when] a [...] person is giving them the validation that they've been seeking. They rediscover a lost part of themselves, feel like someone appreciates them for who they are, and it's off to the races."
That doesn't mean, however, that all is lost, that social media is evil, or that you need to monitor your partner's every move online. (That's not healthy for you or for them.) It also doesn't necessarily mean your partner is more likely to cheat, just because they're active on social media. But small changes can be one of the first sign's somethings up.
These are things to be conscious of, especially if you're feeling disconnected from your partner, or have reason to suspect them of cheating. "If you can recognize the signs early, you can more quickly strengthen the relationship to avoid or heal from an affair," Herring says. Here are a few social media habits experts say might mean your partner is starting to stray, as well as what to do about it.
They Ignore Your Tags And Comments
Let's say you tag your partner in a photo. Do they respond? Or do they act like it never happened? (Or worse, delete the tag so it doesn't show up on their feed?)
"If they turn their attention away from you, or run their social media accounts like you don't exist (never mentioning you or your relationship, at least not significantly), I would suspect something is up," Bennett says.
While interacting constantly on social media is not necessary for a healthy relationship, do take notice if they are not responding to you at all, and especially so if they ask you to limit the amount of photos you share, breakup coach Lee Wilson, tells Bustle. "Whereas this is a good privacy practice anyway, if [they have] never cared before," he says, "that could be a clue of guilt."
3 . One Name In Particular Keeps Popping Up
It isn't a big deal if your partner likes someone else's posts, or if they have a running commentary with a friend or an ex. But if it seems a bit flirty, and it's making you uncomfortable, do speak up.
"Usually you will see a pattern of a particular [person] liking your [partner's] photos or commenting on any status updates," Jennifer Seiter, a relationship expert, tells Bustle. "If you see something like this it is best to talk to your partner immediately and approach [them] in a calm, non-threatening manner to lessen the likelihood of cheating before it starts."
You can brush it off or hope it doesn't mean anything, but when it comes to affairs, it can help to address red flags early on. "The mistake I see [people] make is ignoring these signs," Seiter says, "and by the time they say something, it's too late because their [partner] is already invested in that other [person]."
They Make Plans Without You
Nothing sucks more than spotting your partner in photos from an event you heard nothing about. But this type of shady behavior can go down in subtler ways, too.
"If you are seeing your partner post about activities, outings, and events that you are not aware of at all, this is also a red flag that the relationship may not survive," Justin Lavelle, a relationship expert and chief communications officer at Been Verified, tells Bustle.
While it's healthy for both of you to have a life outside your relationship, if your partner is committed to you, they won't struggle to share their plans and keep you in the loop. After all, they should want to be open and honest, and feel excited to tell you about what they're up to.
They Stop Posting Couple Photos
Not all couples share their lives online. But if you used to post cute couple-y photos, and now your partner seems to be leaving you out, that could be a sign something's up.
"If you partner never includes you in photos or stops including you, this is a big sign they want to be seen as being single," Isabel James, a relationship coach and founder of Elite Dating Managers, tells Bustle. They might be crafting an online life that looks much different from what's going on in reality, possibly so they can talk to people more freely.
In this situation, you can ask your partner why they're keeping your relationship private. They might have a legit reason. But if they can't answer the question, or if they try to change the subject, it could mean that something's up.
They Post More Photos Of You Two Together
On the flip side, if your partner is thinking of straying, they might start posting more photos of you two together. "This can be an indication that your partner is looking for validation or encouragement from friends and family that the relationship is good and that the decision to stay in the relationship is a solid one," Lavelle says.
They might be fishing for comments about how cute you look together, or some sort of affirmation that things are good. It can be done it an attempt to convince themselves to stay, so they can feel better about ignoring the other options that are on the table. It also presents the opportunity to look for tiny flaws or a lack of encouragement, that can then justify cheating.
This one can be tricky to catch, especially since posting photos usually means things are fine. But it's still a clue worth paying attention to if accompanied by other signs, and if it seems out of the ordinary.
They're Actively Talking To Their Ex
It's totally OK if your partner wants to talk to their ex, or follow them on social media. But take note if they're constantly chatting with them, posting inside jokes on their photos, or liking every. single. pic.
As relationship therapist Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, founder of RelationUp, tells Bustle, flirtatious or ongoing comments to an ex may be a sign they are having poor boundaries, or that something else is going on.
Again, open communication will be key. Not only will it prevent you from lying awake at night wondering what's going on, but it will give your partner a chance to discuss why they might be feeling the need to get attention elsewhere. And from there, you can find ways to become close again.
They're Always Laughing Into Their Phone
Hey, the internet is full of hilarious photos and videos. So if your partner is laughing at something on their phone, it does not mean they are cheating. But if they seem to giggle while chatting on Facebook — and are doing so late into the night, hiding their phone from you, etc. — take note.
As Milrad says, if they are cheating they might "smile and laugh as they type (and you get a vibe that something is going on) and then tell you that they are just texting with a friend." If it doesn't feel right, trust your gut.
When a partner is being open and forthright — and not cheating — they'll be down to talk about their friends, and share what they're up to. While this doesn't mean they have to read every single text aloud, they won't be secretive about them, either.
If your partner is hiding their phone, and won't let you know what's making them smile, feel free to ask more questions until you feel better about the situation. Again, it's always better to get things out in the open, than it is to pretend nothing's happening.
They Are Super Protective Of Their Phone/Laptop
It's not only about what your partner does on social media, but also how they act in real life, too. For example, "if you've noticed a sharp increase in your partner's phone usage, that's definitely a red flag," Herring says. It might mean they're chatting on a dating site, or messaging someone they don't want you to know about, especially if they're being secretive about it.
If you've noticed that it keeps happening, and you have a knot in your stomach as a result, speak up. "Mention to your partner that you noticed they put their phone down or closed browsers quickly," Herring says. "Come from a place of curiosity rather than blame. And then maybe springboard it into a conversation about your hopes and dreams for the relationship and it's future. You want your partner to see a future with you, not the other person that they've been chatting with online."
Sharing what you want will also help you gauge your partner's commitment level. If they aren't cheating, they'll want to talk about these things, too. And will be just as excited about the future as you.
Their Posts Are Kind Of "Anti-Relationship"
If your partner hasn't been feeling connected to your relationship, they might start subtly saying so via their posts. You might notice "cryptic posts or quotes and memes that seem to indicate [they're] questioning [their] current life direction," Lavelle says. So if it seems like your partner is posting things that seem a bit "anti-relationship," you very might be right.
"If your partner likes or posts memes that try to show a humorous take on hiding a [...] 'side boo' [...] this can be a sign they are cheating," Lavelle says. "Also look out for likes or shares on memes that try to show a humorous take on hiding anything from a significant other, like ways to hide your phone messages, how to convince your significant other that you're asleep at home but you're really out, ways to keep your partner from asking about social media 'friends,' etc."
They've Created Other Accounts
If your partner has a separate Instagram account — one where they never post about you — or another Facebook page that they use primarily for talking to friends you've never met, that's a red flag.
As Lavelle says, "When social media accounts change or the postings start to change, it can be a big clue that your significant other could be cheating."
While there are plenty of other explanations for a second account, or a joke posted on a ex's wall, if you have that gut feeling that something's going on, do bring it to your partner's attention.
You don't have to go looking for these problems, or be hyper vigilant for signs of change, but you can follow up if something seems out of the ordinary. By having a conversation about your relationship, you may be able to nip cheating in the bud before it happens. Or, at the very least, get to the bottom of why they're being unfaithful, so you can start to mend your relationship — or move on.
Theresa Herring, LMFT, Chicago-area couples therapist
David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert at The Popular Man
Lee Wilson, breakup coach
Jennifer Seiter, relationship expert
Justin Lavelle, relationship expert and chief communications officer at Been Verified
Isabel James, relationship coach and founder of Elite Dating Managers
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