Obviously no one ever wants to be on the receiving end of a romantic betrayal. The emotional devastation of discovering that someone you love and trust has been cheating and lying to you can be, and often is, overwhelming. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how infidelity affects mental health.
When you’re the victim of such massive deception and betrayal, it can leave you in a whirlwind of sadness, confusion, resentment, and anger. Victims of infidelity often experience increased anxiety and decreased self-esteem and confidence. However, infidelity doesn’t just affect our emotional health, infidelity affects mental health as well.
How Infidelity Affects Mental Health
Victims of infidelity often experience the same symptoms that are linked to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), becoming completely disoriented and confused as to what has happened to them.
Some of the classic symptoms of PTSD often experienced by those whose partners have cheated on them are:
- Ruminating and intrusive thoughts
- Difficulty or inability to regulate emotions
- Dissociation (Feeling like an out of body experience)
- Vacillating between feeling numb and rage
- Hypervigilance (always looking for new potential threats)
- Feeling helpless and vulnerable
- Confusion and disorientation
- Problems with memory and cognition
- Lack of trust
If you have been the victim of infidelity, then, similar to a soldier returning from war, you’ve likely been psychologically injured and likely require care to set you on the path back to you.
Healing from Infidelity
As devastating as it can be to learn that your significant other has betrayed you in such an intimate way, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can pick up the pieces of your life and find joy and comfort once again – even though it doesn’t feel like it.
The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship or marriage has to end. In fact, some relationships can grow even stronger after an affair. One study found that an estimated 57% of marriages remained intact after the revealing of an affair. Of course, this doesn’t happen without significant work on both partners involved.
Strategies for recovery after infidelity
1. Go Easy on Yourself
It’s easy to fall into the “I should’ve known…” trap. While there is usually shared responsibility in the marriage when an affair occurs (yes, you read that right), it’s important to remember and recognize that you you didn’t choose to be cheated on by your partner. Now is the time to be on your own side. Beating yourself up only delays (or prevents) healing and growth.
2. Breathe Deeply & Mindfully
Your emotions will be overwhelming for a little while. You may feel lost, anxious and panicky. When these feelings start to rise, STOP, take a slow deep breath in through your nose to a count of 4 or 5 and slowly exhale through your mouth to a count of 9 or 10. The key is to slowly exhale at least twice as long as the time in you inhale. You can also simply just focus on emptying your lungs. Long, slow exhalations trigger the relaxation response in your body.
Do this a few times and you’ll soon be amazed how deep breathing can completely calm you almost instantly. It’s important to remember that the more you do this, the more effective it will become and the more “instinctual” it will become. Within time, it will become an automatic response done without thought.
It’s also even more important to remember that breathing for relaxation and mindfulness should not be in the service of making difficult emotions go away. As soon as this becomes your agenda, you will fail.
3. Talk Openly About The Infidelity
Open and honest communication is key to a successful relationship. While it will be painful to have transparent conversations about the affair, it’s a critical step toward rebuilding trust in the relationship. It will be tempting for the victim to want to know juicy details – these questions are of no value.
Questions that lead to a deeper understanding sound like: What did it mean to you? What do you think led to the betrayal? What role did I play in this? (Yes, both the victim and the perpetrator played a role.)
4. Seek Guidance & Support
If there was ever a time to find an awesome marriage counselor or therapist you like and trust, this is the time. Don’t try to handle this on your own, and don’t rely solely on family and friends. While they (typically) have your best interest at heart, they won’t necessarily be able to provide the kind of objective, solution-focused feedback required to process this kind of emotional storm.
Life is short. But if you’ve been the victim of infidelity in a relationship, it will make it all the more difficult. If you’re struggling with infidelity and can’t seem to get some clarity, find an awesome therapist you like and trust to help you sort things out and get back to thriving.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in Greater New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.