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The Impact of Infidelity on a Relationship

As a couples therapist in Arizona, I've worked with many couples on the brink of divorce due to infidelity. Before becoming a therapist, I had some idea of the deep pain, confusion, and anger resulting from infidelity, but it wasn't until meeting face-to-face with its victims that I began to understand the true impact it can have on a relationship. What surprised me the most was witnessing how severely infidelity can negatively impact the mental health of its victims. I wanted to write this article to outline the various ways in which an affair impacts the victim in the relationship. Hopefully, this will help people in committed relationships realize that this is not something they want to mess around with.

PTSD Symptoms

I have commonly witnessed the victims of infidelity report multiple symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The following are symptoms of PTSD that have been reported to me by the majority of victims of infidelity:

  • Flashbacks - feeling like you're reliving a traumatic event. While this does not often happen visually (hallucinations, etc.), victims have often reported reliving the visceral feeling of being cheated on when anything resembling the original infidelity occurs. For example, if their partner hid text messages from them, a simple text message can be enough of a trigger to send the victim into a flashback, believing they are once again at the start of infidelity.

  • Nightmares - having bad dreams related to the trauma. Victims of infidelity will often report having recurring nightmares, sometimes involving the person with whom their partner had the affair.

  • Avoidance - steering clear of places or things that remind you of the trauma. Victims of infidelity have reported avoiding certain streets, restaurants, perfumes, and hotels related to the events of the infidelity. They often report that if they do not avoid these places or things, they will immediately begin to have panic attacks and sometimes flashbacks.

  • Hyperarousal - feeling constantly on edge or easily startled. Victims of infidelity may experience frequent increases in stress and irritability due to the threat to their relationship that the infidelity has caused. It can leave the victim feeling helpless, scared, uncertain, and fragile.

  • Negative changes in mood or thoughts - feeling down, guilty, or detached. Victims of infidelity often report experiencing depression, and in some cases thoughts of suicide.

Seeking Support

While it is understandable that many victims of infidelity immediately decide to end their relationship, many decide to give the relationship another chance. Oftentimes this is when couples will come to me to begin couples therapy. The number one question I get from these couples is, "Can the relationship even be saved?" While it will be a process and will take time, I do believe a relationship can be saved after an infidelity. I have had the privilege of witnessing couples move through the healing process after infidelity and reach a point of connection and intimacy again. What is hopeful about these scenarios is that since the couple had already reached their lowest point, they had nothing to lose by being brutally honest with one another. Oftentimes this results in couples not only healing from the infidelity but becoming even closer than they were before this crisis even occurred.

In the end, it is up to every individual to decide what they wish to do with their relationship after going through infidelity, but if they decide they want to work on things, I am happy to say there is hope.

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