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with Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

Infidelity and Mental Health: 7 Stressors

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Betrayal in an intimate or otherwise romantic relationship occurs when a partner lies, cheats, engages in deceptive language or behaviors, surreptitiously uses family finances, chronically criticizes, stonewalls, yells, degrades, or abuses his or her partner.

When partners engage in cheating behaviors or deceptive acts they can create depressed or negative feelings for his or her partner as it violates the implicit promise to be honest and committed to one person. Betrayal and infidelity that occurs within a marital or other committed relationships creates feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, resentment, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

For most of us, once we learn our partner has been unfaithful we begin to question just about everything that has ever been said or done throughout the course of the relationship. It is not uncommon for partners to beat themselves up at having missed the warning signs, not being attentive enough to the needs of his or her partner, feeling like they weren’t “enough” for their partner, feeling like they had been made a fool of, depressed at having lost or wasted time, etc.

Infidelity and betrayal in a marital or committed relationship hurts for many different reasons, including but not limited to our individual perceptions about ourselves and our thoughts about our own lovability. Often we view romantic and other love relationships as a reflection of ourselves, using it as a means for both identifying and determining our personal value and desirability.

We gauge how lovable we are and how valuable our love is to others only by interacting with the people we love. Unfortunately, people that judge their lovability based on reflections from someone else cannot love without hurt, creating a distorted and inaccurate view of themselves.

Very few marital or other relationship problems cause as much heartache, anger, confusion, and devastation as infidelity, which often undermines the foundation of the relationship itself. Like most things in life, infidelity cannot be attributed to one specific thing. There are many factors that have been positively correlated to both infidelity and betrayal. Some of the common reasons that infidelity and betrayal occurs in a relationship include:

·         Decrease, loss of, or maladaptive communication

·         Mental health issues including depression, anxiety, ADD, learning disabilities, or bipolar disorder

·         Decrease or loss of respect for the feelings, well-being, or value of one’s partner

·         Underlying or persistent relationship issues and challenges that partners fail to address

·         Addiction, including addiction to sex, gambling, drugs or alcohol

·         Significant decrease or loss of affection for one’s partner or for each other

·         Psychological damage

·         Change in consistency or quality of intimacy

·         Physical health issues, such as chronic pain or disability

·         Emotional challenges, decrease in sexual desire, or complete loss of sexual interest

Psychological challenges related to infidelity and betrayal can lead to problems and issues in other areas of one’s life, including but not limited to problems with memory and cognition, regulating mood, trusting others, low self-esteem, confusion, etc.

Finding out that your partner has been having an affair can be a heartbreaking experience that can lead to serious emotional and psychological problems. Not only is the very thought of infidelity an overwhelming issue to deal with, it can create a disruption in normal every day functioning, such as, inability to focus on anything other than the betrayal, relationship breakup, divorce, leaving a shared home, etc.

Learning that a partner or spouse is or has been cheating can be a turning point in any relationship. Betrayal can turn a relationship that was once thought to be happy or one that would surely outlast the test of time into a relationship plagued with sadness, resentment, hostility, and regret.

Infidelity can lead to the following stressors:

·         Sadness and depression

·         Anxiety

·         Low self-esteem

·         Resentment, anger, or rage

·         Detachment from reality

·         Self-doubt

·         Divorce or relationship disruption or extinction

Most people may not realize that being unfaithful actually inflicts some psychological damage on themselves as well as their unsuspecting partner. Infidelity and betrayal can have negative implications on both the betrayer and those that have been betrayed. Surprisingly, individuals who commit adultery can suffer from intense guilt and depression at having hurt the person they love by their actions, or breaking up their family.

Infidelity and betrayal can lead to the breakdown of communication, trust, and intimacy. It can have financial implications as the relationship ends (having to move out of a shared environment where expenses were also shared) or a divorce (legal fees, separate homes, childcare expenses, etc.).  

Infidelity can also cause long-term emotional distress as partners struggle with processing the affair, understanding what led to the affair, what they could have, or should have been done differently, etc. Both emotional and psychological pain as it relates to infidelity and betrayal can be avoided if partners are open and honest with each other as well as deal appropriately with the underlying issues in the relationship.

Infidelity and betrayal does not necessarily signify the end of the relationship. However, work and a re-commitment to both your partner and the relationship is required to repair some of the damage caused by infidelity.

Many partners attempt to resolve a lot of their relationship issues themselves, without professional help. However, when there is significant pain involved, it is often difficult to discuss the issues in the relationship in a manner that is helpful rather than harmful. Anger, hurt, sadness, and resentment can make it nearly impossible to get to the root issues plaguing the relationship. Therefore, if at all possible, relationship counseling should be sought to help partners openly discuss the problems in their relationship, improve communication, rebuild trust, recommit to the relationship/partner, and identify any unmet needs of his or her partner.

Infidelity and Mental Health: 7 Stressors

Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

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APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2016). Infidelity and Mental Health: 7 Stressors. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Oct 2016
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