"A 'loyalty check' is a manipulative act that a person does to see if their partner is being loyal, mainly to see if they are open to infidelity or cheating," says Lee Phillips, LCSW, EdD, psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist. A common example that's circulating on TikTok involves one TikToker asking another to turn the concept into a verb and actively "loyalty check" their partner. This looks like sliding into their DMs, flirting with them, and seeing what happens next.
The goal here is, of course, to confirm that the partner is, in fact, loyal and promptly shuts down the advancement. Alternatively, if the partner continues the conversation and maybe even proposes IRL plans, the takeaway might be that they lack the amount of dedication to the relationship that the loyalty-checking partner expects them to demonstrate.
While this practice may be having a moment on TikTok, Dr. Phillips says loyalty checks aren't unique to the platform—and they often don't end well. "There are times where a loyalty check does not work, and this creates conflict in the relationship," he says. "I have also seen relationships end due to a loyalty check."
"A 'loyalty check' is a manipulative act that a person does to see if their partner is being loyal, mainly to see if they are open to infidelity or cheating." —Lee Phillips, LCSW
So, if you're tempted to set up a loyalty-testing booby trap for your partner, consider where that urge is originating and what it actually reveals about your relationship dynamic. That way, you can honor your feelings without participating in a ritual that, per Dr. Phillips, will only lead to toxicity in your relationship. Below, he further explains why you may be craving a loyalty check, and what to do instead.
Why you actually long to check your partner's loyalty
Let's get to the heart of the matter, shall we? Dr Phillips says that if you're brainstorming ways to test your partner's dedication to you, that means you're already feeling insecure in the relationship.
This can be the result of any number of things—and not all of them may even have to do with your current partner. "[The] partner who does the loyalty check may have grown up in a family dynamic where there was avoidance, trauma, or a lack of nurturing of their parents or caretakers. Therefore, since they did not get the love and nurturing from their parents or caretakers, all that energy is projected onto their current partner, causing them to have an anxious attachment style," says Dr. Phillips.
It's also possible your insecurity stems from some aspect of your current relationship. "There is usually something occurring in the relationship, where the person does not trust their partner. This may be from past infidelity within the relationship or infidelity from past relationships. It can also be from witnessing their partner flirt with others," says Dr. Phillips.
In other words, if you're seeking a loyalty check, it's because some aspect of the relationship or past relationships is already making you feel insecure. But hear this, okay? Going through with testing your relationship won't actually address the root of that insecurity. In fact, it could mean the tumultuous end of your relationship.
"[A loyalty check] can be toxic in a relationship because it can create a power struggle or rupture between two people where one partner can’t trust and the other one would like to be trusted. It is also embarrassing and shaming for the partner who is put through the loyalty check," says Dr. Phillips. "This type of manipulation may cause them to leave the relationship." And thus, taking time to reflect about what is breeding that insecurity is crucial.
What to do instead of a loyalty check if you're feeling insecure in your relationship
Instead of going behind your partner's back to test the durability of your relationship, Dr. Phillips recommends openly discussing your feelings. "I would recommend the person be honest with their partner about their insecurities and why they are struggling with trust," he says. "I would also talk to them about the consequences of pursuing the loyalty check with the possibility of their partner getting angry or wanting to leave. They may also feel pain and hurt if the loyalty check does not work."
If you have access to therapy, that's also a really great environment for discussing why you're feeling the way you're feeling before opening up to your partner.
Chances are, there are unique and intricate reasons why you're suddenly feeling the need to beta test your relationship. So take the time to learn about them before blowing up something good. The caveat? If you're desiring a loyalty check because you're in an abusive relationship, then do what you need to do to safely exit your current situation. No valiant act of loyalty is a substitute for your health and well-being.
If you or someone you love is in an abusive partnership, they can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-787-3244 for help.
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