Having an unfaithful partner or spouse is one of the most challenging things a person can go through. This type of experience can undermine your support system and make you feel significant emotional distress. There will usually be an incredible strain on the individuals involved and the relationship as a whole. Whether you want to reconcile or dissolve the relationship, you will have to face many challenging choices after experiencing infidelity.
After being cheated on, you may experience a wide range of emotions, including betrayal, anger, sadness, confusion, and a loss of trust. These emotional responses are normal reactions to a breach of trust within a relationship. Infidelity can lead to significant emotional distress and strain on the individuals involved and the relationship as a whole. The effects of infidelity can vary greatly depending on the individuals and their circumstances.
It’s important to realize that while post infidelity stress disorder isn’t recognized by the DSM-V, that doesn’t make it any less real. Between 30% and 60% of people whose partners cheat on them experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety to clinically meaningful levels. Infidelity can shatter your ability to trust and make you question things you thought were true.
Causes of Post Infidelity Stress Disorder
The cause of post infidelity stress disorder is right there in the name. This type of emotional distress occurs when a romantic partner cheats on you. And while post infidelity stress disorder can affect anyone, certain types of people are more likely to experience it. These include people who:
- Experienced trauma or abuse in the past, especially when related to romantic relationships
- Have trust issues
- Have low self-esteem
- Have an anxious attachment style
- Struggle with codependency
Symptoms of Post Infidelity Stress Disorders
It is normal to have lots of upset, conflicting feelings after a partner is unfaithful. But what’s the difference between normal feelings and disordered stress? If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms after living through infidelity, you may want to speak to a mental health professional about post infidelity stress disorder:
- Anxiety: Experiencing symptoms such as persistent worry, insomnia, and panic attacks.
- Avoidance: Pretending the infidelity never happened and avoiding any reminders of your partner or the relationship.
- Depression: Experiencing symptoms of depression such as a persistent feeling of sadness or emptiness, numbness, and avoiding friends, family, and activities that once brought you pleasure.
- Emotional Instability: Fluctuating emotions, ranging from sadness and depression to anger and irritability.
- Hypervigilance: Feeling anxious and hyper-alert to signs of further betrayal or deception, even if further betrayal is not happening,
- Intrusive Thoughts: Having persistent and intrusive thoughts or images related to infidelity, which can be distressing and difficult to control.
- Reduced Self-Esteem: Experiencing a decrease in self-worth and self-esteem due to the emotional impact of the infidelity.
- Relationship Difficulties: Lack of trust can make it difficult for you to sustain future relationships, as it can cause you to mistrust your partners and pick unnecessary fights with them.
- Shame and Self-Blame: Experiencing feelings of shame, inadequacy, and self-blame, wondering if you were somehow responsible for your partner’s infidelity.
- Trauma Recall: Experiencing painful memories, flashbacks, or nightmares that cause you to relive your trauma.
- Trust Issues: Struggling to trust your partner again or any future partners, being skeptical or suspicious of their actions and intentions.
Healing from Post Infidelity Stress Disorder
If there’s a silver lining to any of this, it’s that there are several good treatment modalities for post infidelity stress disorder. It often responds well to the same types of therapy used for PTSD. A therapist can help you understand the nature of post infidelity stress disorder, its symptoms, and common reactions to trauma. This knowledge can normalize your experiences and provide a framework for understanding your symptoms.
A therapist can also help by providing trauma-informed care. This approach recognizes and responds to the widespread impact of the trauma of infidelity on your mental health and well-being, and creates a safe and supportive environment that promotes healing and empowerment. A therapist can empathize with your pain, confusion, and betrayal, and help you by acknowledging the legitimacy of your feelings. Trauma-informed care can help you feel understood and supported as you navigate the complex emotions associated with infidelity.
Therapists can teach you effective skills to help you cope with overwhelming feelings, experiences of flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or feeling “out of control.” They can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms, relaxation techniques, and mindfulness practices to regulate your emotions and reduce overall distress. Through therapy, you can address head-on your emotions, fears, and the stress of infidelity.