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Can you get PTSD from spouse cheating?

Infidelity can be an extremely traumatic event for the betrayed partner. Discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful often leads to feelings of shock, anger, sadness, shame, and anxiety. For some people, the emotional toll of infidelity is so severe that they develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This article will examine whether it is possible to get PTSD from your spouse cheating, the symptoms and risk factors, and tips for coping and recovery.

What is PTSD?

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can occur after someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Some symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks or intrusive memories of the event
  • Nightmares and disturbed sleep
  • Avoiding people or situations that remind you of the trauma
  • Heightened reactivity, being easily startled
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Overwhelming guilt, shame, or sadness
  • Difficulty concentrating

For a diagnosis of PTSD, these symptoms must last for at least one month and cause significant distress or impairment in important areas of functioning. PTSD is classified as a trauma and stressor-related disorder in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual.

Can Infidelity Lead to PTSD?

Research has shown that the trauma of infidelity can certainly precipitate PTSD in the betrayed spouse. A 2015 study found that symptoms of PTSD were present in 34% of people who had recently learned about a partner’s sexual infidelity. This is a higher rate than seen in many other traumatized populations.

Some of the core features of PTSD – intrusive memories, emotional numbing, detachment, and hypervigilance – are very common in those coping with infidelity PTSD. The recurring intrusive thoughts may center on visualizing the partner with the affair partner. Emotional numbness may serve as a protective response to overwhelming distress. Hypervigilance emerges as the betrayed partner compulsively checks up on their spouse due to severe trust issues.

So while infidelity does not automatically result in PTSD, the evidence indicates it is a validated trauma that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder in a significant portion of cases. This is especially true when the infidelity was prolonged, involved emotional intimacy, included multiple affairs, or occurred alongside other forms of betrayal such as lying and deception.

Symptoms of Infidelity PTSD

The symptoms of infidelity-induced PTSD are similar to PTSD stemming from other traumas. The main symptoms include:

  • Intrusive thoughts and flashbacks – repeatedly imagining the partner’s infidelity
  • Avoidance – of places and things associated with the affair or relationship
  • Negative mood – loss of interest, emotional detachment, sadness
  • Arousal – being easily startled, trouble sleeping, irritability
  • Dissociation – feeling disconnected from oneself
  • Adverse effects – inability to work or focus, substance abuse

These PTSD symptoms can range from mild to quite severe. In extreme cases, the betrayed spouse may even experience suicidal thoughts or self-harm impulses as part of the traumatic reaction.

Risk Factors

Certain factors are believed to increase the risk that infidelity will result in PTSD for the betrayed partner:

  • More severe or prolonged infidelity
  • Infidelity that involved deception and lying
  • Infidelity that involves both sexual and emotional betrayal
  • Multiple or serial affairs over time
  • A past history of trauma or abuse
  • The presence of personality disorders like borderline PD
  • Discovery of the affair in a public or humiliating way

Research has found women may be at higher risk of developing infidelity-related PTSD compared to men. Those with certain personality traits like neuroticism and introversion also seem prone to PTSD following betrayal trauma.

Healing from Infidelity PTSD

Recovering from infidelity PTSD requires processing the traumatic memories and experiences so that they no longer dominate your thoughts and feelings. Some tips for coping and healing include:

  • Seeking counseling or therapy to resolve trauma
  • Joining a support group to feel less isolated
  • Practicing relaxation techniques to manage stress
  • Avoiding obsessive dwelling on the infidelity
  • Engaging in exercise and self-care activities
  • Repairing trust with your spouse if reconciling
  • Leaving the relationship if it remains unhealthy

Medications like antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may also help in some cases, particularly where depression or severe anxiety exists. EMDR therapy and other exposure-based treatments are often recommended for resolving symptoms of infidelity PTSD specifically.

With professional support, infidelity PTSD can be overcome in time, allowing you to heal and recover. Having a strong social support system is key. The trauma does not have to indefintely control your life.

When to Seek Help

It is advisable to seek help from a mental health professional if you are experiencing:

  • Acute stress for over one month post-affair
  • Flashbacks, intense anxiety, panic attacks
  • Withdrawn behavior and emotional numbness
  • Feelings of detachment from self or others
  • Disruption to work, school or relationships
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harming behavior

With counseling treatment, infidelity PTSD can be successfully managed in most cases. Do not wait to get help if you are struggling to function.

Can the Relationship Recover from Infidelity PTSD?

Recovering from infidelity PTSD does not automatically mean reconciling the relationship. Some couples are able to repair the trust and commitment after the trauma. However, others may find the damage is irreparable and choose to separate.

Much depends on:

  • How willing the unfaithful spouse is to take responsibility
  • If they are transparent about what happened
  • If they are committed to regaining lost trust
  • How willing the betrayed spouse is to forgive
  • If professional support is sought
  • Addressing underlying issues in the marriage

Even with two willing partners, overcoming infidelity PTSD can take 1-2 years. Couples counseling often plays a pivotal role when trying to reconcile after infidelity trauma.

Ultimately, recovering from the PTSD symptoms must come first before a damaged relationship can begin to heal. There are no guarantees that reconciling is the right path forward for every couple after such betrayal.

Preventing PTSD if You Suspect an Affair

Discovering a partner’s affair often causes initial trauma. To minimize the chance of developing long-term PTSD, it is wise to:

  • Gather evidence discreetly if you suspect cheating
  • Confront your partner in a calm, collected manner
  • Avoid highly emotional reactions until you know the facts
  • Make consequential decisions slowly, not impulsively
  • Consult immediately with a professional
  • Rally support from trusted friends and family
  • Practice regular self-care and stress management

While incredibly painful, finding out about infidelity does not have to lead to years of trauma. Handling the situation maturely from the outset can help mitigate risk of PTSD.


Being betrayed by infidelity is highly traumatic for many people. While not a guaranteed outcome, PTSD is a real possibility after discovering a spouse’s affair. The traumatic reaction can include classic PTSD symptoms like flashbacks, hypervigilance, emotional numbness, and avoidance. Certain factors like prolonged deception or multiple affairs increase the likelihood of developing PTSD. Healing takes time but counseling, support groups, relaxation skills, and leaving if necessary can all assist recovery. Addressing PTSD symptoms should be the priority before attempting to reconcile the relationship after infidelity trauma. With proper help, PTSD can be overcome, allowing you to eventually regain your peace of mind.

Symptom Description
Intrusive thoughts/flashbacks Repeatedly imagining the partner’s betrayal
Avoidance Avoiding people/places/things associated with the affair
Negative mood Feelings of sadness, loss of interest
Arousal/reactivity Being easily startled, trouble sleeping
Dissociation Feeling disconnected from self or reality
Adverse effects Unable to work or focus, substance abuse
Risk Factor Description
Prolonged/severe infidelity Affair was long-term or involved many betrayals
Deception Lying, sneaking around, gaslighting
Nature of betrayal Affair involved both sexual and emotional intimacy
Multiple affairs Partner had more than one affair over time
Past trauma history Existing PTSD or history of abuse/trauma
Personality factors Borderline personality, neuroticism
Public discovery Finding out about affair in humiliating way
Recovery Tips Examples
Get professional help Individual counseling, couples therapy
Join support groups Group therapy, online support forums
Practice relaxation skills Deep breathing, mindfulness, yoga
Avoid obsessive thoughts Stay busy, limit time dwelling on infidelity
Engage in self-care Exercise, eat well, get massages
Repair trust if reconciling Your spouse must be transparent and accountable
Leave if relationship unhealthy Separate if abuse or toxicity continues