This article has been one of my most read and most popular articles on relationships and infidelity.
It has stimulated a great deal of discussion in the comments and been updated to reflect both those conversations, plus my more recent experiences helping my counselling clients with this subject.
Are you constantly on edge, listening out for that tell-tale ping on your husband’s phone? His shoulders hunched as he tries to hide his screen from you? Sadly, in the era of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, this is an increasingly common story.
As technology reaches further into our lives, opportunities for betrayal, infidelity and deceit just grow and grow.
In the past, anyone in the home could answer the household’s phone when it rang. Our work and home lives were neatly separated, limiting the reach of workplace flirtations.
Now, there is endless room for secrecy and intrigue. Old boundaries are gone, and it is far easier to channel dissatisfaction and unhappiness with our marriages into smartphone affairs.
Many partners even feel doubt about whether their worries are reasonable.
Questions I hear include:
In this article I discuss:
“I found out my fiancé had been receiving more than friendly texts from a woman that he previously worked with. We had a horrific argument which ended in me leaving with our 9 month old baby - as my fiancé would not show me his mobile phone bill to prove he had not been participating in these texts. We separated for one week and after discussions and an agreement that he would not contact this woman we decided to get back together. One month later, I checked his phone and found he had saved the woman's number under another name and had been phoning her constantly, and texting her at 2am when I went to bed and also throughout the day - even when he went to the shops to get nappies.”
Phone-based emotional affairs come in different shapes and sizes. Some exist in a kind of fantasy space and it is unlikely the participants even really want to meet. Meanwhile, they cause their partners pain and confusion as they become increasingly unavailable in their marriage.
For others, the messaging turns quickly into destructive physical affairs.
You should take action to protect your marriage if any of these scenarios sound familiar:
Something just isn’t right: your husband never leaves his phone unattended. He gets constant messages and is snappy when you ask about them. You have a strong feeling something is wrong, but can’t seem to start a rational conversation.
He says it’s you with the problem: your husband is in constant contact with a woman he describes as a friend, but refuses to admit there is any problem with this. He acts outraged when you ask to see his phone or laptop. He labels you untrusting and suspicious.
You feel like you’re at breaking point: your husband is having a full-blown emotional affair via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or text (or all three). You have had numerous painful arguments and you are considering leaving him. Messages come in constantly at all hours and you have checked his phone and discovered intimate texts and even photos and videos.
The emotional affair that won’t end: your husband has cut off contact with a woman he had been messaging after you raised your suspicions. However he can’t seem to follow through and really cut ties between him and this woman. He refuses to take simple steps like deleting her from his Facebook friends or from his phone.
In the happiest marriage, it is easy for technology to intrude and come between you and your partner. So even if your suspicions are ungrounded, it is worth having a debate about when and where it is acceptable to use your smartphone.
Think about what message you are giving to each other if you routinely put interacting with others on your phone over your relationship.
Talk with your partner about making the bedroom a smartphone/tablet-free area, so you can concentrate on each other – chatting over the day or having sex. What about meal times, when you’re watching the TV, or going out together?
Your partner obsessing over work colleagues or old high school friends on Facebook and spending all his time messaging them is not a good sign for his emotional health.
He is most likely unhappy about something but believes it’s pointless to say anything. If you’re going through a bad patch, he may expect to be attacked or to have his concerns dismissed.
Ask him whether he’s fed up and whether he thinks your relationship is in a rut. Don’t be fobbed off with ‘it’s OK’ or ‘I don’t know’. Most likely, you have some idea of what the issue is, because he has raised it in the past and you have downgraded or dismissed it.
If you’re still at a loss, discuss whether the kids take up too much of your time and the state of your sex life. Ultimately, it is better to try and solve the root causes – before they tip over into more dangerous behaviours – than get diverted into discussing whether texting another woman is really cheating.
Your husband is probably in denial about the true nature of this relationship. He may have convinced himself that cheating involves having sex, or that ‘just a kiss’ does not count. In my opinion, it is the pattern of communication that is most worrying – even more so than the content.
If your husband is usually a sporadic communicator who isn’t much interested in social media, you should be worried if he is constantly messaging someone and suddenly on his smartphone all the time. Signs of secrecy are also a concern, such as putting a password on his devices for no apparent reason.
Whatever you do, don’t panic. Avoid making accusations like ‘you’re having an affair’, as these only invite a counter-attack.
Instead, ask him open questions that will start a conversation between the two of you:
Most wives have a good idea of the identity of the woman their husband is messaging. This is because when someone first becomes enamoured, they can’t stop talking about them, so your alarm bells will have already rung.
When he stops mentioning her, you think the madness has passed and you can breathe again. However, it can equally be a sign that the ‘friendship’ has moved to the next phase and your husband knows either consciously or unconsciously that he has something to hide.
Listen to what isn’t being said and look closer at his actions. Does he seem to find constant fault, or is he irritable and snappy for no reason? This is because he’s looking for reasons to justify his bad behaviour. What used to be mildly annoying has turned into proof (in his mind) that your relationship is fundamentally flawed.
Perhaps you love him so much that you want to believe him or you don’t think he’s ‘that type of guy’. Maybe he has persuaded you you’re being paranoid (so that now you are beginning to doubt your own instincts) or he claims your constant questioning is ‘doing his head in’ (and you’re frightened of ruining the relationship).
If he is having an affair (emotional, physical or both), it is better to bring things to a head rather than hoping things will get better when he’s changed jobs, the kids go back to school or Chelsea win the Premier League. You will also avoid the trap – which many women fall into after an affair is discovered – of blaming yourself for not acting sooner.
Andrew's Relationship Toolkit
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve tried to take action, but without success. In my experience of thirty years helping couples as a marital therapist, you have fallen into one or more of the following traps:
Nobody will step back, look at their behaviour through fresh eyes and assess the impact on other people, when they feel under attack. They normally defend themselves, counter complain or close down the conversation by walking away.
Alternatively, you have burst into tears and he’s felt the need to reassure you and promise the moon and the stars – rather than actually change.
Time and again, couples don’t properly listen to each other and start arguing because one partner has already done a lot of thinking about an issue, come with his or her preferred option and tries to sell it.
So keep an open mind and truly listen to what your partner has to say. If you give him this courtesy, he will probably return it.
For change to stick, there’s got to be something in it for both parties. Perhaps he thinks you spend too much time chatting to your friends too.
When it comes to hearts and minds, we respond better to positive rather than negative messages. So instead of complaining about what you don’t like, aim for more of what you do: nights out, great sex and talking more to each other.
There is a great Hungarian saying that some clients taught me about “preaching water but drinking wine”. In other words, you’re telling him to prioritise your marriage but don’t ask yourself where he comes in your list of priorities.
For example, does he think you put the children first and he comes a distant third or fourth? Does he think wiping down the kitchen counters trumps coming to bed at a decent time and having sex with him?
We believe that relationships run into problems because of poor communication but that good relationship skills can be taught.
We concentrate more on solving current problems than understanding what went wrong. Our approach is solutions-focused.
For more strategies to deal with a husband texting another woman:
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Remember the advantage of stepping out of your house, getting a fresh perspective on your relationship and what needs to change. Easy access via the new Elizabeth tube line.