A few years ago Dr. Robert Weiss, Dr. Jennifer Schneider, and Dr. Charles Samenow conducted a study of betrayed partners to learn more about the ways in which sexual betrayal (both online and real-world) damage not only relationships but the emotions of betrayed partners.[i] Unsurprisingly, almost every person in their study said that being sexually betrayed impacted them in a wide variety of negative ways—loss of self-esteem, stress, anxiety, depression, inability to trust, reduced ability to enjoy sex and romance, etc.
Consider the words of actual respondents:
- “I have been traumatized by the repeated discovery of my partner’s deception and betrayal of me with these activities.”
- “Now I feel unattractive, ugly, wondering what’s wrong with me. I can’t sleep or concentrate. I’m missing out on life’s happiness.”
- “It obliterated the trust in our relationship. I no longer believe a single thing he says.”
- “We don’t have sex often, and it irritates me that my spouse puts more time into the porn than trying to be intimate with me.”
- “I became over-the-top with snooping, spying, trying to control the behavior, and thinking if I just did, then I could stop it. It caused complete erosion of my self-esteem, boundaries, and sense of self.”
Other research has reached similar conclusions. For instance, a study of women married to sex/porn addicts found that, upon learning of the addict’s betrayals, the majority of these women experienced acute stress and anxiety symptoms characteristic of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).[ii] Typically, this manifested in one or more of the following ways:
- Anxiety, depression, loss of self-esteem, etc.
- Hypervigilant behaviors (detective work), such as checking credit card bills, computers, phones, texts, and the like for evidence of continued infidelity.
- Emotional instability, including frequent mood shifts, over-the-top emotional reactions, tearfulness, rage, etc., sometimes followed by feelings of intense love and a desire to “make it work.”
- Going on the attack by “lawyering up,” spending money to punish the addict, telling the kids age-inappropriate information about what the addict did, etc.
- Being easily triggered into mistrust of the addicted partner.
- Overcompensating by trying to lose weight, dressing provocatively, etc.
- Sleeplessness, inability to wake up, and/or nightmares.
- Obsessing about the betrayal and struggling to stay in the moment.
- Difficulty focusing on day-to-day events, such as picking the kids up from school, work projects, maintaining a home, etc.
- Emotionally escapist use of alcohol, drugs, food, etc.
- Avoiding thinking about or discussing the betrayal.
This does not mean that betrayed partners should be diagnosed and treated for PTSD; it simply means that, for a time, they tend to manifest various symptoms of PTSD. And as survivors of chronic betrayal trauma, it is perfectly natural to respond in this fashion. So, if your partner has cheated on you and you find yourself confused and spinning with rage, anger, fear, and other strong emotions, please don’t beat yourself up over it. Your response is normal and expected. In time, if your partner re-earns your trust, the seas will calm and you will start to be yourself again.
[i] Schneider, J. P., Weiss, R., & Samenow, C. (2012). Is it really cheating? Understanding the emotional reactions and clinical treatment of spouses and partners affected by cybersex infidelity. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 19(1-2), 123-139.
[ii] Steffens, B. A., & Rennie, R. L. (2006). The traumatic nature of disclosure for wives of sexual addicts. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13(2-3), 247-267.