What Happens to Your Partner When You Cheat?

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When cheating is discovered, with or without the presence of sex addiction, porn addiction, or paired substance/sex addiction, your betrayed partner is nearly always emotionally traumatized. Even if your partner suspected that something was amiss in the relationship before this discovery, he or she is likely to be blown away when the truth (or part of it, anyway) is uncovered.

Research tells us that betrayed spouses who learn about their significant other’s cheating tend to experience significant stress and anxiety symptoms characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In case you’re wondering, PTSD is a very serious, potentially life-threatening psychological reaction to an especially traumatic event. Symptoms commonly include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, hypervigilance, and powerful mood swings (including flashes of extreme anger, insecurity, and fear).

If you’ve cheated, it’s likely that you’ve seen at least a few of these reactions in your betrayed partner. Basically, your betrayed partner may at times appear crazy and out of control as his or her trauma symptoms unexpectedly manifest. As you attempt to heal your relationship, it’s important for you to understand that these behaviors are actually perfectly normal.

NOTE: Your betrayed partner probably does not have PTSD. For a formal PTSD diagnosis, the symptoms must persist for at least six months, and with infidelity they tend to abate, at least partially, within that timeframe.

It’s possible that you feel you should be able to just apologize for your cheating and receive forgiveness. But that’s just not how it works. This is because the trauma of betrayal is some of the worst trauma your partner can possibly experience. The one person your partner thought that he or she could trust no matter what (you) has lied, kept secrets, and engaged in sexual betrayal. For your partner, this is the emotional equivalent of being run over by a truck. 

Consider the results of a study conducted by Dr. Rob Weiss on the impact of infidelity. In this study, betrayed partners, after learning about their significant other’s cheating, made statements like:

  • His cheating obliterated the trust in our relationship. I no longer believe a single thing he says.
  • I am traumatized by his deception.
  • I am over-the-top with snooping, spying, trying to control the behavior, and thinking that if I just find out everything then I can stop the cheating.
  • His cheating has caused complete erosion of my self-esteem, boundaries, and sense of self.
  • I feel unattractive and ugly, and I’m wondering what’s wrong with me.

So, when you are feeling resentful and impatient, and you’re wondering why your betrayed partner won’t just accept your apology and let it go, you need to think about the damage you’ve done to your betrayed partner’s self-esteem and ability to trust. 

The good news is that there is plenty of help and support as you work to heal your damaged relationship. To start, you should check out our sister website, SexandRelationshipHealing.com, which provides free information, podcasts, webinars, discussion groups, and more. We also recommend Dr. Rob Weiss’s book, Out of the Doghouse. You and your betrayed partner might also want to look into our Six-Week Online Workgroup for Couples Impacted by Betrayal. The next session of that group starts January 9, 2021.