Infidelity is the act of being unfaithful in a committed relationship.
The long term psychological effects of infidelity compare to those of many other traumas.
In this post we will look at how affairs affect the family, the impact of infidelity on betrayed spouses, and the mental health impact on children of infidelity.
While it might seem like an issue reserved for adults, the impact of infidelity is not limited to solely the hurt partner and the involved partner. Older children (even younger children), can witness or experience the aftermath of a parent's infidelity, which can lead to significant trauma.
In this article, we will explore the emotional and psychological effects of infidelity.
Discovery of an affair
Infidelity involves breaking the trust and commitment established within a relationship. It occurs when one partner engages in romantic or sexual relationships with someone other than their committed partner. This breach of trust can happen in various ways, such as emotional affairs, physical affairs, or even through online connections.
The discovery of an affair is the first opportunity to try and mitigate the stressful impact on your family. If you are the hurt partner, now is the time to engage in thoughtful self-care. If you are the involved partner, now is the time for honesty and repair. Answer your partner's questions honestly and be open to the idea of outside support.
The emotional impact
For individuals experiencing infidelity firsthand, the emotional impact can be profound. Feelings of betrayal, hurt, and anger are common, leading to a rollercoaster of emotions that can be difficult to navigate. The term post infidelity stress disorder is a good label for this complicated time.
The hurt partner may experience a significant blow to their self-esteem and self-worth. They may be questioning what they did wrong to warrant such betrayal.
The most evident and significant consequence of infidelity is the erosion of trust. Trust and commitment form the walls in Gottman's Sound Relationship House. Trust in any relationship builds the foundation for love, communication, and emotional connection.
It can be incredibly challenging to rebuild trust, often leaving a lingering sense of doubt in future relationships. This is where finding the right couples therapist can have a big impact. You can reestablish trust, your relationship can recover from this trauma, but you need support.
Infidelity can also lead to various psychological effects. Victims may suffer from depression, anxiety, or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Flashbacks of the event, hypervigilance, and difficulty concentrating are common symptoms experienced by those affected by infidelity.
If these effects are impacting your ability to live your life on a regular basis, I recommend finding an individual therapist. They will help you to self-regulate and give you a place to process the trauma that you are living. Working with an individual therapist also allows you a confidential place to talk about infidelity.
Don't tell friends or family about the infidelity, it will make things worse and could cause problems if you stay together.
How infidelity affects children
What effect does a parent's infidelity have on a child?
Infidelity can have a profound effect on the family unit. Extramarital affairs can lead to separation or divorce, causing significant disruptions in the lives of the children. This can result in emotional distress, feelings of abandonment, and difficulties forming healthy relationships in the future.
Infidelity can greatly affect high school students' academic performance if they experience it themselves or see it happening in their family.
It's hard to concentrate on schoolwork when dealing with strong feelings and not knowing what will happen in their relationships.
Coping with infidelity-related trauma
Healing from infidelity isn't a one-size-fits-all thing. It's more like finding the right approach for your specific situation. Which is why doing a thorough assessment before starting therapy is so critical.
In my experience working with couples that have faced the trauma of infidelity, I have found that one of the tools that helps is the Gottman Model. It is like a roadmap with three main steps: Atone, Atune and Attach.
First, in the Atone phase, both people need to apologize for the hurt caused and take responsibility for their own role in the problems of the relationship prior and during the infidelity.
Next, Atune is about working things out and finding a new way to interact that works better for both people, like learning a new dance together.
Then, Attach is about rebuilding trust and getting close again in new ways, creating a stronger bond.
Another important element to assist in the healing of the trauma of infidelity is a solid trauma training. EMDR and ART (Accelerated Resolution Therapy) can help people let go of the pain from the affair and see the relationship in a more positive light again.
And if you're looking for a faster start in the healing process, a couples intensive for affair recovery can be really helpful. It's a deep dive into your relationship; both the couple and the therapist have more time to work towards healing without being rushed.
There is no one right way to heal from infidelity trauma, but finding the right professional with the right tools and methods can definitely make all the difference.