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Aug. 3, 2021

Emotional Trauma: Why Cheating in a Relationship Hurts

Emotional Trauma: Why Cheating in a Relationship Hurts

Learning that you have been cheated on in a relationship can cause emotional trauma and pain that can last a long time. Hear a personal story of recovery.

Discovering someone is cheating in a relationship can be so painful that it causes long lasting emotional trauma. In today’s show - I want to talk about the trauma that happens after you have learned you have been cheated on. We call that betrayal trauma and listen, there are a few things more painful in life than discovering the one you are in love with the one you trusted with your soul, that person that you really care about has been out there being unfaithful. I get lots of emails from friends on social media that asked me if they have PTSD because they've been cheated on in their relationships. I must tell them that other criteria need to be met for a post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.


So, when someone has betrayed your trust, it can feel like someone rammed, a sharp knife into your heart and twisted it until your spirit just leaked all over the ground. if you've ever been betrayed by your lover, if you've ever been cheated on, then you know exactly how deep that wound can feel. It doesn't matter if you found out your boyfriend's cheating, your husband, your wife, girlfriend, or whoever. It's all extremely painful, no matter what the circumstances. Now, just a fast disclaimer before I get started, this podcast isn't meant to replace mental health counselling. I'm not your personal therapist.

This Anxiety Therapist Podcast episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. get 10% Off the first month of therapy using the above link. 

Show Highlights

In this episode you will hear the following:

  • Why cheating hurts so bad
  • How to get over an emotional affair
  • Frank shares his story of an ex-girlfriend
  • 5 stages of grief for relationship and death.

Emotional trauma from cheating in a relationship.

Being Cheated on in a Relationship is Painful


Oh no, relationship betrayal. It's one of the most common issues I've seen while working in my private practice. Trust me-the sessions are never fun because the pain someone carries after being cheated on can sometimes feel unbearable. Now look, before I go forward, I just want to say that this episode today isn't about shaming people who have been unfaithful in their relationship. Nope. We're not going there because that's not me. Since, everybody has skeletons in their closet. Nobody's perfect. Now having said that there are a lot of symptoms that go along with this when someone's been betrayed. There is everything from anxiety to depression, to stress. And I want to talk about some of the more common symptoms I've seen and share a little bit about my story, what happened with me and how I moved on from it? 

Okay. So back in my 20s, when I was in undergraduate school, which wasn't that long ago. I met this girl at college, and she was awesome because she lit everything up for me. This girl was beautiful. She was funny. She was witty. In fact, she was an actress so when we were dating, there were never boring times she always had something funny to say. Well, after dating for a while, we hit it off well. We decided to move in together. Together we rented this small little studio on the north side of Chicago. And for a few months, things were going fantastic. Well, after about a year of living with her and dating with her and everything in my mind seemed like things were going okay. For whatever reason, she decided that she needed to kind of step out of the relationship and start seeing other people.

Learning You Have Been Cheated On

I mean, she was having flings all over the place and I had no clue that this was going on. Now I could easily blame that on the fact that she's an actress and she needed attention, but I'm not going to over-generalize that way. All I can tell you is I was in love with this girl, and I wanted to be with her. In fact, I thought we might even have a chance at getting married. So when I discovered this, I was really, really hurt. I can't even tell you the pain I went through. And some of the symptoms that I went through are very close to trauma. In fact, I'll just say it right now it was a trauma. Here is what it felt like: betrayal, sadness, misery and shock.

Okay. For me, the first thing that I experienced was this denial. And this goes back to Elizabeth Kubler Ross's stages of grief. For me, I just couldn't accept that this person I was in love with that. I had just shared all these memories and moments with, was out there cheating on me. And my first kind of reaction to this was no this can't be true she's not doing this. But the reality was she was doing it. And at one point I had to learn to accept it, but that took a while. Now next came this issue where I started to experience all this self-doubt, and maybe you can relate to this, but this is where you start to get to a place where you start thinking, what could I have done differently? And it's almost as if you're blaming yourself. working with many patients who have been betrayed in the relationship, I noticed this same kind of dynamic. In a unique way I can relate to it because I know what they've went through. I know what they're kind of experiencing, but it still hurts. 

A cheating husband hurts.


So after I went through that denial part, I sunk into this pretty deep depression. And for me personally, I didn't want to go out and talk with other people. I really didn't feel like going to the gym. I didn't feel like engaging in the everyday activities that I used to enjoy. It was a bad depression and working with other patients I- again, I'd seen this where after they discovered they've been cheated on and after they go through that denial stage, they go into this kind of rut where they're just not feeling like themselves.

Some of them, it gets so bad that they need to go talk to someone for some help. And listen, if you're out there and you are, somebody who's been cheated on, there is no shame in getting help to hold all that emotion inside and just let it sit there without coming out. It's going to find a way to bubble. And sometimes it can be cathartic to actually let yourself cry to accept what happened and let yourself feel those emotions. I know it's different for everyone. This takes time. This isn't going to happen overnight. It's a process. 

Relationship Stages of Grief

 Well, next I went through this numbness, which kind of turned into an anger stage, and when I got to the anger stage, I kicked her out. I said, look, get your stuff I'll never forget it, it was on Christmas. I said you need to get your stuff and get out of here.

Now that's not to say that if you're in a relationship or to someone who has been unfaithful to you, that you must break up with them. No, everyone does this differently. I work with couples who end up working things out, but this is just my personal experience. I kicked her to the curb and that's because I was in this anger stage, and I couldn't stand to be around her. And in fact, my feelings at that point during this depression and this numbness stage were such that I couldn't even feel again, the only thing I could feel was being angry.

If you're going through this and you are angry, I would recommend to you that you please don't get into any kind of behaviors that are going to get you in trouble. In other words, don't go out there and get in fights and screaming matches, or try to self-medicate this with a bunch of booze or pills. That's just not a healthy way to do it, but do allow yourself to express your feelings, to feel your feelings, and let them out. 

Emotional Trauma from Cheating Last a Long Time

I just want to say that there is no textbook example on how to handle a grief like this, a loss in your relationship. I don't care what anybody tells you. There isn't a magic bullet that helps you get over an ex who cheated on you. A lot of it has to do with your own personal experiences growing up. If you're somebody who has already had trauma in their life, maybe from another relationship or maybe attachment issues with your own parents growing up, this is going to affect you a little differently than somebody else. It's completely subjective. It depends on the person. Again, a lot of the symptoms can be similar though. It's just how intense you feel them based on the individual. 

 After I went through this denial and then this anger stage then came this stage where I felt anxious. And this is a part where I was worried about trying to get into other relationships. Wondering was the same thing going to happen. Now I don't know about you, but for a lot of people that I work with, their instinct is to go out there and rush to get involved in another relationship. Now, I don't want to say that this is always wrong, but I can tell you what I've seen happen a lot. For a lot of people, they run out there and they try to pick up the pieces.

If you can imagine throwing a deck of cards on the floor and the cards are all over the place, and then trying to quickly pick them up, put them all back together, and put them back into the box. That's what a lot of people try to do. But the problem that happens is some of these people rush out and then they start to date someone, and they project onto that other person, all the things that they wish they had in the other relationship that they were in.

So what happens is it starts off hot and heavy, and then they might even feel like they're deeply in love. We would call this a rebound. So, they feel like they're deeply in love and they completely ignore all the red flags. So they end up getting into a similar type of relationship with the kind that they were in before. And then it ends up crashing and burning. So, I went through this process when I was in my 20s, I was a freshman or a sophomore in college, and I didn't have the wisdom and experience that I have now. And the same thing happened. I went out there,

I tried dating other women. And then I had attached to a couple of them and think, oh yeah, this is the right one. Maybe this is even my soul mate. Only to find out that after the initial high kind of wore off. And I was seeing only what I wanted to see that this person wasn't the right woman in this case, in my life. Then I needed to ease up and allow myself to continue feeling the grief for a while. 

Because the problem is it's like you lead somebody else on into thinking that you're so deeply in love with them or that you care about them so much. And that might be true, but there's a voice in the back of the head that says, oh, well, hey, maybe this is a little too quick. Maybe I don't feel this way about the person because I haven't given myself the time to experience the grief from the last relationship. Here's why it's so important to allow yourself to feel that grief and to heal a little bit. 

How I Got Over My Relationship After Being Cheated On

For me, about six, seven months after I had broken up with this girl, and everything was destroyed, and it was all over the place. I started dating this other girl and it wasn't long before all these issues started to come up. Where I started to doubt her where I was thinking in the back of my mind that she was out there cheating on me or that she was out there talking to other people. And let me tell you, there is nothing more unattractive than someone who's overly jealous and constantly making accusations. Now, this was a part of my own trauma, and maybe you can kind of relate to this.

So if you're going through this, it's really important to be with yourself and think with yourself well, what's motivating me to make these accusations or what's motivating my behavior. And if you conclude that you haven't given yourself enough time to deal with the pain from the last relationship, then, you know, you're onto something here.

So eventually I ended it with this other girl I was rebounding with. I mean, look, she didn't deserve to have me project on to her, all my issues and all my baggage from the last relationship. She was better than that and she deserved better. And looking back at it, I'm really glad I did because I know she moved on with her life. She met someone else, and she eventually got married and she's got kids and she's happy today. In the end, I didn't want to make my problems, her problems.

You're probably wondering, well, how did I get over this girl? Well, it wasn't easy. It took time, now because I lived with this girl in that studio apartment at the time, that meant she was gone, but all the memories, all the surroundings that were there when we shared the place together were always a trigger for me. My solution at the time was to just disappear for a while. I bought a ticket to somewhere I won't even mention another part of the world. And I disappeared. I went there for two or three weeks and allowed myself to see new experiences, enjoy new things, pamper myself a little bit because I needed a reset in my life.

Disappearing for a While After Being Cheated On

Now, look, if you're out there, I'm not telling you that you need to run away. That's not the answer because wherever you go, your problems are going to go with you. But for me, what this meant was this mental reset as I said. to allow myself to experience new things and then come back and look at life a little bit different. And when I got back, I changed up my studio. I made it look different with different furnishings. And I made myself in the mindset that I was going to take things slow and start over again.

That meant dating, but not looking to get serious if something happened that was great, and I'd follow along with it. but I wasn't going to allow myself to attach on to the first woman that I started dating. Again, that would've gotten me right back into that loophole where I'm getting into another dysfunctional relationship.

All right. before I move forward and talk about the stages of grief, I want to tell you how this ultimately ended. So about 20 years after this relationship ended, this girl was living out in Los Angeles. She's an actress now, and she's doing her thing, but she called me on the phone, and she called me just to say, she's sorry for what happened for what she did in the relationship. And she stepped out and we had a good conversation about it. And it's fine now. Now for me, that felt good to get some vindication, nearly 20 years later.

But for you, you might never get the vindication. You might never know the reason and that's okay. So long as you're allowing yourself to heal and you will heal, but this isn't going to be an overnight process. 

The Grief Process

So next I want to talk about the stages of grief. If you've ever taken an intro to psychology class, or you've taken psychology class in college, you're probably familiar with Elizabeth Kubler Ross's stages of grief.

The way I remembered it was DABDA which stands for denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. All right, that first one denial is very likely to happen If you go through a situation where you've been cheated on. I talked a little bit about my own experience. Now, these stages are not, everything is all in a row it's not one after another. You can actually vacillate in between each one. 

So after this denial, his anger, and this is when you become so intense, you're so upset over what the other person did or at the other person that it's just hard to contain your feelings. And again, this is where you need to allow yourself to feel that anger and do something with it in a responsible way, an emotionally responsible way.

And if that means letting yourself cry, that's what it means. If that means going out there and, working out really hard, then that's what it means. But try to do it in a way that is at least controllable and that you're not going to hurt anyone else.

The third stage is bargaining, and bargaining is when you might say, oh God, please, please, please don't let this be true- I'll do anything- Just please fix the relationship so that it never happened. This is very normal. Again, you will see this kind of stage when someone passes away because there is grief, there is a loss. The next stage is depression. Now depression is something that a lot of people deal with because of being cheated on or being betrayed. Although it's not part of this anxiety is very much part of it, right? Anxious about meeting other people, insecure about yourself. So you become anxious that you're not doing good enough. Or maybe you don't look good enough. These are all normal symptoms. Having said that, learning how to accept anxiety can be really useful.

Finally, is acceptance. Now for me personally, it took me maybe two years to completely get over this ex-girlfriend. When I say acceptance, I mean to the point where I could say, okay, this happened, there isn't any future with this person and I'm in a place where I can be healthy and date someone else. Now it's different for everyone.

Everyone's going to have this subjective experience where they handled this acceptance part differently. All right. 'm just going to give some parting thoughts on this subject of betrayal trauma. And these are things you can do to start some self-care, start taking care of yourself. First, again, realize that there is no textbook there is no magic bullet that you're going to be able to take or some sort of concoction that you're going to be able to do that you'll instantly be over it. That's just not realistic.

The first thing is you want to give yourself some space so that you can feel your emotions again. This might take a little while but allow that to happen. Second is you might want to go out and just write down one thing, one single thing that you enjoy doing and try to do that activity every day. It doesn't matter if it's doing artwork or if it's going on bike rides or hiking or working out or baking. whatever it is, allow yourself to do that one thing every day, that's special to you. And the reason why you might want to do this is it starts to build up your self-esteem, it starts to be this thing that you can connect with within yourself again.

All right, next, after you've kind of taken this time out for yourself and you're doing something at least one thing for yourself, allow yourself to talk with others. Talk with family members, talk with your friends again. Maybe at one point, you might even eventually start wanting to go out and hang out with people again. If you've got these emotions inside, there is no shame and going to therapy to just talk about your feelings. And most of all, letting those feelings out. It can feel so good to just have that release, that mental and emotional release. 

Another thing that I would highly recommend, and I mean, highly recommend is to stay the hell off social media. I mean, think about it for a moment. When you look on Instagram or Facebook or any other of these social media apps, everybody is always happy. They're always projecting the perfect life and the perfect body and how much fun they're having. And the truth is it just isn't that way all the time. Now, this goes back to Albert Bandura's social learning theory, and that is this idea that we learn from others. But the problem with social media is that it's not always accurate. Nobody's always that happy. By looking at this, you may compare yourself and think that you should be feeling that way when you're not allowing yourself that time to feel sad. It's totally okay. 

One of the other ways that you can start to move forward is to challenge some of the negative thoughts that you're more than likely going to experience. Some thoughts that would go like this, I'm never going to be able to meet anyone again, or I'll never be happy again. When you start to notice these thoughts, write them down because you're going to want to challenge them. The fact of the matter is there is no evidence to support that. You're never going to be able to meet anyone again. In fact, if you look at it, the evidence is to the contrary, the evidence is you've met people in the past, you've dated before. There is every reason to believe that you're going to be able to meet someone and move forward with your life when you're ready. That's the keyword. When you're ready. This is due to the fact getting over an ex takes patience.

Now, finally, to button all this up, make sure you're practicing self-care specifically sleep. You want to be able to get enough sleep so that your mind and body can restore so that you can face the next day and not feel so stressed out and be able to engage in some of the everyday activities that you enjoy. Okay, that's all I have for today's episode. 

I want to take a moment out to say thank you for everyone who's been listening in and especially leaving me feedback and reviews on some of the apps. It really means a lot to me to know that some of my experiences, some of the work that I've done can help other people. You can reach me by going to the website From there you can follow on social media. You can write me an email and there's a new feature where you can click the button and leave a voicemail. I might even be able to share it, on the Anxiety Therapist Podcast show. 

Just remember if you've been in a situation where you've been cheated on and someone betrayed your trust, allow yourself the time to heal. experience those feelings, that feeling of sadness, and allow yourself the time to move forward. And I promise you, it's going to take some time, but you will heal. As human beings we are resilient creatures we can make it through tough times and you can too. The difficulty of getting over an ex who has made the decision to cheat on you is never easy. With enough time, we can recover from emotional trauma.