Mira Kirshenbaum is one of my favorite relationship experts. She has written two books that I often recommend to my patients: Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay and Women & Love. They are easy reads, full of compassion and insight.

Last week as I contemplated writing a post about how couples become vulnerable to affairs I read this interview of Ms. Kirshenbaum Is Your Partner Cheating on You? on Mira’s blog. Here she talks not only about real risk factors, she also rules out signs that could be about something else altogether. Not all signs point to an affair…

The Interviewer (Q): We know what cities are at risk of being hit by a big earthquake.  Well, affairs are the earthquakes of relationships: there is terrible devastation and it is very difficult to rebuild.  But can you assess the risk that your relationship will be hit by an affair, that your partner (or maybe you!) will end up cheating one day soon?  

…it’s not so much about warning signs.  It’s about risk factors.  And if you know what the risk factors are, you can do something about them and have a better relationship to boot...

Mira: Here are the three big, real danger signs that your relationship is at risk of one of you having an affair.

1. Things aren’t good between you.The two of you are distant, disconnected, fighting, not making love as often as you used to, and not having fun when you are together.

2. You’re leading very separate lives.  You’re not spending much of your free time together.    

3. Even if you’re not fighting and even if you are spending time together, if you start having the feeling that your guy just doesn’t care about you that much any more, that there’s a ‘whatever’ quality to how he treats you, then there’s a real risk that he is having an affair.

Q:  Is this a risk factor?  He flips the script.  All of the sudden he wants to know where you are all the time and with whom.  He’s realized that if he is cheating and it’s not that hard, well, you might be cheating on him too.

Mira:  If a guy is cheating the last thing he wants to do is ruffle the waters.  So he’s going to want to just treadvery softly.It’s unlikely that he’s going to start acting all suspicious of you.If for no other reason than he’s not going to want to have the whole cheating issue out there in the open.If he flips the script on you, then he’s at risk of your flipping the script back on him.This has never happened in all the cases I’ve worked with.Only a very stupid person would do this.

Q:  Is this a risk factor?  Suddenly, Mr. Alpha Male is grooming “down there,” and will only wear designer underwear, whereas before his no-name tighty-whities were just fine.

Mira:  Believing this kind of thing is a recipe for a lifetime of painful paranoia.It’s true that occasionally a guy who is having an affair will make certain changes in appearance, but lots of guys who are not cheating are doing things like that too!Men suddenly develop little pockets of vanity for seemingly no reason at all.It’s dangerous to read too much into it.And you’ll just make yourself miserable.

Q:  Is this a risk factor?  You’re having way more sex than usual.  Alternate signs (same vein): He’s whistling or humming nonstop.  Nothing phases him anymore.  If he was short tempered before, now he’s downright giddy because he’s getting some from you and another woman.

Mira:  Men cheat when there’s some disconnection or unhappiness in the relationship.  The problem for guys doesn’t have to be sexual.  And so it’s very possible that your guy could be cheating even though your sex life is basically the same.  It’s [a] serious mistake to think that affairs are necessarily sexual.  The risk of the affair being sexual is in reverse proportion to how good sex is between you.  So a couple could have a good sexual relationship but then the guy cheats anyway and that would be because he’s unhappy in other parts of the relationship.  If your guy is suddenly going around all happy and whistling and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with you, then you need to find out why.  I wouldn’t necessarily go to his cheating as the first reason but it could be.  

Q:  Is this a risk factor?  He’s super protective of his gadgets.  Touch his phone or computer and he flips out.  That’s because it’s his lifeline to her.  The number one ways that trysts are found out nowadays are via emails, chats, cell phone texts or bills.

Mira:  This is absolutely true.  But beware of any other hiding behavior, like if he’s suddenly vague about where he’s gone or what he’s done or with whom.  Or if he suddenly starts being unavailable to you without good reasons.  Or if there’s suddenly some new ‘project’ or ‘interest’ in his life that takes up his time and where you feel he’s hiding something.

Q:  Is this a risk factor? He’s going on and on about a female friend who’s “super annoying” or “not that pretty” when you note that she dotes on him. Guys don’t think about girl friends that much—they simply don’t hang out with them if they suck.  If he’s coming up with all these ways someone you know doesn’t measure up, something could be up with the two of them.

Mira:  This is a very unlikely scenario.  The premise is wrong.  Guys can dislike someone without it meaning that they’re having an affair with that person.

For more on Mira Kirshenbaum go to The Chestnut Hill Institute website. And please leave your thoughts about this post below…