Checking your email; going through your cell phone; these are typical, everyday activities that many people perform. It only becomes an issue when it’s not your email that you’re checking; it’s not your cell phone that you’re going through. But why do we do this? Suspicion. Suspicion of our significant other – suspicion that they’re doing something that they’re not supposed to be doing.

But what causes us to be suspicious? And what happens when our significant other finds out that we are? Here we provide insight into why suspicion may occur, how it may occur, and what impact it has on relationships.

Why Does Suspicion Occur?

About 75% of couples that our couples’ therapists work with have damaged trust. Unfortunately, trust is easy to break, but hard to mend. Mistakes are just a fact of life. But once these mistakes break that trust, spouses find themselves on guard, looking for the next incident of disappointment.

Although there is a higher rate of women who are more likely to be suspicious and act on their suspicion, the rate of men having affairs is only slightly higher than the rate of women having affairs. It would seem that women are just less likely to be caught.

It generally starts with that subconscious gut feeling that something was off, without knowing what or why. Everyone has a “trust detector”, alerting them to suspicion. Just as some car alarms go off when someone merely walks by them, some people have very sensitive trust detectors. Thus, “evidence” of suspicious activities, such as not texting when the person said he/she would, will look different to people with different trust detector sensitivities.

Sometimes suspicion is caused by an act that the targeted spouse did, and sometimes they might not have done anything at all. Suspicion can be caused by a variety of factors: the current partner may have had inappropriate behavior with other people in the past, other couples the suspicious partner knows may have experienced infidelity, and it may even be that a partner wasn’t there in a time of need, or had made a major decision without consulting the suspicious partner. Partners may work late a lot, not come home when they said they would, be secretive about phone calls, have a sudden interest in their own appearance, change their spending habits or how they spend their time, or not be as engaged in the relationship as they usually are.
Sometimes a partner may be suspicious because of his/her own past relationships. In this case, it’s important that he/she acknowledges what effects the past hurts from his/her life are having on him/her currently. You can do that by looking at when you are the most suspicious of your current partner, and looking back to see if there are any similarities to what happened in that previous relationship. For example, if a woman had a past partner who was seeing another woman when he told her she was out with the guys, she might notice that she may freak out a little bit when her current partner has a guys’ night.

Identifying such patterns may indicate that your past relationship is interfering with your current one. At this point, you have to call it for what it is. So I call them artifacts. You can call it an artifact from my past, and recognize it’s a self-protection method that you’re just over-applying to the current relationship. Then you look at your current relationship to see if you have any evidence to really be suspicious of your partner, and sort out the suspicion that’s justified and what’s not.

And sometimes, people feel suspicious without having a past history of someone hurting them. Whether or not past history is involved, it’s really helpful to communicate to your partner that you’re having some thoughts of suspicion, and then to brainstorm together what would help you feel safer. For example, maybe you could say “Hey, look, so I’ve been watching a lot of ‘CSI’ lately. I’m feeling a little suspicious. Is there something that we can do to help me feel a little safer for the time being, until this passes?” This way both you and your partner knows what’s going on and why, and can brainstorm together to figure out what reasonable changes may help you feel a little safer until the suspicion passes.

We see couples who’ve had an affair in their relationship and couples who haven’t had an affair, but they haven’t built up their trust yet from a previous affair. Generally couples who have a suspicious personality (when they’re suspicious, but nothing’s happened yet) tend to do a little better because it’s a little bit easier to recognize, whereas the couples who have had something in their past need to do more work to get through that.

The Effects of Suspicion on a Relationship

When suspicion begins interfering in a relationship, the suspicious spouse may be very accusatory towards his/her partner, leading to arguments, feelings of disconnection, and withdrawal from a relationship.

Targeted spouses can feel really misunderstood and hurt that their partner doesn’t assume the best about them. And anyone who is constantly being accused of misbehaving will most likely react negatively, whether he/she is misbehaving or not. Constantly being accused causes confusion, and most people don’t tolerate it well in relationships. So the targeted spouse will get angry, the suspicious spouse interprets that as guilt and it makes him/her even more suspicious, causing the other spouse to get angrier, and so on and so forth.

How the relationship is affected when a partner finds out his/her partner is watching them depends on how the targeted partner interprets it. Taking a second to pause in that confusion of why would my partner spy on me, the targeted partner can try to understand his/her partner’s suspicion. Doing things to understand the suspicion, such as talking about it with the partner, will hurt the relationship a lot less. Conversely, if they’re instantly offended by not being trusted, then it’s going to create a downward spiral and no ones going to feel safe.

If you have a suspicious partner, it’s important that you don’t react with anger, but try to understand that the suspicion might not have anything to do with you. It’s something that you can help your partner through and brainstorm with them ideas to help them feel safer.
All in all, just don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your partner to know about. Life is just so much easier that way.


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