Understanding What Infidelity Does To A Marriage

Updated April 8, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Infidelity can have many effects on your marriage. Perhaps the emotional or physical connection to your spouse has been floundering for a while. You may be considering an affair to meet your needs or recently discovered your partner's betrayal. Read on to explore what infidelity does to a marriage, common reasons people are unfaithful, tips to save the relationship, and how therapy can offer support and guidance at every step of the healing process. 

Getty
Do you wonder how infidelity could affect your marriage?

What is infidelity?

People use many terms to describe infidelity. Whether you call it cheating, betrayal, or unfaithfulness, the result is usually the same—one partner seeks and finds an emotional or physical connection with someone other than their spouse. It can be helpful to have a conversation early in your relationship to set the boundaries for what each of you considers cheating

Different forms of infidelity:

  • Sexual—A sexual or physical connection between one partner and someone outside the marriage which may or may not involve an emotional bond.  
  • Emotional—Establishing an emotional connection or intimacy with someone who isn’t your spouse.  
  • Cyber—Exchanging calls, texts, videos, or digital messaging of a sexual nature with a person outside the marriage.  
  • Object—Showing more care and attention to an object (like your phone) than you do to your partner.  
  • Financial—Hiding or lying about your spending, earning, lending, or debt from your partner, even though it affects them too.  
  • Micro-Cheating—Small actions, such as flirting after your partner asks you not to, that make your spouse uncomfortable but don’t necessarily cross the line into unfaithfulness.  

How infidelity can affect your marriage

Cheating can create substantial distress and conflict in your marriage. You and your spouse will likely experience numerous emotions—some of them conflicting—and struggle to repair the damaged relationship. Explore the various ways infidelity could affect your marriage.  

“Love is commonly a source of much pleasure and fulfillment. However, as this review points out, it can also cause stress, heartache and may even be traumatic in some circumstances. Infidelity, which is relatively common in Western culture, can damage a loving, romantic relationship to the point of its demise.” — Love and Infidelity: Causes and Consequences

Trust issues

If your spouse was unfaithful, you may find it difficult to trust them or believe what they tell you about where they go and who they see. You may have trouble trusting them not to cheat again or worry that you cannot meet their physical and emotional needs. You trusted them to keep infidelity out of your marriage, and that didn’t work out as planned, so what do you do now?

Many people feel the betrayal and deception of the affair are often more damaging than the knowledge that their partner has been physically intimate with another person. You may think that you don't know your partner. If they could hurt you like this, what else could they do? Fortunately, these feelings are likely temporary, and you can overcome them with time and consistent effort from both partners to strengthen the relationship. Allow your partner to rebuild trust with changed behavior and honest communication.

Getty

Insecurity

If your spouse strayed outside the marriage, you might feel insecure about many things. Common insecurities after infidelity relate to your body, the strength of the relationship, your outlook on love, being able to trust anyone who knew about the affair, how committed your partner is to the marriage, or how you can move forward after betrayal.  

Post-infidelity stress disorder

Discovering that your partner cheated can be a traumatic experience for many people. Psychologists have introduced post-infidelity stress disorder as a variant of post-traumatic stress disorder to help explain the psychological symptoms often occurring after unfaithfulness

Tension and disharmony in your home

If you and your partner share children, the tension and stress between you will likely reflect in your home's family dynamic and emotional environment. This disharmony can affect your children, causing distress and potentially shaping their views of “normal” relationship behavior. 

Grief

Loss can take many forms, and you may experience some or all of the stages of grief as you process your feelings related to infidelity in your marriage. Remember that your feelings are valid.

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Changes to your brain chemistry

Studies show that cheating can become addictive because the neurotransmitter dopamine is linked to feelings like pleasure, reward, and sexual gratification. Your brain may struggle to differentiate between love, sex, and drugs when it comes to addiction

Mental health conditions

If your adverse emotional reactions to infidelity linger for more than two weeks and cause significant distress to the point that it impairs your functional ability in one or more areas of your life, you may want to speak to your doctor or mental health provider about evaluation for mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. 

Can a marriage be saved after infidelity?

In many cases, yes, you can save the marriage after infidelity. However, it usually requires dedicated, committed efforts from both partners to reshape behavior patterns and rebuild the damaged trust, communication, and emotional intimacy. 

  • Identify and address the underlying issues.
  • Give yourself time and space to feel what you feel.
  • Acknowledge and reshape unhealthy patterns.
  • Forgive transgressions and move on together.
  • Maintain honest communication and check in with each other.
  • Reach out for professional help.

Why do people cheat?

Given the pain and disruption infidelity often causes, many people wonder why people do it. There are many reasons a person may be unfaithful to their spouse. Numerous psychological studies and surveys provided the following motivations for cheating. 

“Prevalence rates for infidelity in American marriages range from 20% to 40%. Infidelity couples who remained married did not differ in marital stability or relationship satisfaction from non-infidelity couples. Furthermore, couples who remained married reported an increase in relationship satisfaction over time, regardless of infidelity status. ” — American Psychological Association

Anger, resentment, or revenge

If one partner is angry at their spouse for whatever reason, they may choose to inflict pain by cheating.

Low self-esteem and decreased attention from partner

The need to feel desirable and attractive can lead to infidelity if your partner isn’t providing that attention and ego boost. 

Lack of love or intimacy in the marriage

Some people have affairs because they desire emotional connection, and their spouse isn’t engaging with them or meeting that need. 

Rawpixel
Do you wonder how infidelity could affect your marriage?

Previous habits of cheating

While it may be cliché, studies show that someone with a history of infidelity is three times as likely to cheat again.

Commitment issues

Monogamous relationships can be difficult for some people, and they may struggle to commit to a single person. 

Sexual addiction

If your partner has a sexual addiction, they may seek sexual activity when it’s available without regard to their commitment to you. 

Lack of sexual compatibility

People grow and change with time, and often their bodies and sex drives change as well. If you and your partner are no longer sexually compatible, it could lead to one of you seeking to meet your sexual needs outside the marriage. Some couples use consent and communication to negotiate ways to meet their partner's sexual needs if they cannot. 

Need for variety

Being married and faithful to one person can be difficult for some people. After years of the same routine and person, they may feel the need for variety or to experience something new. 

Mental health condition symptoms

Certain personality disorders and mental health conditions like bipolar depression can involve symptoms that lead to risky sexual behavior, self-destructive patterns, or challenges controlling impulses. 

Feeling ignored, neglected, or unsatisfied by partner

If it feels like your partner ignores or neglects you, leaving your emotional or sexual needs unsatisfied, you may look for ways to meet those needs outside the marriage. 

Tips to help you cope after infidelity

  • Prioritize your self-care. 
  • Practice a mindful lifestyle. 
  • Lean on your support system.
  • Find ways to forgive and move on. 
  • Be prepared for mood swings and back-and-forth feelings. 
  • Avoid seeking revenge. 

How therapy can help you move past infidelity

If you or your spouse has been unfaithful, it will likely take dedicated effort on both sides to make the marriage work. Consider working with a licensed couples therapist on a virtual relationship therapy platform like Regain. Couples therapy can help you identify and address the issues that lead to infidelity, develop healthy conflict resolution and communication strategies, and find practical ways to manage stress and negative emotions. 

A recent study shows that couples therapy is equally effective online and in person. Both groups in the study demonstrated significant increases in relationship satisfaction and decreases in stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms. Virtual treatments offer many unique benefits, such as reduced costs, shorter wait times, and a more comprehensive selection of mental health professionals. If you don't match with a therapist who makes you both feel comfortable and who blends well with your situation and personalities, it's simple to connect with another mental healthcare provider. 

Takeaway 

Infidelity can affect your marriage in many ways, often making the process of working through the conflict and healing complex and challenging. The information presented in this article offers insight into why people cheat, what it can do to the relationship, and how to move forward together with couples therapy. 

For Additional Help & Support With Your ConcernsThis website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.