When you read about PTSD, most of the time, we automatically link it to the military. While that is true…there are plenty of other reasons that PTSD occurs. It happens to people with histories of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, etc…but I think that most people would say the symptoms of infidelity are very similar.
Here are the DSM-5 criteria for PTSD…Lets look at the first criteria: Stressor-The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, as follows: (one required).
Witnessing, in person.
Indirectly, by learning that a close relative or close friend was exposed to trauma. If the event involved actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental.
Repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). This does not include indirect non-professional exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures.
Now discovering infidelity doesn’t fall into any of these categories, but most people would consider it a significant stressor. Discovering the person you built a life and family with, someone you have spent nearly 24 hours a day with for the past one, ten, fifty years is likely going to cause significant levels of distress.
Lets see criterion number two: The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in the following way(s): (one required)
Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive memories. Note: Children older than six may express this symptom in repetitive play. Most people say that the memories are very recurrent. People don’t choose to remember them (involuntary) and most people say they occur in absolutely any situation….walking down the street, driving in the car, eating dinner, etc…
Traumatic nightmares. Note: Children may have frightening dreams without content related to the trauma(s). I’ve heard many people talk about the nightmares they have re-living the discovery of their significant others infidelity
Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) which may occur on a continuum from brief episodes to complete loss of consciousness. Note: Children may reenact the event in play. I haven’t heard of anyone losing consciousness, but I’ve heard people having flashbacks to the point that it feels like they are right in it all over again
Intense or prolonged distress after exposure to traumatic reminders. Many people report ongoing and intense distress
Marked physiologic reactivity after exposure to trauma-related stimuli. Definitely, people have reported physiological reactions after going to places that remind them of their significant other.
Persistent effortful avoidance of distressing trauma-related stimuli after the event: (one required)
Trauma-related thoughts or feelings. Many people try to avoid thinking and feeling after discovering infidelity…that’s why many turn to substances to numb the pain.
Trauma-related external reminders (e.g., people, places, conversations, activities, objects, or situations). Absolutely, haven’t you ever heard of someone running away and moving to a new state after discovering infidelity? They do this because of all these reminders.
Next, negative alterations in cognition and mood
Negative alterations in cognitions and mood that began or worsened after the traumatic event: (two required)
Inability to recall key features of the traumatic event (usually dissociative amnesia; not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs). I’ve never heard of this happening, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t
Persistent (and often distorted) negative beliefs and expectations about oneself or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “The world is completely dangerous”). Does “men are evil” “people aren’t trustworthy” “guys will always cheat” count?
Persistent distorted blame of self or others for causing the traumatic event or for resulting consequences. People often blame their partner (which is justified) but moreso even, people frequently blame themselves for not noticing or realizing sooner
Persistent negative trauma-related emotions (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame). Absolutely
Markedly diminished interest in (pre-traumatic) significant activities. There is definitely a mourning period that people report…lack of desire to do anything, even leave their house
Feeling alienated from others (e.g., detachment or estrangement). People frequently report feeling disconnected and as though no one can understand them after discovering infidelity
Constricted affect: persistent inability to experience positive emotions. Many people report a fear of happiness or an inability to experience genuine positive emotions
Next, Alterations in arousal and reactivity
Trauma-related alterations in arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the traumatic event: (two required)
Irritable or aggressive behavior People describe feeling irritable and bursts of rage, however, most don’t act upon these feelings.
Self-destructive or reckless behavior Although this is less commonly reported, many people report self-destructive relationships in an attempt to gain revenge or avoid distressing emotions
Hypervigilance Not that I have heard of
Exaggerated startle response Not that I have heard of
Problems in concentration People mention difficulties focusing and not being distracted by painful memories
Sleep disturbance Difficulty falling asleep, nightmares, desire to sleep for long periods of time…all of these have been reported
Duration: at least one month Most people report a recovery time of significantly longer than one month
Functional significance: Significant symptom-related distress or functional impairment (e.g., social, occupational). I definitely think significant social impairment occurs and occupational due to difficulties in concentration and emotion regulation
So basically, in my eyes, the symptomatology after being cheated on is very related to PTSD. Just some light thoughts for the day…..ponder this.