Studies have shown that 37% of married men and 20% of married women have been unfaithful (Spring, 2012). The prime examples of infidelity that the former president Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky committed have attracted the attention of several media agencies across the globe. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton are still together. Can couples survive adultery? What is unfaithfulness? Is that having a cup of coffee with someone else? Sending romantic text? Fantasizing your colleague? Kissing? Dr.Spring gives an open answer to the questions. She said that it depends on the agreement you have between you and your partner. Dr. Spring is a clinical psychologist who treated distressed couples because of unfaithfulness for more than 35 years. She wrote a wonderful book entitled, “After the Affair”. She gave three stages of healing pains of partner’s unfaithfulness; normalizing your feeling, deciding whether to recommit or quit, and rebuilding your relationship. Taking this book as a basis to structure my arguments, I will write consecutive articles centering on the stages of healing infidelity. The present article focuses on the psychological impacts of partner’s infidelity with the presumption knowing the impact is the beginning of the normalization process.
You may find yourself in a state of distress, hopelessness, and sense of insecurity when you are betrayed by your partner. You may lose your interest in many things you used to enjoy before. This is quite a normal reaction when the person whom you thought of a special person has destroyed your assumption. Dr.Spring organized the psychological impact of partner’s unfaithfulness into the following eight points:
- Who am I?
You trust your partner so much and you choose to live your entire life with him/her. He/she is the most trusted/trustworthy person in your life. Now, this turnout to be false and you start to imagine your partner leaning to your rival’s arms. The acute shock starts to push you to repeatedly ask yourself “who am I?” You may see yourself disfigured and you start to question yourself.
- I am no more a special one
Before you learned the adultery, you had a belief that you and your partner are meant to be together. You thought that no one can make your partner happier more than you do. You had a conviction that you are special to your partner. But this has vanished and you began to feel not quite a unique person anymore.
- How stupid I was I didn’t realize the infidelity cues
The value you give to yourself may decline because you think you fail to keep your partner in the marriage. Especially, when you think about your partner’s behavior, you may have the recognition of stupidity that you haven’t properly understood the signs of your partner’s infidelity. You may also think you would have curved if you had reacted when you felt the cues that your partner had started an affair somewhere.
- Decline in self-control
The secretion of anxiety and stress-related hormones in your body are higher than before. You obsessively think about the causes that led your partner to commit the infidelity. You may also imagine and visualize when your partner does the adultery. You may still check on the call logs of your partner’s cellphone. Checking the pockets of your partner to find some clue in relation to the infidelity is not uncommon. You may also put yourself in hard work to distract your anxiety. You start talking with yourself on how to stop yourself from such obsessive acts. These are obsessive and compulsive behavior commonly experienced after the infidelity.
- The world isn’t fair
Considering your own faithfulness and commitment to your marriage and with the assumption of your being right, you think the world isn’t fair. You may exaggerate the unfairness of the world around with mere generalization of the infidelity to how injustice the world is. You may think how many couples are unfaithful and hurt their partner.
- Sorry friends! I don’t feel like hanging out
The infidelity may make you feel inferior. You feel ashamed of what happens to you and your marriage. Before the infidelity of your partner, you like to talk to your friends on how great your relationship was. Your friends were interested in listening to the major events and changes in the family. Now, you proved yourself that the things you talked to your friends were illusions. This can lead you to isolate yourself from your connections.
- Why God has done this on me? I don’t deserve this!
Dr.Spring revealed that some of her clients tend to attribute to their God for the infidelity of their partner, however, in my point of view; many may turn to their faith to cope with the impact of their partner’s unfaithfulness.
- What is the purpose of life?
In some extreme cases, the hurt partner may start questioning about the purpose of life. This kind of question is, somewhat, related to suicidal thinking. It is not a very rare case to listen to stories about persons who shortened their own life on account of their partner’s infidelity. There seems to be sex (male, female) difference in suicidal reaction. In one study by Shackelford, LeBlanc, and Drass (2000), men scored higher in suicidal score than women do.
To conclude, the way we react to life trajectories, including partner’s infidelity, depends on many factors. Our personality, sex (male, female), the context, the way infidelity occurs, family characteristics, educational background, religiousness and culture, and other factors determine how we react to the infidelity of partners. However, the eight points articulated by Dr.Spring can serve as a basis to understand the psychological impacts of partner’s unfaithfulness. Understanding the problem plays a key role to normalize the situation. In the next article, I will write about deciding whether to recommit or quit after the affair. By the way, what were your emotional reactions like if you experienced this? Brainstorm about it!
Shackelford, T. K., LeBlanc, G. J., & Drass, E. (2000). Emotional reactions to infidelity. Cognition & Emotion, 14(5), 643–659. http://doi.org/10.1080/02699930050117657
Spring, J. A., & Spring, M. (2012). After the affair: healing the pain and rebuilding trust when a partner has been unfaithful (2nd ed). New York, NY: Wm, William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.