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The Trauma of Infidelity

So I know by this time you have probably talked to at least five people about being cheated on. There’s always that friend that really wants you to leave the relationship. And then there’s the friend or loved one that encourages you to stay. Perhaps says things like, “Think about the kids!” or, ” He’ll never do it again. When my husband cheated, I….” Either way you feel like an angry, confused, traumatized MESS! You can’t stop replaying the moment you found out, whether she was better than you, or even when you SHOULD HAVE known, but didn’t.

If this is you then keep reading…

Through my work as therapist, and personal experience, I have found that unbeknownst to most, infidelity is traumatic. The following research suggests that finding out about infidelity can be as traumatic as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is often seen in trauma victims and veterans. So in a sense, being cheated on can feel as if you have experienced the same trauma as a combat veteran. Below are three different ways that the trauma can be similar.

 

  1. Flashbacks- At any given time, you can be triggered by a something. It could be the smell of a new cologne your husband purchased while he was engaging in the affair. It could be any white Camaro you see, because the woman he cheated with drove this type of car. When you are triggered the brain sees this incident as if it were the day and time you found out, and can immediately go into fight or flight mode.
  2. Emotional numbing- Many times victims of trauma will have experience so much pain, that they will try anything to numb themselves or avoid the pain. According to expert Dr. Robert Mueller, “Rage or despair that comes after the initial shock of discovering the infidelity can be followed by a state of emotional hollowness.” Some people may try to use shopping, food, and even alcohol to avoid feeling the pain of the trauma.
  3. Hyper-vigilance- Many women my stay up all hours of the night checking phone records, smelling his clothing and making sure he was where he said he was all day. The slightest thing may set you off; he walks in five minutes late, he is a little less talkative, his phone rings. This is can even cause insomnia.

Many times, after an affair, you can begin to feel crazy as if you are being unreasonable and you cannot stop. This is due to the body and brain responding to the affair just as a combat veteran would respond to trauma. The best thing to do is reach out for support from a professional who specializes in trauma.

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Should I Stay or Go?

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After the initial shock and devastation of finding out about an affair the number one question is often, “Should I stay or should I go?” At this point your brain is foggy, confused, and most likely thinking at 100 mile per hour. This is not the best time to make life changing decisions. This article in particular is meant to help you sort through your feelings and make the best decision you can at the time. Ultimately the choice is yours to make, but before you take the big leap ask yourself the following questions.

 

  1. Is this relationship reparable?
  2. Would he be willing to go to counseling?
  3. What is my motivation for leaving? Is it to make him realize how valuable I am or is it because I truly cannot continue in this relationship?
  4. Is this the first offense, or one of many?
  5. How will this affect our children?
  6. If I do choose to stay, what has to change in this relationship?
  7. A year from now how will this decision affect me?
  8. Can I learn to trust him again?
  9. How will I know if he has really changed and ended all contact with the other woman?
  10. Would it be better to wait until I am more calm and can make a more logical decision?

 

All of these questions are critical when deciding what you would like to do when you find out that your partner has cheated. Pay special attention to question three! This is important because you do not want to leave as a tactic to make him miss you. Come back next week and I will tell you exactly why this is not a good idea….

 

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Am I Crazy, Or Just Plain Stupid?

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So you just found out that he had an affair, and you have decided to stay. I often hear people say, “Am I crazy? Am I stupid for not leaving?” The answer to both of those questions is an emphatic NO! You are just in love.

As a matter of fact, science proves that you are not indeed crazy. Love has effects on the brain. It’s almost like a drug. There are three stages of love and depending on which one you are in, the brain is flooded with different kinds of chemicals. Lets take a closer look….

Lust

So you meet this guy and you want to spend every waking moment with him. You cannot stop thinking about him, and every time you do your heart seems to skip a beat. That’s because your brain is releasing a chemical called dopamine. Do you know any other examples of when the brain releases dopamine? Well when you are doing drugs or another pleasurable activity. So in a sense, it feels like you are high on love.

Attraction

The next stage is what we call attraction.  There are surges of blood that pump right to the pleasure center of your brain. You are literally getting pleasure just from being around the one you are starting to love. If you were to get an MRI this part of your brain would light up like Christmas when you are in love. It is like you can only focus on one thing, and the brain tends to focus on the good qualities of that person. This is what causes you to miss out on all those negative signs or behaviors early in the relationship.

Attachment

After a while these euphoric feelings fade, but the body doesn’t stop there. It starts to release hormones called oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones make you begin to feel secure and you start to attach to your partner. These are the same chemicals released when you give birth that help you attach to your baby. So that stuff is potent!!

So if you think that you are weak for not leaving, think again. You have most likely developed an attachment to this man.

Three Types of Cheaters…

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MARK MY WORDS, all affairs are not created equal! Different people cheat for different reasons. For some men, it may be emotional, some purely physical, and some a mixture of both. As you try to pick up the pieces of your life, it’s important to some women to figure out the why, in order to continue toward healing. The following illustrates three general types of cheaters. This is not meant in any way to be an exhaustive list, but however it is a start.

The Narcissist/ Addict

This type of cheater is all about him. He can be manipulative, and charming at the same time. When he has an affair, it is simply because he needs the ego stroke or to feed his addiction to women. Generally these guys have issues with women, maybe even a history of childhood trauma or neglect. He needs constant praise and admiration. This type of cheater is the most difficult to deal with because he can be so charming and flattering that he convinces you that you are the one who is overreacting and his cheating is not a big deal.

The Pusher

This type of cheater is terrified of letting you get to close. He may come off as angry all the time. He will avoid intimacy at all costs. He cheats because he wants to push you away. In fact, he may even be trying to escape any conflict or discord in the relationship by having an affair. But things get really overwhelming for him when he starts to have the same conflict with the affair partner. This type of cheater is also more likely to blame you for the affair.

The Silent Type

This type of cheater is the yes man. He will live to make you happy. He will go along with whatever you say. When you find out he has had an affair you are probably saying, “I never thought that he would do something like this.” All the while this guy has been harboring so much resentment toward you and does not know how to say it. This kind of guy struggles to be direct about how he feels and what he needs. When he is caught, he generally takes responsibility for his behavior and is willing to work to heal the relationship.

In the end…

This list is not an exhaustive one at all. During my years of working with couples I started to see patterns and these are some of the most common types of cheaters I saw. There is hope, but it starts with self healing. Despite the type of cheater you are with, you have to focus on healing the pain you are in, before you focus on the relationship.

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