He’s not cheating… he’s having a mental breakdown! 6 key differences

Lately, you’ve been feeling that something’s not quite right at home, but you can’t put your finger on it. Over a weekend coffee with your friend, you confide in her and between the two of you, you begin to suspect that your partner is having an affair. But you could be wrong: Your partner may not be cheating, but he may be having a mental breakdown.

Many men are struggling with the challenges of life at the moment and are not coping. They don’t know how to ask for help and are afraid of looking weak and vulnerable. Instead, they are internalising their stress and it is changing their behaviour. Are the signs of a man having a breakdown or an affair the same? Can a mental breakdown cause an affair? The answers are never black and white. Every person has their own unique way of coping with stress.

How to tell the difference

There can be a connection between mental breakdowns and infidelity; however, it’s not always the case, and there are ways to tell the difference. I speak from experience because at one point in my prolific career, I was at the peak of the career ladder with the Australian Federal Police, managing the Office of Commissioner as the executive officer.

I was fighting a debilitating major depressive disorder that led to a public downfall when I was embezzling $45,000 from a corporate credit card, trying to settle my gambling debts. My advice to anyone who thinks their partner may be having an affair is, consider whether there is a level of stress they may be under that you are not aware of, and whether this is causing them to mentally collapse or shut down due to not wanting you to think they are a failure.

The symptoms may sometimes appear the same, but there are subtle differences to know whether your man needs support, or to be sent packing. Here are six signs to look out for;


It’s important to acknowledge that you are best placed to recognise when your partner is going through an emotional crisis, because you know your partner well and can pick up on the nuances of change. However, your partner’s friends are also privy to the workings of his inner mind. One of the biggest tell-tale signs to spot is how his friends act towards you.

If they appear uncomfortable around you, this might be something to be worried about. Whereas if your partner were having a mental breakdown, being aware of his stress due to work, his friends would be concerned, and you would be getting a different vibe off them.

Changes in schedule

Another thing to keep an eye out for is changes in schedule. Men in high career positions maintain long working hours because the job demands it. This is a chronic problem with high stress jobs, but the difference is that there are rarely sudden suspicious changes in routines.

But If you find him spending regular long hours in the office and returning home deflated, he may be using the office as a safe place – he is not as productive as he would like, the hours are adding to his stress, but the office is often the most acceptable place to hide for men.

Unreachable for inexplicable periods of time

Men who are having affairs often have times where they’re inexplicably unreachable and you have no clue where they are. They’ve disappeared, and they don’t want to tell you about it.

This is different to being chronically overworked, where time is always accounted for, their phone is on (even if they are not answering) and there is someone from the office who knows where they are. But still there is reason to be concerned. If he is having a breakdown, he needs help. If he is having an affair, this signals dire trust and relationship issues.


Constant lying to a committed partner is much harder to maintain than most people think. When your partner is unfaithful, he will be spinning tales and would do his best to repeat the same story each time he lies, even compulsively, but he will usually start to give inconsistent information when put under stress or if he is being asked the same questions in a way that he’s unused to. In contrast, pathological lying isn’t a defining feature of anxiety and stress.

As you already know, creating a web of lies is hard work and requires having a good memory. Pressure, alcohol, tiredness and stress all bring liars undone at some point.

Protective of devices

If your partner is being suspiciously protective of his devices, it’s definitely a red flag, because he might be using his phone to facilitate any indiscretions. So being protective or defensive about his phone usage is a sign of not wanting you to know who he’s talking to.

And whereas overuse of mobile devices can increase the risk of depression and anxiety, keep in mind that there is a difference between overuse and being protective of the device.

Risk taking behaviour

Many men experiencing melt downs often lose their sense of grounding because they are feeling as though they can’t cope and nor can they control the things that are happening to them. In such situations, men act out. Chronic stress is associated with risk taking behaviour in adults. Risk taking can take many forms including gambling, making decisions without undertaking the appropriate research, drinking too much, drug taking and also, infidelity.

Just because your partner is engaging in new or unusual risk taking behaviour doesn’t necessarily mean that they are having an affair however, it can mean they may be experiencing extreme stress and might be predisposed to the potential of having an affair.

What recovery steps can be taken?

As your partner’s chosen companion in life, you play an important role as his ally in his health journey. By learning the signs and symptoms of the early stages of an emotional crisis, you can help to waylay an imminent breakdown. Recognising the signs of a breakdown is crucial in supporting your partner find the help he needs. Prevention is always better than cure.

I created Strong Men’d with this in mind. I provide coaching and crisis intervention for men in high profile, high stress roles understand and manage their stress, so that they can avoid going off the deep end like I did. By identifying the root causes of their issues, these men can then take the necessary steps to stop behaviours immediately or as quickly as possible.

Once the crisis has been averted, we can then work together to provide greater confidence in long lasting success. Backed by science, our sessions are built through experience, success, and knowledge. We have worked with and learned from experts all over the world in strategic intervention, neuroscience, counselling, leadership, peak performance, business and success.

If you suspect that your partner or husband is headed towards a mental breakdown, direct him towards Strong Men’d, and we’ll support him and get him back on the road to success.

Gary Fahey is the founder and CEO of coaching and consultancy company, Strong Men’d. Fahey’s company was created to coach and mentor men who work in high pressure careers manage their high levels of stress.