If you are in the unfortunate position of suspecting your partner of infidelity, you are probably hugely bothered by the uncertainty. You may have good reason to believe something is up but aren’t able to prove anything conclusively (either to yourself or to them).
Maybe you’ve found any of the following:
- Text messages from someone you don’t know
- There are phone calls to/from an unrecognized number
- Text conversations with obviously deleted portions
- Your partner has started being very protective of their phone
- An unexplained receipt from a hotel
- Large amounts of money are gone from the bank account or paid to an unknown recipient
Perhaps you’ve confronted your partner, and they have denied any wrongdoing, but you still have your doubts. What do you do?
So you think, maybe you can get them to take a lie detector test (AKA polygraph). Then you’ll finally get your proof! Right?
I have had mixed feelings about this question, but I have come down to the side of not using the lie-detector approach. Basically, my take is this: trying to get your partner to take a lie detector test is probably not an effective way to get the answer you want, and it is likely to simply cause more trouble, doubt, and pain.
What if They Refuse to Take a Lie Detector Test?
First off, as you can imagine, a guilty person will likely refuse to go along with this idea. Now, you may say, well, if they refuse to do it, that proves they have something to hide!
Refusal by obfuscation
Your partner is not going to say, “I’m not going to do this because I have something to hide.” Instead, they will argue and obfuscate a heck of a lot. They may turn it around on you and make you out to be the bad person (especially because you are insisting on some kind of criminal investigation into your beloved partner). They may gaslight you and make you feel crazy or defend their honor and refuse to submit to something so degrading. And so on.
If you are feeling doubtful now, this behavior is only going to make that feeling worse. You’ll wonder whether maybe they’re right and feel bad about yourself. You’ll second, third, and fourth-guess yourself.
The likelihood that you will take their refusal as satisfactory evidence of guilt and be able to proceed with that information with calm and conviction is, in my opinion, not large.
Refusal through excuses
Another tactic your partner might use is to agree in principle to the test – going along with it with a reassuring “no problem” kind of smile but then having all kinds of reasons why it never happens.
Some of these reasons may include really good excuses like having a sick parent taking up their time, traveling a lot for work, the kids’ soccer practice, etc. I’m sure you can imagine some totally legitimate reasons that will make sense in your own life. So again, you are faced with just not knowing whether they are being sincere or not.
Another approach people sometimes take when they are accused like this is to agree to do the test. They will sign up for it and make every indication that it’s going to happen, but then at the very last minute turn to one of the above strategies, which is even more crazy-making for you.
If you are comfortable taking a refusal to go get polygraphed as proof positive of guilt, then it might be a worthwhile plan. But I suspect that once you find yourself in that position, and your partner is putting up a really strong reaction, you are likely to feel less sure about it.
But What If They Do Agree to Take a Lie Detector Test?
Let’s say your partner, recognizing that a refusal to do the polygraph doesn’t look really good, agrees to go ahead with it, thinking (or praying) that they can beat the test.
Unfortunately, they might be right.
Lie detectors can be unreliable
If you Google around for some info (which I’m guessing you may already have), you’ll find that there is a lot of skepticism about whether lie detectors actually detect lies. Some people will swear up and down that polygraph tests are very reliable. (Some of these people happen to be the ones who sell polygraph testing services.)
Other sources indicate that the tests simply can’t be counted on to return valid results. There are also many sites that suggest that even if, in principle, the process works, there are measures that can be taken by the participant to throw off the results.
And, of course, there are sites describing exactly what those measures are. I will guess your agreeable partner will probably be reading up on those.
They may indeed be able to outwit the machine. So the lie detector may not get you the clarity you’re hoping for.
Will you be satisfied with the outcome?
Now that you know that it’s not clear the test is reliable (sorry if I’m the one who introduced you to this doubt) – will you really be satisfied with the result?
Supposing it comes back positive (that they’re lying when they say there’s been no infidelity). But your partner is shocked, breaks down crying, and pleads with you to believe them. In that case, will you really feel totally certain that they are a despicable liar?
On the other hand, what if the result comes back negative, indicating that their answers have been truthful all along? Will you really feel totally at ease that there is no misconduct going on, knowing that at least some people say the test can be beaten or isn’t reliable, to begin with? Or will the evidence – the receipt, the text messages, the mysterious phone numbers – still niggle at you ever so slightly?
Unfortunately, I would not bet on walking away with a relaxed feeling of certainty and comfort.
What Are the Consequences of Insisting Your Partner Take a Lie Detector Test?
Apart from not helping the situation much, demanding your partner go through with this probably just compounds things. It further entrenches the mistrust in your relationship. Now, you and your partner are at loggerheads over the level of trust that exists or should exist, in the relationship.
What if they refuse the test? You may not be sure enough about what they did or didn’t do to make a decision about the relationship. This can lead to an ongoing fight about taking the doggone polygraph test. You may also find yourself arguing about what it means that they haven’t taken it and what’s wrong with you that you need it, etc. No bueno.
If they agree to take the test and it comes out negative, you may still feel that something is up. This can lead to an exasperated partner – perhaps not wrongfully – calling out, “What else do you want from me??” You may not have a satisfying answer to that question. So you either stuff your feelings of doubt, or you keep pushing back against someone who, at least superficially, can point to having done “everything you asked for.” Also no bueno.
In addition, if your partner has been cheating, a forceful approach is likely to drive the problem further underground. They may try to further cover up what’s happened and be even more careful going forward. This definitely doesn’t help you or the relationship.
It’s certainly possible to avoid getting into a worse fight by pursuing the polygraph solution. Things may be pretty bad right now as is, and maybe they won’t get worse by asking the question. But getting a lie detector test done can also come with some negative consequences. Plus, the actual benefit seems pretty small, given that coming out of this process with total certainty is by no means guaranteed. Thus, I just don’t recommend it.
So What Do You Do if You Suspect Your Partner of Cheating?
If you can both connect and empathize with each other, it will help in resolving the issue. Communication is key when it comes to building and maintaining a healthy relationship. Try to approach the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to listen rather than a litany of accusations.
Of course, that’s a tall order. Even in good times, communicating effectively is something we all need to work on. Let alone in a difficult and stressful situation like this one.
Fortunately, this is just the kind of thing we do really well here.
Finding a couples counselor who can guide you through this difficult situation is an excellent idea. We can help you have a meaningful conversation in which both of you can say your piece and be heard. In a safe space like this, it is much easier for someone who has done wrong to come clean about it and work through the problem.
And if there is nothing to come clean about, you will likely feel much better having had an open and genuine discussion. A genuine conversation is hard to pull off when you are hiding something. Having an open conversation can reassure you that things are okay. On the other hand, it may fail to convince you that there’s nothing to worry about. Yes, it’s possible that your partner is a sociopath who can flawlessly fake sincerity, but that’s pretty unlikely. Even then, there’s no one who can detect such a thing (including a lie detector test).
A counselor can help assess whether there are any merits to your concerns. Not that anyone can tell you for sure whether there is or isn’t an affair going on. But if you seem to be totally out of whack, maybe even a little paranoid, a counselor can offer some guidance around managing your own anxiety.
The bad news is, at the end of the day, there is no way to know 100% that your partner isn’t hiding anything. And without concrete evidence, there’s no way to be sure they are, either.
Ultimately, this comes down in part to trusting your gut and, in part, working through this as a team.
We’re here to help you with that – if you need it, contact us today, and let’s try to set things right again.