There are lots of things to know about betrayal trauma. You can read about it, I’ve spoken about it, written about it, and counseled sufferers for years. Yet, there is one key aspect of this type of post traumatic infidelity syndrome to understand: when a betrayed partner learns about their partner’s infidelity the hurt doesn’t end there.
What is post-traumatic infidelity syndrome?
The unfaithful partner’s disclosure is the tip of the infidelity iceberg between them and their partner. The resulting post-traumatic stress is real. Following infidelity, individuals may experience intrusive thoughts that can cloud their thinking and cause their emotions to fluctuate with each passing wave of feeling.
Is this where you and your partner have landed due to betrayal trauma?
Undoubtedly, you now realize that living through betrayal means living with the relational fallout for a long time. If you don’t know how to recover or where to turn for help, “a long time” can drag on for much longer than you ever imagined.
So, what is a tense and emotionally exhausted couple to do? How do you cope when your relationship seems defined by the affair? How can you manage a situation where one of you feels shattered by the deception and defeated by intrusive thoughts you can’t control?
First, please know that post-traumatic stress after infidelity is very common.
Couples I’ve worked with routinely share their struggles with disruptive infidelity PTSD symptoms. They ask themselves questions like
- As the hurt partner, what do I do when my thoughts won’t align with my efforts to move past the infidelity?
- As an unfaithful partner, how can I help my partner feel less blindsided by an affair-related thought? Can I help them avoid being suddenly triggered when ideas or mental images pop up?
- What should we do (or avoid) to help rebuild our relationship?
Those are all important questions. Let’s consider the hurt partner’s challenges in this post.
Managing Betrayal Trauma: What it Looks Like to Support the Hurt Partner
It is Important to Acknowledge Infidelity PTSD
The pain of discovery and the world of unknowns and uncertainty can feel unbearable if you are the hurt partner. It feels as if your whole world is linked to your partner’s deception and betrayal. Therefore, the hurt partners’ reaction often looks like more familiar forms of PTSD.
Just like a combat veteran, abuse victim, or disaster survivor, infidelity PTSD comes with its own slate of symptoms. Those symptoms include intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, and a propensity toward hyper-vigilance. Efforts to “move on” and put it aside generally don’t succeed for long without a recovery plan.
The Hard Reality? It Is Tough for the Hurt Partner to Live with Betrayal Trauma
Intrusive Thoughts Interfere with Healing
“I am not enough.” “No one can be trusted.” Infidelity-related thoughts like these can strike with little warning. The resulting negative emotions can prolong the suffering of the betrayed partner and distort their self-perception and views of others.
Flashbacks Aren’t Limited by Reality
Seeing text messages, pictures, etc., does increase the probability of flashbacks, but hurt partners can also have flashbacks of imagined scenarios. Thus, intrusive thoughts and mental images combine to make healing even harder.
Nightmares Make Emotional Escape Impossible
Betrayal trauma can fuel dreams that routinely wake and distress the hurt partner. These intrusive nightmares feel unmanageable, seriously interrupting restorative sleep.
Arousal and Reactivity Create Conflict
Irritability, hyper-vigilance, and anger often come with infidelity PTSD territory. Lashing out, controlling behavior, and outbursts happen. If this behavior becomes an unresolved cycle, attempts to rebuild the relationship may be damaged.
The Encouraging Truth? The Unfaithful Partner is Vital in Overcoming Betrayal Trauma
Avoidance Isn’t Helpful but an Actively Helpful Partner Is
Unfaithful partners can and should support their hurt partner’s efforts to recover from post traumatic infidelity syndrome (PTSD). Ignoring their pain and intrusive thoughts with the idea that time will heal the hurt partner’s wounds is not productive or realistic.
An unfaithful partner who actively participates in their spouse’s healing becomes the warrior for the relationship the hurt partner needs. What happens when the unfaithful partner steps up?
- Healing happens and less trauma residue remains.
- The stages of healing and trust-building begin as a team.
- Remorse is shown and openly expressed.
- Real repair happens.
- PTSD symptoms begin to dissipate.
Of course, there are cases when PTSD after cheating is more stubborn and healing requires more work. That’s okay. At that point, a trauma specialist is invaluable. You are welcome to listen to my interview, How to Recover From Infidelity PTSD. There, my team member, Dr. Yael Haklai-Neagu. expertly outlines how she helps hurt partners relieve their trauma symptoms.
Managing Betrayal Trauma: The Do’s And Don’ts Of Helping The Hurt Partner Find Relief
A Quick List of Don’ts for the Unfaithful Partner:
- Don’t become upset when your hurt partner experiences post-traumatic infidelity syndrome symptoms.
- Don’t say or infer that there is “something wrong” with them, call them dramatic, or insist that they’re overreacting.
- Don’t “trickle” the truths of the infidelity, it only re-traumatizes the hurt partner.
- Don’t leave any opening for the affair partner to reconnect.
- Don’t abandon the hurt partner. Leaving them alone to “get over” the betrayal trauma is unacceptable under any circumstances.
- Seek the right professional help that addresses both partners as a unit instead of putting the healing duty on the hurt partner alone.
An Important List of Do’s for the Unfaithful Partner:
- Describe: Share what you think your partner is experiencing (“I see how hurt you’re feeling right now”).
- Empathize: compassionately make sense of the intensity of their feelings (“You’re so sad and worried and that makes sense. I would feel the same way if you betrayed me with a coworker”).
- Disclose completely: Tell your partner what happened in one sitting. Accept that you may appear worse to your partner than you desire.
- Weigh the consequences of Incomplete disclosure. Withholding information will likely cause more trauma symptoms and further damage the hurt partner’s view of you.
Do Remain Present & Resist Rejection:
- Accept Withdrawal. Betrayal Trauma may pull away or ask you to stay away. While you want to respect boundaries do consider the maelstrom of emotions they are experiencing.
- Accept conflicting emotions. Your partner may seem confused. (“Leave/ don’t leave; I love you/ I hate you; hold me/ don’t touch me”). Be patient. Ask your hurt partner if they’re experiencing conflicting emotions and talk them through.
- Resist rejection. Avoid abandoning your relationship again. Even if your hurt partner pushes you away, find ways to stay present and not do the same. It helps to work with your therapist on resolving your shame.
I do hope these tips and guidance make sense to you. Many of my clients have succeeded in applying them and restoring their relationships. You can do it too.
INTERESTED IN BEGINNING THE INFIDELITY RECOVERY PROCESS?
Are you seeking to repair the damage caused by infidelity and sincerely apologize to your partner? Our dedicated affair recovery program with Relationship Experts is here to support you. Take the courageous step towards rebuilding trust, fostering open communication, and learning effective strategies to make amends. With professional guidance from our infidelity therapists and a commitment to growth, you can pave the way for healing and create a stronger, more authentic relationship moving forward.
- Schedule a free consultation
- Meet with our infidelity recovery program specialist
- Start repairing your relationship and recover from Betrayal Trauma!
OTHER SERVICES PROVIDED BY RELATIONSHIP EXPERTS
Our practice Relationship Experts, provides a wide range of services to help you and your partner recover from infidelity. Our free masterclass The Secret to Healing After Infidelity provides the essential steps to get off of the emotional rollercoaster and enter a clear pathway to healing. We also offer the Remorse Blueprint Course for unfaithful partners who want to learn how to express remorse that heals their hurt partner’s heart.
Listen to the Podcast Episode
Watch the Episode on YouTube
MORE BLOGS ABOUT BETRAYAL TRAUMA
Click here to read a recent blog post about betrayal trauma and what to do when Betrayal Trauma leaves you questioning the essence of true love