Two years ago, Erika's husband suddenly started complaining that Erika always seemed unhappy and whining about their life. The odd thing was that she was very happy and an optimist. Erika had no idea what would make her husband think that.
In retrospect, Erika realized that her husband's lashing out was actually a sign he was cheating on her with another woman.
Sudden but sustained periods of irritability and criticism are the leading emotional cue that a man is cheating on his wife or girlfriend. Criticisms often include exasperation that the wife is overweight (even if she has always been overweight), domineering or 'b****y.'
"When men are nasty, they are compensating for the guilt," says marriage and family therapist Dr. Karen Gail Lewis, Ph.D. "They justify their adultery. This is a man who would say 'My wife doesn't understand me.'"
"He'll make a lot of excuses for being away and when he's home, he's irritable," Lewis continues. "Some men will start criticizing the wife more now that they have a slimmer, younger girlfriend who is in the professional world. Then they start complaining that their wife is not slim, that you don't keep up with the news or that you're not intellectually curious."
This type of cheating husband will also stop having sexual relations with his wife. Sometimes he will openly complain that he simply isn't attracted to her. Internally, he uses criticism of his wife to justify his actions. Yet even without the explicit criticism, many women fall into the trap of blaming themselves and wondering what is wrong with them that their husband no longer feels attracted. In reality, he's getting satisfaction from outside the home.
Another emotional cue for adultery is when a man is overly solicitous. Husbands suddenly become sweet, helpful and bring home flowers.
"They are compensating for their guilt when they are overly solicitous," explains Lewis. "These men have a conscious and they are trying to make it up to their wives."
Lewis says that dramatic emotional changes are typically an indication of cheating, whether they range from being nasty to being solicituous. Women need to ask themselves, "Why now?"
There is, however, a third less-common type of cheater that women should watch out for: the men who have compartmentalized their lives.
"While they're at home, that's where they are mentally," says Lewis. "They try not to even think about the marriage while they are with their mistress."
"These men are not the type to say 'My wife doesn't understand me.' They are content with their marriage. These men don't go looking for it; it just sort of happens. They know something is missing but they aren't really aware of it. They are on autopilot with a numbness, and they are missing some zest or excitement. The sexual part of them wakes up and they feel vibrant."
There are typically two ways that women discover that their man is cheating, and it's usually by catching them. Only very rarely do men confess. Yet according to Lewis, men often leave clues deliberately in the hope their wife will find out, relieve him of the guilt, and engage in a real discussion about their marital problems.
"He leaves clues because he unconsciously wants to be caught, like calling on his cell phone so she can see the number or leaving receipts from a restaurant sitting out," says Lewis. "Men who do things like this are not just sloppy men, they have unconsciously left something out there for her to find."
Once the adultery has been discovered it is possible to re-build the marriage - but not without therapy.
"The man often says 'I'm sorry' and he expects the wife to forget it," explains Lewis. "Some women do because they want to move on, but they show up in my office even ten years later because she has hidden her anger. So there are steps that couples have to go through to rebuild that trust."
Couples also have to understand that something happened to the marriage that caused this to occur, and they have to address it in therapy. Lewis says many relationships don't survive after adultery, but anything is possible when both individuals want to stay together.