Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Trauma from Infidelity: An Interview with a Specialist

affair recovery-mj denis-trauma from infidelity

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In 40-plus years of caring for those in crisis from infidelity and addiction, I've come to understand a thing or two about trauma. While there are many situations we're introduced to in life, very few are as traumatizing to man or woman like infidelity. It's life-altering. It changes you, regardless of what side you're on. In society, we're often times ostracized when a friend or family member learns of either ours or our spouse's infidelity. It's not IF we're going to feel traumatized, it's when.

Today I'm going to introduce you to MJ Denis, LMFT, LPC, AASECT-CST, APCATS-CCPS, one of our experts on trauma and the betrayed spouse. I can't stress to you enough how vital it is to understand the effects trauma has on us as human beings. If we're going to heal and gain ground both personally and maritally, we must begin to go deeper into wrapping our minds and hearts around the complex way trauma affects us all. I hope you enjoy her interview with Samuel below:


Human beings are created for attachment; we're made to be one with others. When the strongest of an attachment bond is broken in a marriage, it creates a primal panic for the betrayed. For many, this pain is so intense it creates a traumatic wound, sometimes creating a physiological problem—making regulating these intense emotions almost impossible, if not handled correctly.

The ongoing assaults of these traumatic emotions often discourages couples—causing them to doubt whether they can make it through infidelity. Things that at another time would have been a minor irritation can now cause an emotional meltdown. If not cared for properly, we can become stuck, losing hope and vision for not only personal healing but for the marriage as well.

It's not uncommon for those impacted by infidelity to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Traumatized soldiers who deal with PTSD report that the slightest trigger can activate uncontrollable reactions. Hurt spouses, especially those dealing with PTSD and Complex PTSD, report similar experiences. When traumatic triggers are suddenly–and often without warning–activated, those suffering from PTSD feel the same visceral pain felt at the time of discovery, or another traumatic event.

Frequently, and sadly I might add, the unfaithful partner gets impatient and wants to know why the hurt partner can't just “get over it.” But you wouldn't tell a soldier with PTSD to just “get over it.” So how do we deal with traumatic triggers that threaten to overtake us?

Without a thorough understanding of the wounds of the betrayed, it's common for partners to feel paralyzed by the pain; wondering if anyone understands them. The isolation a betrayed partner feels when overwhelmed by emotion is debilitating. I hope you find comfort in MJ's wonderful explanation of trauma caused by infidelity. If you're the betrayed spouse, I'd like to invite you to give our Harboring Hope course a chance to help you find support, understanding, and infidelity-specific help. You don't have to do this alone and you don't have to struggle. Sign up here today at 12pm CST: https://www.affairrecovery.com/product/harboring-hope

Harboring Hope registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.

Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed spouses to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

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Attachment bonds

I love these videos very much. I completely understand the attachment bonds and why we do them consciously and unconsciously. I understand why you (MJ) speak on how they are so important to us and how it is so devastating when the bonds are severed. Especially from the perspective of the betrayed. What is your stance on the attachment bond from the unfaithful partners side of the road. Did they never really form an attachment bond to their spouse, did they ever lose it when they were cheating, did they actually firm an attachment to the affair partner? I am trying to understand why it is so devastating to a betrayed when the bond is broken yet it isn’t (or at least doesn’t seem severe) for the unfaithfuls.
I want to try and see things from the opposite perspective and I know there are so many nuances to each situation. In my case I wonder if he was ever really “attached “ to me or was I just another person in his life filling a job role. When he felt the job wasn’t being done well he instinctively outsourced part of that job.

Attachment Bonds

I too, often wonder if my spouse ever really had attachment bonds. I can’t tell if I question this because I actually believe it or have lost trust in things I once thought were true.

I agree. It also makes me

I agree. It also makes me reflect on what was REAL.
My husband says he always loved me (but never more than himself or his own needs). That by providing for me our children that was his expression of love. I also think that because of who he inherently was, he could have never felt the same type of love for me that I had for him. Which also lets me know he never felt anything REAL with another woman. All of his actions no matter what was said or done with another woman was only self serving for himself. It wasn’t some bond between them. Well maybe a bond of using each other I guess. I truly don’t say any of this with anger. I’m a good ways out and now it’s just reflection on it all. I’m definitely moving towards feeling pity, disgust and sadness that people use each other so blindly and selfishly and warp it all to think there is any positive.
I don’t think all marriages are made to last, but just talk it out, put in some work and if it fails part ways lovingly.

I agree. It also makes me

I agree. It also makes me reflect on what was REAL.
My husband says he always loved me (but never more than himself or his own needs). That by providing for me our children that was his expression of love. I also think that because of who he inherently was, he could have never felt the same type of love for me that I had for him. Which also lets me know he never felt anything REAL with another woman. All of his actions no matter what was said or done with another woman was only self serving for himself. It wasn’t some bond between them. Well maybe a bond of using each other I guess. I truly don’t say any of this with anger. I’m a good ways out and now it’s just reflection on it all. I’m definitely moving towards feeling pity, disgust and sadness that people use each other so blindly and selfishly and warp it all to think there is any positive.
I don’t think all marriages are made to last, but just talk it out, put in some work and if it fails part ways lovingly.

Trust

I have lost trust in myself, as I trusted my husband and was betrayed for years with a string of girlfriends
I don’t see a way to trust any decisions or conclusions I reach, not only with my husband but with all decisions I make.
Paralyzed and trapped by my own mind. It sucks

Attachment Bonds

I echo the sentiments of the comment above submitted by beedub08. I also wonder how the attachment bond (or lack thereof) reflects in the unfaithful spouses decision to stray.

Attachment in marriage -- what's that like?

My unfaithful wife shattered my heart into a trillion pieces and -- four-plus years later past D-Day -- hasn't done a thing to reconnect. Zero empathy, zero connection, zero trying on her part. We have an in-house separation and I absolutely HATE my marriage. The past seven-plus years (counting the years she was having her emotional affair) have been like living in the pit of hell.

Staying together for the sake of my children (two are adult children who are out of the house), but we still have one who is a junior in high school. I have prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed for something to change in this marriage and have basically made a vow to myself (I know it isn't good to make this kind of vow, but it's the only thing keeping me going ) that if my unfaithful wife doesn't start reconnecting in some meaningful way by the time he graduates, I am packing my bags and moving to wherever my youngest son decides to go to college.

I am so through with this ugly, sadistic, unkind, unloving, narcissistic, piece of garbage marriage. I grow more angry and bitter and know I am suffering through PTSD (just can't afford the $150 EMDR therapy sessions that have been recommended to me by past individual counselors) so I can get my head straight. So tired of the constant pain and agony no matter how much I turn it over to God and beg for peace and beg to find forgiveness in my heart toward an unfaithful wife who has absolutely ZERO desire to make this marriage work.

Re: ' ...whats that like?'

Dear wanting Victoria, You are seen, you are understood, you are desired, you are loved 100% and 100% of the time by the ONE who knew you before this horror or any other horror befell you.Get plugged in to your source, get all that you need there.And then you will have better eyes to make sound decisions.Just a heartfelt offer of hope from someone who knows the unrelenting pain of infidelity.There is hope.You are not at the mercy of this pain for it to just have its way with you.There is a love that will not let you go if you would only perceive it.Take care of yourself...you are worth it.

Thank you, these videos are very helpful

I was able to understand so much about myself, my brain, and my own reactions that I have had for years. Her clear explanations have helped me a lot. Thank you.

These videos have been

These videos have been amongst the most helpful I've seen in the painful two years since I discovered my husband's infidelity. As each new discovery arises I suffer as much as I did in the beginning. I now understand what is happening to me. Instead of suppressing the raging feelings caused frequently by triggers I'll go with the feeling and let it wash over me like a wave. I've been so confused by my inability to switch off my feelings for him but the attachment explanation gives me complete understanding and in a strange way comforts me. I felt (and still feel) that he desecrated our sacred bond and space and now understand that this is the terrifying feeling of not being safe. Like one of your previous commentators I don't understand his lack of attachment to me and have wondered if people love in different ways?Thank you so much for these helpful insights.

Also betrayed

I also resonate with what you're experiencing. I'm 2 months out from D- Day and though I watched these videos a few weeks back, they didn't "click" until I started getting a stronghold of the trauma. I'm actually not sure what did it. Lots of prayers, a lot of support, therapy (both of us in individual counseling AND couples counseling), learning about his addiction, or just how much work he has put into this daily to not just take responsibility for his actions and actions alone leading to infidelity, but also actively pursuing ways to change his thought patterns and beat this cycle he's been stuck in. Somewhere along the way, in the last 2 weeks, healing seems to have begun. I'm grateful, and thankful. Yes, I still have triggers. They're random, and ridiculous in so many ways, but I'm taking each of them in stride, communicating about them to him, and finding ways to deal with them. As to your question about his lack of attachment...there are 3 types of attachment. Two of them are "faulty". One is anxious attachment the other avoidant attachment. There's no way for me to know your husband's story, but you can Google the terms and get clear definitions then see which one fits. I have become aware that while my husband has an anxious attachment style, mine is avoidant...which simply means that we have to work extra hard to both stay at a normal attachment level during times of stress. Our therapist has recommended "Not Just Friends" by Dr. Shirley Glass and it's made a huge difference for my husband in understanding his lack of boundaries and addiction and how that led down the path he never wanted to go down. It's also helped him understand what he put me through, and find practical ways to heal so he does not betray me in the future. The book also covers the different attachment styles and how to work with them. I hope this is helpful for you.

Feeling confused

I am the unfaithful spouse, I made many text book errors relating to giving the details I drip fed the details, I lied or hid information about the emotional affair I was having. It took me weeks to understand that it was unfair of me to control how my partner would respond to information. We are almost 2 and half months past the discovery and have been doing couples therapy and individual counselling. My partner suffers from severe depression and has been struggling to cope with a work injury for the past 2 and half years. We were in the middle of doing our 4th cycle of IVF which ended in miscarriage.
My partner and i feel there just isn't enough time for us to talk, to heal, to grieve and to move forward. There isn't enough time to talk and build a safe space for him. I work 5 days a week and my partner has asked me to stop going to work to spend time with him. I feel this isn't what we need, I am trying to be safe and provide a safe place for him to grieve and heal but am finding it difficult to juggle work, understand and work through the emotional affair and to help support him through the deep depression he is experiencing, sometimes suicidal.
Is there any benefit of me giving up my job? I am the only one working and bringing in an income, I struggle with understanding how we will manage to live, have a house over our heads and to eat if I stop working. I dont go to work to avoid our healing, I go to work to provide for us. I feel like I am failing my partner and his needs and am failing in work because I am constantly thinking about my partner and what he needs.
How do I find the time to juggle my work and the time he needs from me to be safe grieve and heal. When I go to counselling it is taking more time away from spending it with us, if I take time out to read and learn about affairs and behaviours it is taking time away from us, when I try and do work on myself to show himni am trying to be a safe spouse for him it is taking time away from us.
Some days I feel like we are back at day 1, we move forward and then he has a severely bad depression day and we spiral back to that first day.
What do I do?

Correction to above i have mislead with what I have said

I do work 5 days a week, I left my old job and took another job which was supposed to be 3 days a week instead of five. Since starting I have been constantly working 5 days a week amd have struggled to talk to management about needing to reduce down to 3 days. What my partner wants is for me to work 3 days as I had applied for and not the 5 days whilst trying to work on our recovery.
Another correction I need to make is that I am not the only income earner, he is on a stat rate with workers comp and luckily enough have had some lump sum payments come through. He has a back injury and has had 2 back surgeries and can no longer work at his previous job, He earns a regular stat rate of pay each week.

What type of affair was it?

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