You tell yourself that you trust your partner completely, and yet every time they pull out their phone to text, you can’t help but wonder who is on the other side. Maybe they came home later than usual one day, and you immediately started thinking about who they could possibly be with, what they’re doing, and if they’d tell you the truth if asked.
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.
“For some, they might have experienced infidelity in their home with their parents or close relatives,” Dr. Vanessa Milagros, PhD, licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. “For others, they have experienced the pain of being cheated on first hand at a younger age, and that experience had a deep and profound impact on the way they viewed relationships moving forward.”
The good news is, there are ways to cope with this. According to experts, these are the potential root causes, as well as what you can do about them to ease that cheating paranoia.
1. You Have Cheated In The Past
If infidelity has been an issue before, projection might be a factor in your current insecurities. "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 fact, a recent small study of 96 heterosexual couples, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships of 96, 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.
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. Because if you convince yourself your partner is cheating, the logic goes, it makes your potential transgression less severe. Obviously, it doesn’t really work that way.
"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.
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