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What Is Infidelity And How Does Recovery Start?

Andrew D. Castillo, LCSW, MSW

Trust and a sense of safety are the foundations of a healthy, long-lasting relationship. When those foundations are undermined, the impacts can be devastating. Betrayed partners are often left with a multitude of questions; Why did this happen? What does this mean for the future? How do I recover from this? Offending partners may wonder how they can rebuild what has been lost, and even what led them to this point. While there are no easy answers, education and understanding are important steps to moving forward. 

The Different Forms Of Infidelity

According to Marissa Moore, LPC, infidelity can involve “Any sexual or emotional affairs with someone outside the relationship agreement you have with your partner.” Although we may have a certain perception of what infidelity looks like, it’s important to note there are many forms these violations can take. Cyber affairs, including the use of pornography and brief online engagements with persons we have never actually met, can constitute violations of trust for some couples. Similarly, an emotional affair, one where we establish an intimate connection with someone outside of our relationship, can be a form of infidelity, particularly if we turn to them instead of our partner to navigate life issues. It is also important to mention that infidelity/violations of a relationship agreement can occur in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships. 

Why Does Infidelity Occur?

The reasons for infidelity can be multifaceted. According to a 2019 study of 500 heterosexual persons with a history of engaging in infidelity, several factors, including a desire to boost self-esteem (57 percent), feelings of neglect in the relationship (70 percent), and unmet sexual desire (32 percent) were noted. Additionally, acts of infidelity are not always premeditated, and can be situational, or driven by open opportunity. Prolonged periods apart, such as traveling for work or being in the military, lower the risk of getting caught, and can contribute to impulsive choices. 

How Does Infidelity Impact A Relationship?

The impact of infidelity can be devastating for relationships. Affairs outside of the relationship agreement undermine the foundation of trust that makes up our relationships. People who experience infidelity will often begin questioning the entire history of their relationship and looking for other potential lapses in trust. Betrayed partners can experience a trauma response, akin to symptoms of post-traumatic stress, including self-blame, shame, and significant emotional distress when encountering reminders of infidelity. There can also be negative impacts for the unfaithful partners, such as higher rates of anxiety and depression, overwhelming guilt, and a sense of feeling helpless in the relationship. 

What Can Be Done?

It is important to mention that, in some cases, the damage from infidelity can be irreparable. While continued recovery is possible individually, partners may feel that they can no longer continue alongside each other. That said, many partnerships can, and do, recover from the pain, and are able to move forward in their relationship. Rebuilding trust and safety in the relationship is vital to rebuilding a healthy relationship. Transparency from the offending partner is a necessary step toward this, but according to Dr. Margaret Rutherford, “The truth rarely comes out all at once. The story emerges slowly.” Individual and joint counseling can be important in navigating the process of atonement and recovery. It is also important to recognize and respond to problems that existed in the relationship prior to the affair, including deficits in communication and conflict management. This is not to suggest that the betrayed partner was responsible for the infidelity, but in order to move forward in their new relationship, it is vital that couples explore what was not working in their relationship.

Recovery following infidelity can be a painful and uncertain process, but with support and knowledge, it is a navigable journey. If you’re struggling with infidelity in your relationship, and you’d like someone to talk to, contact Symmetry Counseling today to get paired with a skilled Chicago therapist.

Citations:

Connolly, Owen. “The Impact of Infidelity on Relationships.” Connolly Counselling Centre, Swan Consulting, 3 Oct. 2019, https://www.counsellor.ie/the-impact-of-infidelity-on-relationships/.

DiDonato, Theresa E. “The 8 Main Reasons Why People Cheat.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 18 Oct. 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meet-catch-and-keep/201910/the-8-main-reasons-why-people-cheat.

Lue, Natalie. “When You’re Accused of Cheating.” Baggage Reclaim with Natalie Lue, 2 Mar. 2022, https://www.baggagereclaim.co.uk/when-youre-accused-of-cheating/.

Matejko, Sonya. “How to Create Emotional Safety in a Relationship: 7 Tips.” Psych Central, Psych Central, 26 July 2021, https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-do-you-create-emotional-safety-in-your-relationships.

Moore, Marissa. “Long-Term Psychological Effects of Infidelity: What the Research Says.” Psych Central, Psych Central, 29 Oct. 2021, https://psychcentral.com/health/long-term-psychological-effects-of-infidelity.

Nesenoff, David. “How an Affair Impacts Your Marriage.” Tikvah Lake Florida, 6 June 2021, https://www.tikvahlake.com/blog/how-an-affair-impacts-your-marriage/.

Rutherford, Dr. Margaret. “Practical, Science-Based Steps to Heal from an Affair.” The Gottman Institute, Https://Www.gottman.com Working through an Affair Is Tough. It Takes Tremendous Energy and Vulnerability on Both Sides., 17 Mar. 2021, https://www.gottman.com/blog/practical-science-based-steps-to-heal-from-an-affair/

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