If you’ve recently discovered that your partner had an affair, then you may be experiencing infidelity trauma. You may be feeling debilitating, painful emotions you’ve never experienced before and struggle to get on with your daily life. Infidelity hurts, for both you and your partner. As much as it is traumatic now, though, there is hope. Infidelity recovery is possible. You and your partner can both heal from the affair emotionally while also growing closer to one another in the process.
It’s important to note that even if you decide to call it quits after an affair, working together with a clinician who specializes in infidelity recovery is extremely helpful. The resulting PTSD, anger, feelings of shame and unworthiness, all of these can be processed in a healthy way so you’re not carrying such heavy baggage and developing negative coping mechanisms in the future.
Why Does Infidelity Hurt So Much?
Infidelity is painful for several reasons, the biggest one being that humans are social beings. According to social psychologists Naomi Eisenberger and Matthew Lieberman, humans rely on relationships to give us the emotional and physical connections we need to survive. When we experience social separation, such as that caused after an unfaithful act, we feel pain akin to physical pain. We weren’t meant to be alone, and the feelings of loneliness that may arise after an affair can leave people feeling wounded.
An affair also hurts because it is a broken commitment. When you are in a relationship with someone, you count on being able to trust and rely on that person. Acts of infidelity, however, disrupt the stability of that commitment. You may feel that your trust was misplaced and that everything you counted on was a lie.
Depending on whether you were the one betrayed or the one who betrayed, you may experience other feelings as well. The one betrayed will likely feel a huge drop in self-esteem because they think they weren’t good enough for their partner. The one who cheated may feel guilt or shame for breaking their promise to remain faithful and ultimately may feel inadequate. They may also feel a drop in self-esteem, fearing what others might think of them for cheating.
It’s natural to feel hurt after experiencing infidelity in your romantic relationship, and you should take the time to feel that pain. That is one step in recovering (something we’ll discuss in more detail later) and healing your relationship with your significant other.
How Do I Know if I Have Betrayal Trauma?
There are many signs of betrayal trauma, all of which stem from a violation of trust or well-being. What are the symptoms of betrayal trauma? They include:
- Flashbacks: You may often think back to when your partner admitted to cheating, catching your partner cheating, or instances when you saw your partner and the other person involved together and didn’t know what was happening between them.
- Severe anxiety: It can present itself in physical ways, such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and nausea or dizziness.
- Uncontrollable thoughts or nightmares: You may start to think or dream about your partner and the other person involved together, your relationship ending, or what life will look like for you and your partner now. You may be obsessively looking over your relationship’s past with a critical eye, wondering if everything was a lie.
- Humiliation: This symptom stems from comparing yourself to the person your partner cheated with. You may feel inferior to them, and your insecurities may come to the forefront of your mind. You may start to think that everyone sees your flaws and feel embarrassed by it. You may also feel humiliated that the affair happened and worry about what friends or family may think or if they knew.
- Emotional numbing: This is a coping mechanism that the body takes on after a traumatic experience. It may come in the form of losing interest in the activities you normally enjoy; being unable to connect to your feelings, especially positive ones; and being unable to participate in life as usual.
- Erratic moods or behaviors: It’s normal to feel a whole host of emotions after learning about your partner’s affair. One minute you may feel fine, and the next you may feel angry, sad, confused, or hopeless. These drastic changes in mood may cause you to lash out at others seemingly out of the blue, like getting stuck at a traffic light or having to wait in a long line at the grocery store.
- Sleep difficulties: You may either sleep too much or too little after finding out about the cheating. People sleep too much when they feel they have no energy after the news or have nothing to get out of bed for. They sleep too little due to anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts keeping them awake.
- Avoidance: These are behaviors related to making sure you don’t get involved in a certain situation or that you leave it immediately. After an affair, this may be directed at your partner and present itself as staying out of the same room as them, canceling plans made with them, or ignoring phone calls and text messages from them or others who know.
- Isolation or withdrawal: This isolation may be from your parner or even from friends and family. Sometimes being alone feels safer than spending time with loved ones because your trust was broken, and it seems too difficult to be vulnerable with anyone else now.
- Trust issues: An affair is a type of broken trust. When experiencing betrayal trauma, then, it’s common to have a difficult time trusting your partner or anyone else again.
- Relationship difficulties: This symptom closely relates to trust issues because a lack of trust in others may cause you to distance yourself from friends and family. You may also lose interest in spending time with others or lash out, especially towards those who knew about the affair or were involved. These actions can lead to strains in any of your relationships, not just your romantic one.
If you experience any of these symptoms for months or years after you initially found out about the affair, and if these symptoms affect how you function from day to day, then you might have post-traumatic infidelity syndrome, also known as post-infidelity stress disorder (PISD). When you have PISD, triggers will set off the symptoms listed above and cause you to relive the experience.
What Are Triggers After Infidelity?
There are many triggers for betrayal trauma that can remind you of the betrayal or of what your relationship used to look like and set your emotions going again. Some might be the places where the affair took place, where you found out about the affair, or even where you and your partner had happy memories together. Your home can act as a trigger. People can also be triggers, especially those who knew about the affair or were involved.
Significant dates, such as anniversaries or birthdays, or music and movies tied to memories of your relationship or finding out about the affair can take you back to the day you discovered the betrayal as well. Physical and emotional distance and suspicious behavior act as triggers, too, because they may tempt you to think that your partner is still having an affair.
Despite the many triggers you may experience, you can learn how to get past infidelity triggers. They do not have to define you. First and foremost, let yourself feel the emotions that the triggers set off within you. Don’t try to avoid it. Instead, define the emotion and why you’re feeling it. Let yourself feel it until the moment passes. Journaling can help you with this process. From there, determine what you need to make yourself feel better. It could be anything from yoga to calling a friend to repeating self-affirmations. Deep breathing can also help with calming a racing heart and mind.
Seeking out a professional will also help hinder the effects of your triggers, and likely be the single best thing you can do for yourself. A specialized marriage counselor or couples therapist in particular can assist you and your partner on individual levels as well as your relationship overall because they have the most relevant training for efficient healing.
At Well Marriage Center, we understand that an affair takes a toll on relationships. We also know, though, that relationships can heal from infidelity as long as both parties are willing to work for it. It may take time, but you can move past your triggers and build a stronger relationship with your partner than you had before.
How Long Does It Take To Recover From Infidelity Trauma?
How long it takes to recover from infidelity trauma will vary from person to person. For some, it can take as little as several months to completely heal. However, it’s normal for the healing process to take a couple years, too. A lot of it depends on how long you and your partner have been together, how long the affair lasted, how many affairs there were, who was involved, the issues in the relationship from before the affair, and more. Working side-by-side with your partner as well as with a trained professional can help you two work through the recovery process and get you to a healthy point in your relationship a bit quicker.
If you decide to part after the affair, this is fine and normal as well. A specialized therapist can help with moving forward, faster, and healthier, either way.
How Do I Let Go of the Pain Caused by Infidelity?
To let go of the pain caused by an affair, there are some infidelity recovery stages you’ll have to go through first:
- Discovery: This stage is merely about finding out that the affair happened. You may experience shock and the inability to control your emotions during this stage.
- Reaction: During this stage, the entire wave of emotions starts to set in. If you’re feeling trauma from the affair, this is probably the stage you are in right now. To get past this stage, you’ll probably have to go through the five stages of grief, which are:
- Denial: You go emotionally numb to make it through each day.
- Anger: You become upset with your partner for having the affair, the person with whom they had the affair, and anyone who knew about it and didn’t tell you or try to stop it.
- Bargaining: You try to get back to the life you used to have, no matter what it takes.
- Depression: You start to question your entire relationship with your partner and whether any of it was real. You may also start to lose interest in the activities you used to enjoy and feel lonely.
- Acceptance: You recognize that the past can’t be changed and decide to take active steps towards a brighter future.
- Forgiveness: By this stage, you and your partner have probably done some healing on your own or with a therapist. Now you’ll start to discuss why the affair happened and what you can do to solve the issue. Hiring a marriage counselor like those at Well Marriage Center can be especially helpful in this stage because they can ensure that both people can explain how they’re feeling in a productive way rather than attacking the other person or causing more harm to the situation.
- Recommitment and Reconciliation: In this final stage, you and your partner actively work to move past the affair. That’s not to say that you both forget about the affair. Instead, it means that the affair becomes a part of your story and a reason to work on making your relationship even stronger. You work as a team to make sure boundaries, communication, and expectations are honored in healthy ways that builds more intimacy and trust over time.
Does Reconciliation Work After Infidelity?
Yes, reconciliation can work after an affair as long as both you and your partner take active steps to move forward. That means the cheating partner has to give up the affair(s) completely and both of you make efforts to better communicate with one another and understand where the other person is coming from. Your marriage is never the same after infidelity, nor should it be. After all, there were existing issues in the marriage to lead to the affair in the first place. Instead, you and your partner should view the affair as a place to grow into a new, even better, relationship.
A good place to start in the reconciliation process is recognizing reasons not to divorce after infidelity, or not to separate if you’re not married The biggest reason not to do so is because both of you want to work through it. That’s a sign that you both still love each other and care enough about the relationship to save it. Also revisit how the marriage was before the affair occurred. Do you have several happy memories together? How strong was your bond? If you had a fairly good relationship before an affair, you have a strong base to start from to repair it.
Lastly, consider who will be affected if you and your partner divorce. It may be your kids or other family members. While this reason alone may not be enough to stop you and your partner from seeking out a divorce, it can play a factor when making your final decision.
Know that it is possible to reconcile a marriage after an affair. Talking to a marriage counselor can help you and your partner figure out how to start over in a marriage after infidelity.
Well Marriage Center: Your Place for Pro-Relationship Counseling
We at Well Marriage Center want to see your relationship succeed as much as you do. That’s why we take a pro-relationship approach in all couples and marriage counseling journeys, including working with couples after an affair. We help both you and your partner heal from infidelity trauma and build a better relationship.
Even when couples decide to separate after an affair, working with a licensed professional, especially one who specializes in affair recovery, can help both partners process and move forward. Working through the damaging effects can keep the trauma from snowballing into other areas of your lives.
We work with each partner individually and together, so they can express their emotions in a therapeutic way, understand where the other is coming from, and look at the relationship from an objective space so that any issues leading up to the affair can be addressed through being on the same page about boundaries, expectations, communication, intimacy, and more.
Seeking help when experiencing infidelity trauma is completely normal. In fact, it can give your relationship a leg up in the recovery process. If you’re ready to grow your relationship to its full potential, reach out to us to get started. You can also read more about infidelity on our blog or find a therapist near you.