Updated: Jul 23, 2021
In the closing post for Infidelity and PTSD, we’ll consider the crippling effects of isolation caused by what the DSM5 terms “feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.”
According to Gottman and Silver, “betrayal lies at the heart of every failed relationship,” whether that betrayal is sexual in nature or not (2015, p.26). Therefore, many can empathize with the pain of faithlessness and infidelity. However, most choose not to because it exposes his/her own unresolved pain. This leaves the couple trying to save their marriage struggling to find support. So, not only is isolation a PTSD symptom, but it is also often a reality.
The faithful spouse is often, at best, misunderstood and, at worst, judged for his/her choice to stay and fight for the marriage. When seeking support from family or friends, the faithful spouse is frequently met with attitudes (or comments) that convey disdain for remaining in the marriage or well-meaning but misguided advice that can exacerbate feelings of shame, inadequacy, resentment, or bitterness.
Feelings of detachment from his/her spouse coupled with a lack of support can result in dissociative symptoms, i.e., feelings of disconnection from oneself and reality. “Living in a fog” and “surreal” are frequently used terms to express this experience.
Friends and family, your feelings of anger on behalf of the betrayed spouse or shame and embarrassment for the straying spouse may be legitimate. However, it is not about you – process them on your own time and without gossiping.
When your loved one comes to you for support, support them. He/she does not expect you to fix his/her marriage. Rather, he/she is asking for a safe place to process, which requires little to no input from you. Your support can be pivotal in helping your loved one avoid the crippling isolation that can compound his/her PTSD symptoms.
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, Infidelity and PTSD III, and Infidelity and PTSD IV 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.
Gottman, J. M. & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the nation’s foremost relationship expert. Harmony Books.