Why You Always Think Your Partner Is Cheating On You — And How To Stop Worrying About It
If you've ever thought your partner was cheating on you — even when they weren't — you're not alone. It can be a very stressful situation to find yourself in. And while it may seem like trust issues are what's leading you to constantly worry your partner is cheating, experts and research say it could point to something deeper than that.
Typically, people become paranoid about their partner cheating on them for three reasons, Susan Golicic, Ph.D., a certified relationship coach and co-founder of Uninhibited Wellness, tells Bustle. Trust issues are one of them, for sure, but it may also mean you're struggling with confidence, or projecting.
A recent small study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships of 96 heterosexual couples, found we project our attraction towards other people onto our partners. When the participants in the study were attracted to someone outside their relationship, they were much more likely to say their partner was attracted to others, too, even if they really weren't.
"Projection is a very low-level coping skill," Dr. Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP, a clinical psychologist and author of The Other Woman's Affair, tells Bustle. "People that do things themselves like cheat, think about cheating, or have cheated in the past, project these thoughts of desire onto their partners. Their mind ends up creating a reality that their partner is cheating as well."
In a way, it makes people feel better about having thought about cheating or actually doing it. If their partner is cheating on them, it kind of makes it OK, right? Obviously not. But that's just how it tends to play out in our heads. Let's take a deeper look at those three reasons again, as well as what you can do about them.
You Have Cheated In The Past
If you cheated in the past, are currently cheating, or are even thinking it, chances are you'll believe your partner is cheating, too. It may be a subconscious way to "justify" your own behavior, Golicic says. But when it's top of mind, it's often all you can see.
"When these [thoughts] are driving the paranoia, there doesn't have to be any actual evidence that cheating is occurring," Golicic says. "[You] will still manufacture them and cling to the simplest sign." If your partner receives a text at night, for example, you may assume it's a sign of an affair because you're also receiving texts late at night.
It's a slippery slope, but the good thing is you can overcome it. "Couples can work through trust issues together by discussing past hurts and mistakes, and coming to an understanding of each other's wounds," Emily Pfannenstiel, LPC, LMHC, a therapist who focuses on relationship issues, tells Bustle.
This may be the time to air all the dirty little secrets, and make honesty a new rule, possibly along with a therapist. "A supportive counselor can help in facilitating healthy communication and boundaries, and can help each individual understand the root of his or her sense of lack, mistrust, and related behaviors," Pfannenstiel says.
You Struggle With Trust Issues
Speaking of trust issues, if you have them, then it only makes sense you'd assume your partner is lying, cheating, and going behind your back. You inherently don't trust others, Golicic says, possibly based on past experiences, like being cheated on by an ex, or even betrayed by parents and friends.
In many ways, whatever was modeled to you as a child is often how you'll relate to others as an adult, Meredith Prescott, LCSW, a psychotherapist in NYC, tells Bustle. If your parents cheated on each other, she says, you may be more likely to expect the same in your own relationships. And the same is true if a past partner let you down, as that experience can be a very difficult one to overcome.
"Finding a couples therapist would be a great way to work through issues around cheating and betrayal," Prescott says. You can go together, or find a therapist of your own to work through your past, so it no longer has a negative impact on your current relationship.
You Don't Feel Worthy Of Love
If you don't have enough self-confidence to feel worthy of love, Golicic says, there's a greater chance you'll look for reasons to tell yourself that your relationship isn't working. This can stem from low self-esteem, as well as the two problems listed above. But whatever the root cause may be, it's always possible to reframe how you view yourself and the world.
"Telling your partner about the work you need to do for yourself will let them know this is a past wound that you want to heal to have a better relationship," Golicic says. "It also helps to be vulnerable and share any insecurities you have in a relationship. Your partner may be able to help you work on that and feel more secure."
Sometimes, if you get the feeling your partner is cheating, it's actually stemming from legitimate truths. But many times it's "all in your head." The important thing is to recognize your feelings, talk it out with your partner, and above all, trust yourself to find the truth behind the situation.
Neal, A. M. & Lemay E. P. (2017). The wandering eye perceives more threats: Projection of attraction to alternative partners predicts anger and negative behavior in romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Oct.10, pp. 1-19. DOI: 10.1177/0265407517734398
Emily Pfannenstiel, LPC, LMHC, therapist
Meredith Prescott, LCSW, a psychotherapist
This article was originally published on