Infidelity and Betrayal Trauma
Learning about your spouse or partner’s infidelity can be emotionally and physically traumatic. The emotional damage is reflected in what some mental health professionals call Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD), for the stress and emotional turmoil experienced afterward.
In PISD husbands and wives will replay the painful realization of betrayal. Even after the initial fall-out, people will have recurring thoughts of their partner with another. It can become common for the betrayed partner to replay in their minds previously assumed benign events, those times when their spouse became defensive when asked a simple question, or the late nights at work, or the text messages from unnamed friends, all of these become viewed as possible deceitful acts.
The second category of symptoms for PTSD, avoidance and emotional numbing, is seen in PISD as well. Rage or despair that comes after the initial shock of discovering the infidelity can be followed by a state of emotional hollowness. Formerly pleasurable activities lose their appeal. Those who were cheated on sometimes withdraw from friends and family and describe feelings of emptiness.
The last category of PTSD symptoms, hyper-vigilance and insomnia, can also arise for those dealing with infidelity. Sleep patterns become erratic; and concentration becomes a challenge, affecting work performance and family life.
PISD can have physical consequences as well as emotional ones. The stress of discovering infidelity can lead to what has been dubbed broken heart syndrome, also termed stress cardiomyopathy. Physical or emotional stressors, such as a loved one passing or major surgery trigger a surge of stress hormones that temporarily affect the heart. The condition typically reverses within a week.
Despite the stress, there is life after an affair. Due to the symptomatic similarities, therapists are now beginning to use PTSD counseling techniques to help couples either stay together or move on.
Exposure and cognitive restructuring are techniques used when dealing with traumatic memories. In exposure, spouses are asked to gradually imagine those heart-wrenching moments and to cope with them gradually, whereas cognitive restructuring substitutes irrational thoughts, feelings, and behaviors induced by the trauma, with adaptive ones.
Counselors use these “trauma focused” explorations with clients, sifting through the distressing memories and aversive feelings, to help build the client’s self-esteem and confidence in dealing with the betrayal or loss of the relationship.
Therapists also work with their clients to help them understand the unique reasons that led to the infidelity. Understanding why the affair occurred can help both people.
Treating Trauma at Milestones
At Milestones at Onsite, we want you to know that we stand behind you one hundred percent. We want to support you and walk with you into your recovery. We believe in unconditional love and provide a safe environment for you to do the work that has been needed for a long time. We are here to help and we’d be honored to have the opportunity to show up for you and help you discover joy in your life.