Updated: Jul 23
Infidelity is a Siren promising a break from reality and an opportunity to escape oneself. It delivers by bringing a maelstrom of destruction. It leaves the marriage in tatters, the wronged spouse eviscerated, and the straying spouse a wounded shell of him/herself. (We’ll discuss the wounds of the straying spouse at another time; they are worth exploring.)
For now, let’s focus on the cognitive and emotional PTSD symptoms as defined by the DMS5 in the faithful spouse.
· Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the
· Persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame)
· Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (e.g., inability to experience happiness,
satisfaction, or loving feelings)
· Reckless or self-destructive behavior
People respond to the revelation of an affair differently. Much of the response lies in attachment style, personality traits, life experiences, and spirituality. However, people typically find themselves experiencing the above-noted symptoms on a continuum of mild to severe.
“Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others or the world” are a recipe for confirmation bias – an insidious and self-propagating cycle that reinforces the negativity. In other words, people often see that for which they are looking.
A spouse looking for signs of betrayal will often find them whether they exist or not. For example, a dead cell phone will be interpreted as his/her spouse turning off the phone, so he/she cannot be tracked while they meet with his/her affair partner. Jealousy truly is like rottenness in the bones (Pro. 14:30).
A spouse looking to blame him/herself for their spouse straying creates a vicious cycle of self-condemnation. He/she exchanges relationship dynamics for a performance-based reward system in which he/she always falls short, hence the betrayal.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy operates on the basis that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors all influence one another in a bidirectional manner. Thus, the persistent negative beliefs foster persistent negative emotions and the inability to experience positive emotions. This cycle defers hope and makes the heart sick (Pro. 13:12). Without intervention, this negativity spiral results in reckless and self-destructive behaviors, e.g., substance use, eating disorders, lashing out, and refusing support.
PTSD symptoms, as defined by the DMS-5, are common in the betrayed spouse. See my previous post, Infidelity and PTSD I, for a full list of symptoms, and Infidelity and PTSD II and Infidelity and PTSD III for additional symptoms and information.
The journey to healing and recovery from infidelity is not for the faint of heart. However, as mentioned in my post, It Didn’t Mean Anything!, marriages can and do survive infidelity. In fact, when couples put in the work for authentic healing and reconnection, they report being happier and more fulfilled in their marriages than before the infidelity.
Contact me for help on your journey to authentic healing and reconnection.
Angela W. Startz, MAHSC, CCLC
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association Publishing.