Post Traumatic Infidelity Syndrome

Estimated reading time: 32 minute(s)

Infidelity remains a common threat to relationships, yet the experience can be highly traumatic and devastating, often leading to a condition called post-traumatic infidelity syndrome. Also coined as Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD) by some experts, the condition is comparable to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with similar symptoms, such as numbness, flashbacks, and emotional and functional dysregulation. [1] The condition is highly prevalent, with up to 60% of people developing the symptoms following betrayal from their partner. [2]

Betrayal from a trusted partner can easily induce severe instability in any relationship as a normal reaction to an abnormal event. However, the condition often lingers on with a tendency to cause bidirectional consequences and lifelong impacts similar to PTSD. Fortunately, PTSD after affairs is manageable with the proper guidance and support.

Symptoms & Impacts of Post Traumatic Infidelity Syndrome

PISD and PTSD share many similar symptoms, often leading to the following issues in the cheated partner:

  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Experiencing intrusive thoughts on repeat
  • Out-of-body experiences
  • Overwhelming feelings of being broken and powerless
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Constant switching between retaliating and going numb
  • Using blame to regain self-worth

Secondary to the PTSD cheating symptoms mentioned above, many people develop long-term impacts, as explained below.

Sleep-Related Issues

Many people struggling with PTSD from infidelity find themselves struggling to sleep. These sleep issues arise from their constant hypervigilance and repeated bouts of negative thoughts surrounding their relationships. Some may develop erratic sleep patterns, further fueling their fears and negative emotions.

Shifts in Personality & Interests

As individuals struggle to cope with PTSD from cheating, they may find themselves losing interest in their previously enjoyed hobbies. In some cases, the persistent preoccupation with the negative events related to infidelity triggers personality changes, such as social withdrawal, isolation, and distraction. Most of these changes are an attempt by the victim to safeguard themselves from feeling the pain again; however, these behaviors end up fueling the underlying issues.

Trust Issues

Trust issues form one of the most apparent and significant impacts of post-infidelity stress disorder. As the most critical aspect of a relationship, trust is easy to break, and once broken, it can easily make any relationship meaningless. Many people with PISD often struggle to trust others in the future due to the ongoing turmoil and pain due to their last betrayal.

Constriction & Avoidance

Many people attempt to inhibit feelings, thoughts, and activities linked with betrayal, a phenomenon called constriction. Some common examples of constriction include practicing detachment, withdrawing from people, feeling numb, losing interest in hobbies, and avoiding previously enjoyable things. One of the many reasons why people lean on constriction is their wish to not deal with anything associated with their trauma. Constriction is usually temporary and may seem to provide relief to a betrayed partner. However, it can also severely hinder the process of overcoming this trauma and its effects. To heal from PISD, emotional integration is crucial, which cannot take place as long as a person keeps practicing constriction and avoidant behaviors. Consequently, this helpful behavior may keep people stuck in their infidelity PTSD for years before they can finally overcome it.


Hyperarousal describes a state of being highly alert and sensitive at all times, even in the absence of a threat. It is a common effect noticed in people whose partners have betrayed as they continue to remain super alert and sensitive to respond to any threat that comes their way. Hyperarousal can be emotional and physical, with the following common manifestations:

  • Frequent outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Struggle to fall asleep
  • Drastic changes in eating patterns in the absence of any other cause
  • Being easily startled by sounds

Many people with hyperarousal as a part of post traumatic infidelity syndrome experience intense feelings which cause further damage if not managed properly. A common response to hyperarousal is hypervigilance, in which a betrayed partner is always on the lookout for signs of any further danger. Hypervigilance can make people act like detectives as they are always looking at the smallest of details, Experian paranoia, and adopting a nagging behavior to protect themselves from any more trauma.

Remember that all the experiences mentioned above are normal reactions to a stressful experience. However, they tend to cause prolonged pain and may lead to further negative consequences if not managed properly.

Managing PTSD From Cheating: What Support Options are Available?

Post traumatic infidelity syndrome is not a recognized psychiatric disorder; however, many formal treatment options are available to manage the associated symptoms. [3] Some of these treatment options are explained below:

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring focuses on a traumatized person’s rigid feelings, behaviors, and thoughts and slowly replaces them with more flexible ones. The aim is to address the narrative of infidelity for a person through graded exposure so that it does not overpower them. The exposure techniques used in cognitive restructuring make a betrayed individual focus on infidelity instead of learning how to avoid it, which, in turn, speeds up the process.

Trauma-Informed Care

One of the most popular ways to approach PISD is through trauma-informed care, which aims to improve the self-confidence of a betrayed individual. Moreover, this technique also gives them a chance to explore how trauma has impacted their emotions and thought processes. Trauma-informed care takes place in supervised sessions where a qualified expert helps clients understand how infidelity affected their relationship in addition to thinking about its causes, precipitating factors, and techniques to move forward for both partners.

Couples/Family Therapy

Couples therapy is an essential part of post traumatic infidelity syndrome management for both partners to understand and process the trauma and its impacts while learning how to move forward amicably. In cases where children are involved, family therapy is a more appropriate choice as it also includes children who can quickly become victims of witnessing infidelity and its impacts on one or both of their parents.


Sometimes, PTSD from cheating can induce severe symptoms in betrayed partners for which medication may be needed. The choice of starting a psychiatric medication and the right choice and dose is best determined by a qualified health professional. However, some commonly used drug classes include the following:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Anti-anxiety medications

Lifestyle Modifications to Cope With Post Infidelity Stress Disorder

In addition to seeking professional help, incorporating the following coping strategies in everyday life can significantly help with infidelity PTSD symptom management:

Stop Self-Blame

Self-blaming is a common phenomenon for someone who has been cheated on. Remember that this behavior only puts more burden on your mind and makes healing harder. Remind yourself that you cannot control your partner’s behaviors and decisions, and use this thought to disconnect yourself from what they do and its consequences.

Invest in Self-Care

Self-care is an essential part of healthy living for everyone but becomes particularly important for people experiencing PTSD after infidelity. While the concept of self-care may be challenging to understand, it involves basic activities, such as sleeping well, regularly exercising, eating healthy food, going for a walk, or connecting with a close friend or family member.

Participate in Structured Activities 

PTSD related to infidelity often pushes people into a state of constant fear and confusion. To get out of this state, experts suggest planning structured activities at scheduled times to divert the mind and thoughts. While it may be challenging to engage in these activities at first, most people soon get into a rhythm that provides a base to counterbalance and control the chaos in their minds.

Set a Window for Worry

PTSD coming from any source, including infidelity, is bound to make a person stressed. However, it is imperative to confine these feelings of stress and worry so they do not consume the entire day. For this purpose, experts recommend fixing a specific duration of time to ruminate, focus on emotions, and recalibrate. Once this window is over, set a boundary and focus on other things that need time and attention.

Develop a Mourning Ritual 

Experts highly recommend developing a morning ritual to mourn the past self to achieve therapeutic benefits. Doing so also helps victims develop and reinforce self-compassion, speeding up the healing process. The morning ritual can involve anything, such as lighting a candle, burning an old photo, or drawing a picture of the past and present.

Get Social Support

Reaching out to friends, co-workers, and family members can be a good way to safely get past a state of crisis. Therapists can also provide support to people with no social ties. Alternatively, many community groups and service centers, such as Infidelity Survivors Anonymous, are constantly working to bring together victims so that they can support each other.

Maintain a Healthy Balance

Balancing social and personal life is imperative for everyone fighting with the impacts of infidelity in a relationship. While overcoming social withdrawal by meeting family and friends is crucial, one must always remember to invest time in personal care, such as focusing on sleep, cooking, or meditating.


Can you get PTSD from being cheated on?

Not everyone who suffers from betrayal from a partner will develop symptoms of PTSD. The risk highly varies from one person to another. Some people are naturally more vulnerable to developing PTSD symptoms than others, such as the following:

  • People with past history of abuse or trauma
  • People struggling with codependency
  • People with a generally negative perception of themselves, others, and the world
  • People with poor self-esteem
  • People with pre-existing trust issues
  • People with dependent personalities

Are there any infidelity PTSD triggers?

The triggers for OTSD from infidelity can vary from one person to another based on their individual experiences. In general, anything that reminds someone of their partner’s cheating can act as a trigger for the underlying symptoms. Some examples include seeing the person whom the partner cheated with or finding any of their belongings in your house.

What is double betrayal, and can it cause a more severe form of PISD?

Double betrayal occurs when someone cheats on their partner with a third member who is the latter’s close friend or family member. In such a situation, the betrayed individual loses trust in two close people in their life, often magnifying the severity of symptoms and consequent effects.

Does previous trauma increase the risk of developing PTSD cheating symptoms?

Research shows that people with previous trauma are more likely to develop PTSD symptoms following an attempt at betrayal from their partner. While such people have developed coping mechanisms to deal with their pre-existing trauma, they may not be sufficient to help them deal with this new traumatic event of betrayal.

Can the duration of infidelity determine the severity of PISD?

Studies have shown finding out about an active relationship betrayal that has been going on for months can affect a partner more deeply and can be much harder to heal from. On the other hand, a quicker confession of an affair coupled with an expression of remorse and an urge to help the betrayed partner recover has the best chance of recovery.


[1] Ortman DC. Transcending post-infidelity stress disorder: The six stages of healing. Celestial Arts; 2009 Apr 28.

[2] Lonergan M, Brunet A, Rivest‐Beauregard M, Groleau D. Is romantic partner betrayal a form of traumatic experience? A qualitative study. Stress and Health. 2021 Feb;37(1):19-31.

[3] Padmavathi N, Sunitha TS, Jothimani G. Post infidelity stress disorder. Indian Journal of Psychiatric Nursing. 2013 Jan 1;5(1):56-9.

Get in Touch for Help