By Patti Blue Hayes
At 2:30AM, sitting in a rental car outside a bar in Cambridge, MA, my husband said, "I don't think we should be married anymore." An hour earlier, I'd grabbed his phone, curious as to whom he kept texting all night. He told me about two casual sex partners he'd had in the past six months, but my mind raced backwards in time to calculate the exact time he began his infidelity.
It was two years. After reading back in my journals (a real one; not like the one in the movie Gone Girl), I created a map back to the turning point. A cheater will manipulate situations and lie to cover their tracks. In my case, with my self-esteem already in the toilet, I was easy prey to believe his lies and question my gut instincts. Never question your instinct; it's always right.
Here are six signs I missed while he was cheating:
1. He was manscaping and getting buff.
Yes, it's nice for a man to groom himself, but when he starts shaving and trimming down more than he's ever done in the past, it's something to question. Is he more enamored with his own body than yours when you stand next to him in front of the bathroom mirror? That's a big red flag.
My ex even had me shave the back of his neck and trim the errant patches on his mid-back, and little did I know I was grooming him for his sex partners.
Of course, physical fitness is healthy, but when it becomes obsessive and he keeps showing off his abs and biceps, take that as a warning sign that could lead to him to become more enthralled with his own body than his commitment to your marriage.
It got to the point where my husband would prefer to work out and come home at 10 pm, rather than have dinner with me at home. He resisted my requests and told me I didn't understand or appreciate how hard he was working to provide for us. I wanted to be a supportive wife, so I backed off my needs for quality time with him.
2. He stops inviting you out to business events.
Is he out several nights a week meeting with clients, vendors, agencies and people from his department or team? Have you been excluded from the social gatherings, and then learn other spouses had attended? This is a pretty good indication that he's up to something. It may not be quite infidelity, but he's flirting with it, as well as some woman who "understands" how hard he works.
My husband told me he didn't want me around at business parties because he felt inhibited around me and responsible for me. In the past, he'd stand close to me when I was welcome at business functions. The important thing is to look for changes in what had been the norm.
In the last two years of my marriage I had no self-esteem, so I tolerated his behavior and believed his lies. Spare yourself the torture I describe in my book, Wine, Sex & Suicide: My Near Death Divorce. Have a backbone and stand up for yourself, starting now.
3. He suddenly becomes angry.
Is he showing anger and volatility that he never had before? That could be his guilt turned outward toward you. He may feel a sense of guilt for cheating but can't man up to tell you the truth, so it's his unconscious protection mechanism to keep him safe that has him blaming you for his outbursts.
The first sign I got was when he told me I was antagonizing him by leaving the ironing board up after pressing his shirts. He said I was purposefully trying to piss him off because he thought I resented ironing. I loved ironing.
We went to counseling. Sitting on the therapist's couch he draped his arm around me and told her I didn't admire, respect, understand or listen to him. And, I didn't keep the house clean enough.
Don't tolerate his moody, guilt-fueled blame and accusations. He is in charge of his own emotions, but the guilty mind will wriggle around anything to avoid telling the truth. He'll blame his anger on something you did or said, or some situation at work.
If he's become more critical of you, your choice in clothing, where you want to go for dinner, or the sound of your ringtone (even if it's been the same one for years), that should clue you in to his inner turmoil. Don't take it personally like I did; that will erode your self-esteem like a crashing wave on a sandcastle.
Starting today, create healthy boundaries for yourself and realize that we show people how to treat us by what we will accept from them.
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4. He has new moves in the bedroom.
Where'd you learn that? Those were my exact words after he did something a little different during sex. Unless you've both discovered some new technique or position and he does something new that he's never done before, you will seeing red -- as in a really big red flag.
He also asked me to completely shave off all my "you know where" hair. I kept asking him why he wanted me to do that, but now I know it was because one of the women he had sex with must have had a Brazilian. I'm glad I never did it. Going through heartbreak was bad enough without an itchy regrowth reminder of his betrayal.
5. He starts to drink, smoke, and avoid you.
Aside from the other women, has he picked up any bad habits? That guilt issue may seep out in self-destructive habits. In those last two years, my ex and I were both over-consuming alcohol, but it fueled his anger and it numbed my pain. Not a good combination, as it led to arguments, accusations and hangovers. I believe his over-consumption stemmed from his guilt, or his deep desire to leave me but his inability to tell me.
In those chaotic last two years, my ex was also trying to hide his cigarettes like his mistresses; but eventually, when you see smoke there's fire.
Be aware if you notice an uptake in smoking, drinking, gambling, and even spending. Again, you're keeping an eye out for a change in normal activity. His cheating is like a cancer cell--an abnormal change in behavior--and you're looking for irregularities.
Does it seem like he just doesn't want to spend time with you? He's too busy with work to come home to eat, he needs time with the guys on the weekend, that big game is on and he just can't miss it, or he's too tired to talk and needs to decompress alone?
I finally started wondering why he stayed with me when most of his actions told me he didn't want to spend time with me. In the beginning of our marriage, he wanted to sit at the table with me and voiced appreciation that I cooked and took care of the house. Pay attention to his actions, not his words and empty promises.
6. His phone passcode suddenly becomes a secret.
After I grabbed the phone from my husband's hand that night in the bar, he refused to put his passcode in. My heart pounded.
The red flag I missed was that in years prior, he'd never been secretive about passwords on his phone, email, and Facebook; we shared those things openly. If your husband has changed his protocol and passwords, it might be worth taking a closer look, especially if he's doing any other things mentioned here.
Observe and watch for differences in his behavior from what has been the norm. Have a conversation with him and be aware of how many "I" statements he makes. Does he always suggest you need to change? Claiming you made him feel angry or act a certain way? Is he getting defensive easily and laying blame on you?
If you confront him, he'll deny, deny, deny, so stay vigilant and stand your ground. Don't be satisfied with not seeing his password protected accounts if you ask to see them. Yes, our privacy is important, but if your sense of trust is at stake, it's a request. He'll do his best to make you think you're just being paranoid.
Most importantly, trust your intuition. Take some intentional time to sit quietly, expanding the breath and relaxing your body. With each deepening breath, release the mind chatter and let thoughts flow downstream. Then, gently bring to mind the question or situation in a neutral way, and listen to your inner voice--the wise intuitive self who will guide you. Keep doing this exercise for greater clarity.
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