Whether your partner’s affair was physical or emotional, experiencing infidelity is heartbreaking. It often carries with it long-term, painful, and intense consequences such as anxiety, chronic stress, depression, among others. However, it is possible to heal, find peace, and move on from being cheated on, whether you choose to stay in the relationship or not.
Does the Pain of Infidelity Go Away?
The pain that comes with infidelity is inevitable, but people do recover. The healing process is different for both the one who cheated and the betrayed partner. For the unfaithful partner, healing often occurs quickly. However, the other continues to grieve and experience lingering triggers and reminders.
Overcoming the trauma of infidelity may take a long time, and you will experience a roller coaster of emotions. There is no specific time frame for healing to occur, because each situation is unique. Still, people do learn how to work through an affair, recover, and move on.
Long-Term Effects of Infidelity
When a person discovers an affair, it can be eviscerating. Infidelity is a betrayal that induces feelings of abandonment, deceit, rejection, and humiliation–further, it is cloaked in secrecy.1 Infidelity is a physical and/or emotional involvement with a person outside of one’s committed relationship, and comes in a variety of forms such as online affairs, micro-cheating, among others.
Unfortunately, there are several long-term effects of infidelity that can affect a person long after the cheating has stopped. These can be life-changing, and lead to the development of certain mental health conditions including chronic depression, anxiety, post-infidelity stress disorder, and betrayal trauma.
Below are seven long-term effects of Infidelity:
1. Brain Changes
Research shows that love and drugs produce similar effects in the brain through the release of dopamine.2
Dopamine is linked to feelings of gratification and pleasure, and can be very addicting. When a person experiences infidelity and feelings of rejection, their brain chemistry may be altered–they may even have symptoms similar to that of withdrawal.2
2. Onset of Depression or Anxiety
Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety have been linked to infidelity. A person may also experience relationship anxiety, which often results in a person feeling more insecure about themselves. It can also induce doubt towards one’s partner, and excessive worry that one will be cheated on again.
3. Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder
Research indicates that many people develop trauma after discovering infidelity, and may experience post-infidelity stress disorder (PISD).4
Symptoms of PISD are nearly identical to those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also include increased depression and anxiety that stem from paranoia of being betrayed again. Additionally, a person experiences unique changes in their brains which occur when they perceive rejection from a partner.3,4
Those who are more prone to PISD include:
- People who experienced physical or sexual abuse as a child
- Exhibit fragile self-esteem
- Have a dependent personality styles4
4. Changes in Self-esteem & Self-worth
It is not uncommon for the person betrayed to internalize the infidelity and blame themselves for it. As a result, their self-esteem and self-worth suffers. They start to question their worth in the relationship and wonder where they went wrong. For example, they may think that their partner cheated because something is wrong with them.
5. Lack of Trust in Future Relationships.
It is common for a person who was betrayed to experience trust issues. They associate the pain they experienced with future relationships, making it more difficult to connect with someone new. They might also feel like they cannot trust themselves–they may think, “How did I miss this?.”
6. Feelings of Loss
The relationship or marriage as you knew it, is gone. Even if you choose to stay and work things out, the relationship will never be the same. Grief occurs when we lose something or witness the death of something or someone we love. Cheating is the loss of something real–something that requires grieving.
7. Effects on Children
If a child finds out about a parent’s betrayal, they may side with the parent who was cheated on. Studies indicate that kids who witness infidelity are twice as likely to be unfaithful themselves. Children may also experience trust issues with future romantic partners, as well as imitate infidelity that was modeled to them.5
When this occurs, cheating can become a legacy issue.
How to Cope With Long-Term Psychological Effects of Infidelity
Because of the trauma most people experience after infidelity, recovery often feels impossible. But, this is not the case. There are several ways a person can work to recover from infidelity and move forward, either with or without their partner. Research shows that not only is healing possible, but that forgiveness and personal growth are also achievable.6
Strategies such as setting healthy boundaries, journaling, exercising, and practicing emotional self-care are just a few healthy coping mechanisms that can help people feel better.
Below are some tips for coping with the long-term effects of infidelity:
- Try journaling: Journaling has proven to improve a person’s mental health, as it helps a person cope with depression, reduce anxiety, and manage stress. It also provides a place to track day-to-day symptoms so you can identify triggers.7
- Set healthy boundaries: Learning how to set healthy boundaries is essential. These may include creating a “timeout” plan or an agreement about when, how often, and for how long the infidelity is discussed.
- Practice emotional self-care: Practicing emotional self-care includes taking time to connect with one’s emotions and process them in healthy ways. This can be as easy as practicing gratitude, journaling, or practicing meditation.
- Gather your support team: Your loved ones are here to support you, so learn how to lean on them during stressful times.
- Foster honest communication: Now is the time to encourage open communication between you and your partner–not just about the affair, but also any issues in your marriage or relationship. This involves honest and sometimes painful conversations, but these are necessary for growth.
- Spend time together: Spending time with your partner and doing things that you both enjoy is one way to rebuild your relationship. It can also mean sharing new experiences that provide positive interactions and hope for the future.
- Think about what YOU want: Taking the time to really think about what you want is important and can also provide you an opportunity to experience post traumatic growth.
Can Therapy Help You Overcome Long-Term Effects of Infidelity?
There are several therapy options for both individuals and couples to help them overcome the long-term effects of infidelity. The easiest way to find the right therapist is by using an online directory. Therapists typically offer both in-person and telehealth options. An advantage of online therapy is that sessions take place in the comfort of your own home, and you don’t have to worry about commuting to your therapist’s office.
- Individual therapy: An individual therapist provides insight and asks questions to help clients identify their triggers. They can also help a person determine if the relationship is worth saving.
- Emotionally focused therapy (EFT): EFT can help couples heal from traumatic attachment injuries. Therapists show partners how to increase their level of trust in one another, hopefully to the point of true reconciliation.8
- Marriage and couples counseling: This form of treatment provides a safe platform for both partners to share their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Counselors provide strategies to rebuild trust, honesty, and transparency in the relationship.
- Grief counseling: Grief counseling is a form of therapy designed specifically to help you work through the stages of grief when experiencing loss. It helps you process intense emotions that arise after infidelity.
Infidelity can greatly affect partners and their children. However, many individuals, couples and families can move past infidelity with time and therapy. This work will require active efforts and participation from both partners. While not every couple chooses to work through their issues, for those who take this path, there are opportunities to heal, grow, and create something new together.