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Psychological Effects of Infidelity in Marriage

Infidelity is a challenging thing that between 25% and 30% couples experience. And while infidelity can sometimes end a marriage, most decide it's worth it to see if they can work through it. And, with the help of a marriage or relationship therapist, you stand a better chance of healing and restoring love and hope in the relationship.

In this article, we will explain how infidelity affects the mind so that you can be equipped to work through the long-lasting effects of the affair with compassion. If both partners are willing, couples can and do stay together after affairs and have successful, loving romantic relationships.

Types of affairs

Probably the main type of affair that comes to mind when thinking about infidelity is a sexual affair. But to only include sexual affairs in this conversation doesn't acknowledge the pain and lasting effects of other types of affairs, including emotional affairs and porn addiction/sex addiction. We all know engaging in sexual infidelity when in a monogamous relationship is cheating and can have negative consequences on a marital relationships, but let's dive a little deeper into other types of infidelity because they too have serious effects on a marriage or committed relationship.

What is an emotional affair?

According to Verywellmind,

"In an emotional affair, a person feels closer to the other person than their spouse or partner and may experience increasing sexual tension or chemistry along with the emotional intimacy."

Sometimes, an emotional affair leads the way to a physical affair, and other times it remains as an emotional attachment that takes away from the marital relationship. And a lot of emotional infidelity starts innocently enough. What can start as a platonic friendship turns into an emotional affair if the relationship is kept secret from your partner, you share intimate information, or there is sexual attraction for one or both people.

Studies have shown that women tend to be more negatively affected by their partner having emotional intimacies, and men tend to be more affected if their partner has a sexual affair. This might be in part because women tend to feel the same level of betrayal and feelings of being lied to with an emotional affair.

You know you are in the danger zone of having an emotional affair if you're keeping the level of friendship (or the friendship altogether) a secret, you are anxious to get time alone to communicate with your friend, you find yourself thinking or daydreaming about your friend frequently, or you feel withdrawn and have less desire for intimacy with your spouse. These are indications that you are forming an attachment bond with someone else.

Is watching porn cheating?

Watching pornography is one of those things that varies from couple to couple, and whether or not it's cheating depends on what the couple has established as acceptable. However, psychologists agree that porn becomes a problem in a marriage, and could border on infidelity when porn use causes sexual intimacy to decrease in the relationship.

Just like with an emotional affair, if your use of porn is having the negative effects of causing you to withdraw from your partner, you are keeping it a secret, you fantasize or daydream about watching porn, or you're not interested in sexual intimacy with your partner, you might be dealing with a porn or sex addiction.

It's also worth mentioning that cyber affairs can also occur with or without the use of pornography and involve emotional infidelity, sexting, and video/phone sex. This type of affair also has lasting effects and can seriously impact a marriage, even if there is no in-person sexual affair.

How affairs and infidelity affect the mind

When an affair comes to light, whether the cheating partner is found out, or they chose to disclose the affair, both partners must deal with the aftermath and decide if they want to work to repair their relationship. Even if both partners are eager to work on the relationship though, it's important to acknowledge that infidelity has long-term mental effects that require compassion to work through. GoodTherapy explains how the partner that is cheated on can experience symptoms like PTSD, and some clinicians even diagnose PISD (Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder).

What is PISD and what does the cheated-on partner experience mentally after an affair?

PISD is very similar to PTSD, and people who are cheated on commonly experience anxiety, confusion, intrusive thoughts, hopelessness, trust issues, irritability and anger, feelings of blame and shame, and depression.

Additionally, they may withdraw from social situations and regular daily life to try to avoid triggers and situations that make them more aware of their reality.

And, they may cope in a physical way by overeating or undereating, over-exercising, or abusing drugs or alcohol.

They also often move through the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This process can take a long time, and this is where it can be helpful to have the help of a marriage therapist or relationship counselor. A therapist can help the cheated-on partner to express their feelings underneath the anger and initial reactions.

Also, the cheated-on partner can experience triggers and long-term effects long after the unfaithful partner has healed or moved on, and this can also cause long-term strain in the relationship if not navigated with care and compassion.

PsychCentral also explains,

"Rejection can cause short- and long-term consequences to your brain chemistry. Being in love produces more oxytocin and dopamine in our brains, and infidelity can disrupt the pathways that cause the release of these chemicals in our brains."

What are the long-term mental effects on the cheating partner?

While you may not be able to drum up much sympathy for the offending partner, there still are long-term mental effects that are present in the relationship. In some cases, the motivations for infidelity generally are born out of marital problems. So even if a couple decides to work through the affair, the initial marital problems will still need to be addressed. This can bring up emotions like anger, frustration, blame, shame, and anxiety.

But whether or not the affair was a result of existing marital problems, the offending partner can still experience mental side effects that last. One of the main things people struggle with after being unfaithful is guilt. That said, a certain amount of guilt is helpful in showing your partner that you feel remorse. However, guilt that doesn't get addressed can lead to self-loathing and lowered self-esteem. These things will not help a relationship recover in the long run. Ultimately, the injured partner will need to forgive, but offending partner will also need to forgive themselves.

What are the chances that my relationship can survive infidelity?

Although the initial days and weeks after infidelity is exposed might feel crippling, if both partners are willing, most couples can and do survive and even thrive after infidelity. However, this won't occur by happenstance. It takes vulnerability, bravery, commitment, and strong communication to work through an affair in a healthy way.

How long should I expect affair recovery to take?

If both partners are committed to doing the work, they can come out of infidelity stronger, closer, and with better communication skills than ever before. Ideally, affair recovery takes one to two years. Chances are good that you can work through the affair if both partners are still strongly committed to each other, and if there are children in the family, strongly committed to the children.

It's likely that the couple will not recover if the offending partner was using the affair to try to get out of the main relationship, if they continue seeing the person they cheated with, or if they are not committed to the main relationship or family. Often if the relationship is relatively new, partners are less willing to put in the work it takes to recover.

What do we need to recover from infidelity?

Therapists agree that to recover from infidelity, couples need to be committed to full honesty and the process of rebuilding trust. While it's not impossible to do this on your own, it can be extremely helpful to do this with the help of a marriage counselor. Some people also choose to do individual counseling so they can address underlying problems that proceeded the affair and mental health issues that occur because of the affair.

Evolve Therapy Can Help

Infidelity is a difficult issue for any relationship to overcome. While some couples are able to work through the betrayal and rebuild, others find that the damage is too great. If you are struggling with infidelity in your relationship, it is important to seek professional help. Evolve Therapy specializes in helping couples deal with infidelity. The road ahead may be difficult, but it is possible to heal and move on.

Specializing in Emotional Focused Therapy (EFT), our couples therapists help couples working through infidelity. The ultimate goal of this technique is to empower each of you, inspire hope, and restore love and respect in your relationship so that you can each ask for and receive what you need to thrive.

With the tools you'll learn in therapy, the safe space to share and be honest, and the guidance of a neutral professional, you'll stand the best chance of restoring your marriage. Evolve Therapy and our therapists have experience working with people from a wide range of ethnicities, religions, cultures, nationalities, and LGBTQ individuals and couples. We also provide tele-health therapy to couples living in Minnesota. Give us a call to learn more.

  • What is an Emotional Affair?

  • Infidelity:

  • Long-Term Psychological Effects of Infidelity:

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