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Infidelity & PTSD I

Updated: Mar 29

When an affair is exposed, more than sexual betrayal is present. The betrayed spouse begins to question everything. The very foundation of the relationship, of the life built together, is now perceived as a lie. Every tender word spoken is doubted. Every harsh or critical comment is magnified. Every memory is examined for clues.

It is not just the sexual act(s). It is every deception employed as temptation built, every lie used to make time and space for the indiscretion(s), and every deflection used to deny impropriety. It is a betrayal that tears at the fabric of the marriage, the union, the identity the faithful spouse has built around his/her spouse.

While the unfaithful partner often struggles with guilt from betraying not only his/her love but him/herself, the betrayed partner can suffer from PTSD symptomology. The DSM-5 lists the following as symptoms of PTSD (see pp. 271-273).

I am highlighting those that are often experienced in the aftermath of infidelity:

· Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s)

· Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or affect of the dream are related to

the traumatic event(s)

· Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) in which the individual feels are acts as if the

traumatic event(s) were recurring

· Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that

symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s)

· Marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an

aspect of the traumatic event(s)

· Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the


· Persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame)

· Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others

· Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (e.g., inability to experience happiness,

satisfaction, or loving feelings)

· Marked alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event(s)

· Irritable behavior and angry outbursts (with little or no provocation)

· Reckless or self-destructive behavior

· Hypervigilance

· Problems with concentration

· Sleep disturbance

Stay tuned. I will break down the symptoms as they apply to the trauma experienced in the wake of infidelity. There is much to unpack.

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.

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