Your Partner Needs Space—Are They Cheating?

a couple holding hands facing two different directions

Imansyah Muhamad Putera/Unsplash

Movies have trained us to be suspicious of spouses who work late, spend too much time on the internet, and exhibit signs of a midlife crisis. The fact is that some people really do work long hours, have hobbies that occupy their attention, or develop sudden insecurities. But these also make for great excuses for people who intend to dampen their relationship with infidelity. So when your partner says they need space, you might be worried they're having an affair. That concern is understandable, so know the other warning signs to look out for, as well.

Signs Your Partner Might Be Cheating

The first and most blatant sign that may appear in your marriage is "needing space." When a man or woman is involved with someone other than their spouse, they need space and time away from the spouse to carry on the affair and to untangle from their current relationship. It's important to know the other telltale signs to look out for to gauge if your spouse is actually cheating or not. Observe if your spouse:

  • Begins to work late hours routinely, uncharacteristic of his job
  • Abnormally plans many activities that do not include you
  • Suddenly takes vacations alone
  • Withdraws emotionally and intimately
  • Questions their feelings for you

"When someone stops coming home at the regular time, on a regular basis, be wary,” says dating and relationship expert April Masini. There's nothing wrong with devoting independent time to a hobby, having a few nights out with friends, or needing to spend some extra time at the office working on a tough project, but if it becomes routine or coupled with any of the above signs, it could be indicative of cheating.

How to Respond

The first step to take if any of the above signs appear in your marriage is to address them directly. Do not let your spouse convince you that it's nothing to be worried about in order to dismiss the conversation—if a resolution is not struck then and there, try to bring it up infrequently to gauge how they feel. 

An affair may escalate quickly or simmer for years before boiling over. Don't let an affair creep up on you when the signs appear early on. No matter how quickly the cheater adjusts to their new normal, the affair itself provides a high similar to an addiction. Forbidden romance is intoxicating and will infect more than just the cheater. An entire family could be in danger of falling apart if an affair is not quashed immediately. 

At this point, a spouse is left with two options: hope that the affair ends and compartmentalize relationships with the cheating spouse and family or separate and/or file for divorce. If your spouse is having an affair, the best thing you can do is see a divorce attorney and take steps to protect yourself legally and financially. This is not to say that divorce is the better option, but having a good understanding of where you stand legally is in your best interest. 

If your spouse realizes they are making a mistake, they may want to come home. Even if you have already talked to a divorce attorney or you’ve filed for divorce, things are not black and white. A petition for divorce can always be withdrawn, and more importantly, feelings can change with time. "If you are the one who initiated the proceedings, you can usually stop the [divorce] process depending on how far along it is," says Stephanie Kurose, J.D. Marital assets depleted by a spouse who is having an affair cannot be recovered, however.

Regardless, forgiveness is an important principle to live by. By forgiving an apologetic spouse, you allow yourself to move on and prevent any future torment from the painful situation. 

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