Learning that your partner has been unfaithful is incredibly debilitating. The shock of this discovery may feel like a rug has been pulled out from underneath you and knocked you flat on your back. This can cause everyday life to be consumed by the constant fear that your entire world is unpredictable and unstable.
Betrayal is traumatic, especially when the act has been committed by someone you have deeply attached yourself to through emotional vulnerability, marriage, children, and other aspects of a shared life. Intimate partners are entrusted to be our ultimate source of stability, intimacy, and honesty, and the violation of this trust can warrant incredible grief, depression, and anxiety.
Infidelity can even give rise to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); so much so that post infidelity stress disorder is becoming a popular term in therapeutic spaces. While this is not an official diagnosis, it is a very accurate way to describe the mental and emotional disturbances often experienced by victims of intimate partner betrayal.
The symptoms observed in individuals healing from the trauma of a cheating partner resemble those observed in classic cases of PTSD, including victims of interpersonal violence, traumatic injury, and war.
These symptoms include, but are not limited to:
These symptoms can become chronic and persistent if left untreated, leading to long term commitment issues, distrust of others, and low self-worth. Unresolved traumas from childhood or the past can also be triggered by this emotional upset, which can cause the psychological defense systems to become overwhelmed. This overwhelm can contribute to suicidal ideation and irrational cognitive distortions. These distortions often manifest as exaggerated conclusions such as the statement “I am unlovable.”
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to overcoming the traumatic aftereffects of a cheating partner. Every individual will have different triggers, symptoms, and paths forward towards healing. However, there are a few strategies that can be considered basic essentials in the toolkit needed to survive infidelity PTSD.
It is important to remember that your body and mind both need time to grieve.
Our society often glamorizes emotional numbness and the ability to act as if painful experiences are not affecting us. Much of modern popular culture praises the ability to look good, socialize, and make money despite any relationship difficulties that may be happening in our personal lives. However, using material things to distract ourselves from our emotional upset is not an effective coping strategy for the long term.
This inability to feel naturally occurring emotional processes will eventually lead to a life that is devoid of meaning. This emotional emptiness may contribute to the development of compulsive habits with harmful consequences, such as drug abuse, alcoholism, or pornography addiction.
Grief is a complex and highly individualized experience, much like the trauma response to intimate partner betrayal. However, a common thread is the need for time and space to give these feelings your attention. Some days you will need an hour just to cry. Other days, you may need two or three hours to nap and allow your body to digest its high levels of stress hormones.
There are also many self-care activities that can support your healing process, such as journaling, cooking yourself a healthy meal, going for a walk, art making, and self-massage. These soothing practices can be very helpful for organizing your thoughts and feelings, de-escalating your nervous system, and grounding yourself in the present moment.
It is important to avoid putting pressure on yourself to perform specific tasks or bullying yourself if you don’t have the energy. The most important thing is to create designated time every day to feel whatever is coming up for you and compassionately meet yourself where you’re at.
It is very common for individuals struggling with PTSD to socially isolate. It can be very difficult to connect with others when you are constantly dealing with flashbacks, intense mood swings, disassociation, and low self-esteem. As well, the deep pain associated with your partner’s betrayal may create a pervasive distrust of others across all areas of your life.
However, spending time with trusted loved ones brings you back into your body and grounds you in the present moment. Healthy and supportive relationships will remind you that you are lovable and help to combat any irrational cognitive distortions that you may be experiencing. Talking through your feelings with someone you trust will also help you organize otherwise overwhelming thought patterns and clearly identify a way forward.
People in your life may be reluctant to reach out to you at this time because they don’t want to overstep your boundaries. They may think that you need space to process things on your own and don’t want to be disturbed. As difficult as it may be, it is worthwhile to put yourself out there and ask for support from others. It is very likely that your loved ones want to be there for you, but they’re waiting for your cue.
Developing a comprehensive therapeutic treatment plan with a licensed professional is the best way to transition from merely surviving infidelity PTSD to thriving despite it. This is especially important if you are struggling with intense disassociation, unhealthy compulsory coping mechanisms, and suicidal ideation.
There are numerous treatment options that have proven to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Among these are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and prolonged exposure (PE).
Couples therapy is also essential to identify whether the relationship can be salvaged and how this can occur. However, professional care is still vital to your healing even if you choose to part ways and move on.
If you are in need of support and guidance following the shock of infidelity, do not hesitate to reach out to us. All relationships face hardships and getting help from a relationship counselor is a great way to work through hardship as a team. We have a number of providers that can provide relationship/couples counseling.
Here at Dr. Messina and Associates, our compassionate team of professionals are qualified to help you at our Flower Mound, Texas, and Southlake, Texas, offices. Our Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Counselors specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychological testing, and medication management for a variety of emotional and behavioral health needs. All services are available in-person and online (telehealth). If you or a loved one are seeking help with mental health, we are here to help.