18. oktober 2023 kl. 09:55 · 5 minutter å lese

Two hands separated by a crack in the background

The experience of infidelity within a committed relationship can be unsettling, complicated, hurtful and more often than not, heart-breaking.

Both partners within the equation can be negatively impacted by the experience of either having cheated or being cheated on. 

What exactly is infidelity?

Infidelity is an emotional, sexual or romantic involvement with another person outside of an existing intimate relationship that breaks the commitment norms. The aftermath of infidelity can severely impact the existing relationship dynamics and negatively affect both partners. 


Why might someone commit an affair:

Affairs usually are not intended to hurt the other person involved in the relationship. Carrying out actions that damage the existing relationship most often stem from emotional and intimate needs not being met. As humans, we thrive and feel good when connected with others and instinctively we are drawn into love, intimacy and validation with others. There may be something lacking in the existing relationship, so that when another person provides a way to meet those needs, people may act upon this urge; even though knowing that what they are doing is not good. 


How might infidelity affect those within the existing relationship?

Cognitive dissonance tends to develop from infidelity- symptoms of dissonance is experienced through psychological discomfort and negative self-conceptions. A person who is experiencing such un-settlement may try to relive their stresses through various means: e.g. Trivialising what they have done and validating their actions. Escapism through unhealthy or even obsessive behaviours, such as increased alcohol consumption, drug use or smoking. 

A recent study from the University of Nevada showed that infidelity caused mental health problems as well as health-compromising behaviours. The findings showed that

 psychological distress commonly experienced from infidelity is:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • reduced sexual confidence 
  • lowered self-esteem 

Health compromising behaviours may have long term effects on physical health, commonly experienced behaviours include: 

  • unprotected sex
  • increased drug/alcohol use 
  • unhealthy eating habits

Individuals who have been cheated on tend to form negative appraisals which can influence their own behaviour and health:

  • Causal attribution is a perceptive understanding of how and why situations occur, such why a partner has cheated. The individual may realise that their partner will not change and that their behaviour has damaged their relationship, which may elicit strong emotional reactions and often ending the relationship. 
  • Attribution to blame is an explanation of an event where people analyse others to make sense of whether their partner is to be held accountable for what they did. To evaluate whether the behaviour was or not intentional, motivated for their own self-interest and deciding how blameworthy they are for their behaviour.
  • Self-blame can often be experienced in response to a partner's infidelity, which also increases feeling depression and anxiety.  Furthermore, victimization, shame, helplessness and anger are also commonly experienced to varying degrees. 

How to heal from a damaged relationship:

Forgiveness is a powerful form of self-care. The best way to overcome such relationship distress is firstly to forgive yourself and others. This is an important step to help move forward and not carry any mental burdens linked to the relationship.  Choosing to forgive helps to ease anxiety, anger and stress and allows you to open to healthier future relationships. 

Confronting your partner head-on can be difficult and it’s okay to allow yourself some time to consider how to approach the situation when talking with them. 

Choosing an appropriate time when you feel ready to talk with your partner - it is better to go into such conversations in a more settled mood, so you can calmly communicate with one another in a respectful way. Allowing yourself space and time can help to clear your mind and make more balanced decisions. 

Making decisions can be difficult, therefore it can be helpful to talk with others you trust about what is going on and to ask for their advice and support. However, sometimes close friends or family can have biased opinions regarding personal relationships, so it may be useful to speak to a therapist or counsellor, who can offer a more balanced unbiased perspective and guidance. 


Does the affair end a relationship for good?

It is important to weigh up the pros and cons of a relationship and decide whether it feels right to stay together despite what has happened or to separate. 

For some, infidelity marks the definite end of a relationship and successfully moving forward may involve completely cutting off contact and focusing on their own independence and happiness. For others, it may be difficult to let go of the relationship entirely and with respectful understanding and clear communication many people end up remaining as platonic friends, even after separating romantically. 

Proper psychological counselling can help make the situation clear, to acknowledge how you are feeling, communicate concerns, and seek other necessary support and advice.  This means gradually making changes to move forward- whether that be mending the relationship or separating for the better. 


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