Infidelity can cause problems in any relationship. The affects of such a betrayal can be long-term and devastating.

Man sits alone contemplating the long-term effects of his infidelityShare on Pinterest
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Infidelity can have long-term effects on the quality of your relationship.

Infidelity can involve sexual or emotional affairs with someone outside the relationship agreement you have with your partner. You may have cheated on your partner and find yourself surprised by the consequences of that decision, or you may have been cheated on and have difficulty moving past it.

You might wonder if you can move forward after an affair or how that might affect you, your relationship, and your mental health.

Pain with infidelity is usually inevitable and can have emotionally devastating consequences. If you feel like you’re grieving, you might very well be, and that’s OK. There are different forms to human loss and no one has a right to dismiss your grief.

But take heart, you can heal. If you two so choose, you can work through the affair. But there must be a willingness by both parties to do the work necessary to recover.

For the one who cheated, you might feel like you’re on your way to healing but keep in mind, your partner can grieve and be triggered for longer than you might be comfortable with. It’s helpful to sit with their pain, communicate openly, and check in now and then on their emotional well-being.

What happens mentally, after an affair

Dr. Dennis Ortman describes those who’ve discovered a partner’s affair as traumatized. Ortman names this trauma response Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD), in his 2009 book.

You might experience symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress. Instead of a shock to your system, as with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), discovering cheating can be a mental shock to the system you’ve built as a couple.

Ortman adds that phases of recovery from infidelity are not unlike the 5 stages of grief.

Research shows that infidelity can also cause increased anxiety and depression, in addition to stress.

If you’ve been cheated on, it may take a long time to heal. It can cause you chronic anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression, and mistrust of others for a long time after the event.

How does being cheated on effect the brain?

Love, insofar as being a factory for releasing dopamine and triggering feelings of euphoria, can feel addictive to your brain. So the rejection caused by infidelity can cause several changes in the brain pathways similar to withdrawal in substance use disorder. Rejection can cause short- and long-term consequences to your brain chemistry.

Being in love produces more oxytocin and dopamine in our brains, and infidelity can disrupt the pathways that cause the release of these chemicals in our brain.

When your child finds out you cheated

If your child finds out you cheated, it can cause many ripple effects:

  • Your child may side with and trust your partner more than you.
  • They may experience feelings of confusion, anxiety, abandonment, and isolation not unlike the partner who was cheated on.
  • One study also suggests that children with a parent who has had an affair may have trust issues with future romantic partners.
  • Your child may form negative perceptions of fidelity.
  • A 2017 study looked at how children imitate infidelity modeled to them in childhood in adult relationships.

Can infidelity cause mental illness?

Infidelity can cause symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress from the relationship breach that were not previously present before an affair. Some common symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and obsessions about the event.

You may also experience hyperarousal and become reactive at any perceived threat to yourself or your relationship. As a result, you can have disruptive sleeping and eating patterns.

What does research say about how cheating affects a man?

No matter who you are, you can still be impacted by infidelity.

One study that looked at gender differences in response to infidelity found that women tend to be more distressed by emotional affairs, and men tend to become more distressed over physical affairs.

This difference in response to emotional versus sexual infidelity is reinforced by an extensive study on infidelity with approximately 64,000 participants, which had similar findings.

This study also examined the impact that cheating has on gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. There was no significant gender difference in degrees of upset over infidelity among LGB+ folks.

Infidelity can have lasting impacts on partners and children the couple may have. Grief, brain changes, behaviors down the road, and mental health conditions such as anxiety, chronic stress, and depression can result.

Some families have been able to move past infidelity with time and therapy. To move on, this takes active work on both partners to work on the root cause of the infidelity. Working through it is not suitable for every couple, but those willing can heal.