What Are Triggers After Infidelity?

When the horribly unexpected occurs in a relationship, such as an affair, both people often feel isolated, ashamed, humiliated, angry, and hurt. These emotions may last months or even years down the road as triggers rekindle them, especially when not worked through in a healthy way. It is completely normal to experience these triggers! However, it is also possible to work through them as you take steps towards affair recovery.

Triggers After Being Cheated On

Triggers after cheating in a relationship are unfortunately common. They remind you of how your relationship used to be, what happened, and the whirlwind of negative emotions you felt surrounding the affair itself. Infidelity may even cause you to  relive the affair, over and over, if bad enough. If not handled properly, some of these triggers can color your reactions in future relationships, as well. Some common triggers that affect people who have experienced an affair include:

  • Places: Your home can trigger thoughts and memories of the affair the most. It’s where you and your partner made a life together and was supposed to be your safe space. Photos around the house may cause you to question whether the relationship you and your partner had before even mattered or was real.

Other places that might trigger you include places where you and your significant other went on dates, where the affair happened, or where you were when you found out about the affair.

  • People: Anyone who knew about the affair before you can act as a trigger. These may be the other person/people involved with the cheating, family, friends, or coworkers.
  • Dates: On specific days, you might think about the affair more than other days. Such dates might be anniversaries, your partner’s birthday, or the date you found out about the affair.
  • Music/Movies: If your relationship had any music or movies associated with it, such as a wedding song or a movie you and your partner saw together, hearing or seeing them can send you on a rollercoaster of emotions. The same is true for anything that might have been playing when you found out about the affair.
  • Distance: Any physical or emotional distance between you and your significant other after you find out about the affair may make you question whether your partner is still in the affair or whether they may start another one.
  • Suspicious Behavior: If your partner hides their phone, doesn’t use a name when talking about someone, or takes their phone calls in a different room, you might start wondering whether your partner is still unfaithful. 

How Long Do Infidelity Triggers Last?

How long infidelity triggers last will vary from person to person. For some, it may only take months. For others, it may take 2 or even 10 years after the infidelity to recover. How long the affair occurred, how long you and your partner have been together, and who else was involved in the affair can all affect how long you experience those triggers.

Another factor is how the trauma of infidelity is handled after discovery. Having neutral ground for each partner to express their perspective and emotions, getting to a place of understanding, managing negative reactions in a way that promotes healthy recovery–these practices and more can help you move forward. Working with a specialized relationship counselor can help you navigate these painful waters in the most effective way, tailored to your unique experience.

Infidelity really hurts, and it probably will for a while. However, when you properly work through your emotions, you can overcome those triggers.

How to Get Past Infidelity Triggers

The first step you should take when attempting to move past your infidelity triggers is to let yourself experience those emotions coursing through you. Bottling them up will render it much more difficult to unpack them down the road and can even cause you to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms when dealing with infidelity years later. If you have a hard time processing your emotions and understanding exactly why you feel them, writing them down or talking to a trusted family member, friend, or counselor can help.

Once you let yourself feel those emotions, do something that might cheer you up. Meditation practices, positive self-talk, and physical activity can release endorphins, which are hormones that help your brain reduce stress and anxiety.

Working through long-term infidelity effects with your partner, while especially difficult in the beginning, can help you overcome your triggers and be a rewarding experience. Your relationship or marriage is never the same after infidelity, but that’s not always a bad thing. When you and your partner are both willing to rebuild your relationship, you may discover that you’re starting on stabler ground than you did before. From there, you can build something bigger and more beautiful than you had and leave those triggers in the past. Hiring a couples therapist or marriage counselor can help with that process in the most efficient way.

Rebuild Your Relationship With Well Marriage Center

Recovering from infidelity trauma is difficult. Even when you and your partner both want to start fresh, you may find days that even being in the same room as your partner prompts waves of emotions. The marriage counselors and couples therapists at Well Marriage Center understand that affair recovery takes time but that working through it with your partner is well worth the effort.

Our services are pro-relationship, meaning we don’t recommend separation unless that’s the only way both people can move forward. We also work with individuals who have decided to separate and want help navigating the healing process. Whether you are concerned about repairing your relationship or working through your emotions and triggers with your partner by your side, or are wanting to heal as an individual, we are here to help. Schedule an appointment to take your first step toward recovery.





Surviving an Affair

Can my marriage really survive an affair?

This is the most common question we get at Well Marriage Center.

The answer is Yes.

More and more, we see couples making the choice to try and save their marriages instead of hitting the auto-pilot for divorce. All of our counselors are very skilled at helping couples navigate the emotional roller coaster ride that an affair throws them onto.

We asked one of our marriage counselors to write her thoughts about how she helps couples work through an affair.

“Getting off the Roller Coaster”

In our first session with couples we ask them to describe their strengths, admirations of the relationship, and memories that stand out as good.

I love this part of our assessment as it gives me an idea of how the couple perceives their relationship. Brian and Joan came to me after Joan discovered Brian was in the midst of a year-long affair. The impact was devastating…for both Joan and Brian.

Joan had an intense reaction during the assessment portion of their strengths.  She was confused, sad, and angry. A common impact of discovering an affair is that memories of the relationship become contaminated by this new information.

Joan had begun to question their history in a way that hindered her from seeing any strengths or good in their relationship. She said “How can we have any strengths if an affair was going on? I don’t admire anything about this marriage!”

Joan is not alone.  The aftermath of an affair is very painful and confusing.

Most couples will describe this experience as an “emotional rollercoaster,” where the victim has intense emotional ups and downs, a preoccupation with the violation, blaming, self-doubt, fear, and loss of rationality.

Problems that existed in the relationship prior to the discovery may become more intensified. You may start to look at your life from a very different set of eyes, eyes that are more suspicious and less likely to trust without evidence.

No one likes to feel out of control or as if they can’t trust their own mind and instincts. I empathize with the level of discomfort that comes with mistrust and encourage couples to process that emotion rather than creating methods that foster false trust (checking emails, texts, phone records, etc.).

A false trust method is anything that finishes the message “I trust you if…”

At that point trust is only intact if there is a way to measure it. Joan felt these attempts gave her more safety in the marriage but instead it created an element of control in the marriage that Brian eventually resented.

Most couples may entertain the idea of separation at this stage in order to cope with the roller coaster. However, it is important to avoid turning a disruption into a tragedy by making permanent decisions about your marriage during the roller coaster stage.

When emotions are this high it is difficult to make a decision you’ll find peace with for the rest of your life.

When I see a couple experiencing this type of disruption I take great care in validating the victim and educating the offender about the roller coaster phase. Rather than diving into the easier but more destructive ways of establishing trust, I teach couples how to adopt appropriate levels of transparency.

What a couple really wants at this stage is to feel understood. The victim in particular is looking for accountability and validation. Convincing the victim they are loved can often make things worse because words have lost their power.

In Joan and Brian’s case, when Joan was feeling triggered or having a rough day with the preoccupation of her thoughts, Brian attempted to sooth her by trying to convince her not worry because he loved her so much. Joan became angry and felt that he did not understand her pain.

Through supportive marriage counseling, Joan learned to verbalize what she was feeling and why she was feeling it. She learned to communicate to Brian what she needed.

It is the victim’s goal to help the offender understand their pain.

Joan and Brian were instructed to make this a regular practice in order for Joan to heal. Several times a week they carved out time for Joan to verbalize what she felt, while Brian listened, validated, took responsibility, and apologized.

Joan’s emotional reactivity was less intense when she felt Brian was authentic in his understanding of her pain. She believed that if he really understood her pain, he would be less likely to violate trust again. And she’s right.

Joan and Brian worked extremely hard over the course of about 9 months and learned to listen, support, and communicate with each other in a rich and authentic way. They have both been able to step off the emotional roller coaster and have both, separately, decided that they want to stay together and strengthen their marriage.

If you and your spouse are recovering from an affair there is reason for hope. Rebuilding trust is a process but it’s possible with tenderness of the heart and forgiveness.  Yes, your marriage can survive an affair.

(Read more about our approach with Affairs here)