We have all encountered the dire effects of cheating in a relationship. Nobody is unaware of the consequences an incident of infidelity invites. “Then why does someone cheat after all?” – it makes you wonder. Unhappiness and discontent with the relationship are the major culprits here. At times, even the betrayed person cannot completely discard their role in the story. Miscommunication or indifference from one partner can push the other toward bringing a third person into the equation.
The definition of cheating can surprisingly differ from one couple to another. I’ve always believed that fantasizing about someone other than your lover is an act of betrayal. But just the other day, my friend Em said about their partner, “Why would I poke my nose into her fantasies? That’s none of my business.” So, yes, the whole concept of infidelity travels in a grey zone.
But one thing is clear to us – cheating is unacceptable. No matter in which form or at which stage of the relationship it occurs, infidelity can shatter the foundation of a relationship. To back up our point of view with an expert’s opinion, we had a discussion with psychologist Nandita Rambhia (MSc, Psychology), who specializes in CBT, REBT, and couple’s counseling. Read on to know more about the effects of cheating in a relationship.
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Does Cheating Affect A Relationship?
To give a short answer, yes, it does. The negative effects of cheating in a relationship manifest as massive heartbreak and serious trust issues. Perhaps, the intensity of the pain depends on how far your partner’s affair went in terms of what is considered cheating. Whether it was a case of an emotional affair where they got emotionally attached to somebody or they were sleeping with their ex – either way, reactions to cheating are undeniably strong.
Nandita says, “The initial versus long-term impact of cheating in a relationship are quite different from one another. In a committed monogamous relationship, the initial reactions of cheating will be that the other person would feel extremely hurt. This will be translated in the form of sadness, being upset, or extreme anger too.
“In the long term, such adverse effects of cheating in a committed relationship will result in more severe self-doubt and anxiety. Not only does it affect the present, but the insecurity after being cheated on affects future relationships too. Because they have experienced a basic betrayal, a person would find it difficult to trust any future partner easily. They will have a hard time figuring out if their partner is being honest and the value of honesty may get lost in the relationship.”
Related Reading: Why A Cheating Person Shows No Remorse – 17 Astonishing Reasons
Believe it or not, cheating casts its ugly effects on the partner at fault as well. If it was an impulsive momentary lapse on their part, the guilty conscience will soar high. They would desperately look for a way to undo what is done. The helplessness may drag them into depression. If the partner chose to continue their actions in secret for quite some time, the guilt doubles if they lied to both parties for a long time.
It often happens that the betrayer gets defensive and tries to accuse their partner of everything that went wrong between them. The blame game worsens the effects of cheating in a relationship. A serial cheater, being completely oblivious to the karmic consequences of cheating, neglects the tragic impact on their partner.
Effects Of Cheating On The Brain
Remember that giddy feeling of happiness that seemed to flood your entire body when you fell in love? You have your hormones to thank for it. When a person falls in love, their brain secretes dopamine and oxytocin, the pleasure hormones. This changes the brain chemistry and you are high on the feeling of love. People were right, love is a drug. And when this love is gone, the brain gets impacted. Here are some of the things that your brain goes through:
1. Withdawal symptoms
Since love is a cocktail of such heady hormones, it can feel quite addictive. And when you suddenly cut of the supply of an addictive substance, you experience withdrawal. This is exactly what happens to a person when they find out about their partner’s affair. The secretion of the love hormones stop and they experience severe psychological effects of cheating in their relationship. According to a study, the brain goes into withdrawal. You become irritable, depressed, as well as foggy-brained and might even have suicidal thoughts.
2. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
People who have been cheated on display symptoms similar to a person suffering from PTSD. Recurring nightmares, obsessive thoughts about the event, and flashbacks are some of the common issues that a person suffers. Sometimes they also become hyper-reactive to any perceived threat. According to research, all this leads to disturbed sleeping as well as eating patterns which takes a toll on the person’s health. Clearly, cheating affects mental health of a person in many ways.
3. Heartbreaks hurt physically
As much as we would like to believe that the consequences of cheating in a relationship is just mental trauma, but that’s not the entire picture. So much so there is affliction called the broken heart syndrome. Studies suggest extreme emotional pain tends to manifest physically. Florence Williams, a science writer, in her new book, Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey, investigates the ways in which extreme emotional pain can impact the heart, the digestive and immune systems, and more.
4. Cheating impacts men and women differently
According to a research, the psychological effects of cheating in a relationship impacted men and women differently. For men, the sexual cheating aspect of a partner’s affair was more traumatizing, whereas women were more affected by emotional affairs. And this is hardwired since the dawn of time. Men are scared of sexual infidelity, because they need the child to be their own flesh and blood, whereas women are hardwired to nurture the children and they want a stable partner to raise the child with.
Expert Lists Out 9 Effects Of Cheating In A Relationship
The negative effects of cheating leave three doors open before you. Either the relationship ends after a tragic phase of rage and fury, or the partners stay together with an inevitable physical, emotional, and mental distance between them. The third one is the most challenging and time-consuming. It takes a lot of effort from both sides to get over this unfortunate incident and rebuild the relationship after cheating.
I hear that trust issues are exclusive to monogamous relationships. You are quite mistaken if you think an ethically non-monogamous people doesn’t endure the long-term problems of cheating in a relationship. Every couple has its own set of boundaries and crossing any one of them counts as cheating. As simple as that!
Our expert says, “In a non-monogamous relationship, there would still be areas where you trust your partner to hold up their part of the bargain. So even if the couple is romantically or sexually non-monogamous, different types of cheating can occur in subtler forms – like lying about your whereabouts or trying to hide a relationship that you know your partner won’t approve of. The reaction of cheating would be as bad as in a monogamous pair-bond.”
If your relationship is going through any stage of infidelity, understanding the consequences of cheating in a relationship might help you deal with it in a better way.
Related Reading: 9 Psychological Effects Of Being The Other Woman
1. Enormous pain wears down the cheated partner
Last Saturday, I went to my cousin’s place to give him a surprise visit on his birthday. But the tables turned and I, instead, was caught off guard seeing him in the middle of a huge fight with his partner. Later, Noah confided in me. That day, he got home early from the office and caught his partner cheating on him in their own house. Although she managed to get the man out before he reached, the wallet on the coffee table was solid proof of her deceit.
In moments like these, you can actually hear your heart breaking into pieces. It’s almost impossible to hold back the tears after someone sees their partner cheating in front of their eyes. You can only imagine how difficult it’s going to be to mend the gap created between the lovers. And, of course, physical intimacy is off the table for a long, long time.
2. The trust factor goes out of the window
It goes without saying the impact of cheating in a relationship drains your faith in love and in your partner, even if it is a one-night stand. You cannot believe a single word coming out of their mouth, no matter what explanation they offer. Even if your partner regrets their actions and wants to make amends, you will be skeptical about investing more time and energy into this relationship.
According to Nandita, “Be it emotional affairs or sexual ones, it’s not going to be easy to trust your partner after cheating. It is going to take a lot of time. The partner who has cheated will have to put in a lot of effort to see to it that their partner starts to trust them again. A lot of patience, love, and forgiveness is required to put away the past incident and start afresh.”
3. Unavoidable fights and heated arguments erupt
Ah! This is probably the ugliest outcome of emotional affairs. The betrayed partner carries a huge burden of anger and resentment in their heart. The outbursts keep coming after a point, whether deliberately or not. There is no other way for the partner who cheated than to face the screaming and the crying of their hurt partner, and if things take a nasty turn, the breaking of stuff around the house.
But here’s a fair warning. For heaven’s sake, please don’t let the situation degrade to a state of domestic violence or relationship abuse. Nothing, I repeat, nothing justifies abuse, irrespective of which partner chose to raise their hand. If you think you are not ready to handle the situation with a sound mind, then leave the room. Take a break, calm your nerves, and come back to have an adult conversation.
Related Reading: 7 Cheating Spouse Text Message Codes
4. Cheated partner goes through low self-esteem and self-blaming
A person who has gone through the negative effects of repeated infidelity knows well how it takes a toll on their self-worth. After that soul-crushing confrontation with his partner, Noah (the cousin I mentioned earlier) absolutely broke down, “There must be some reason she chose this guy over me. Was I not good enough for her? Perhaps he is better in bed. Perhaps he is smarter than me. Maybe I was too busy at work for the last few months. She felt taken for granted.”
Do you see how the outcome of cheating in a relationship creeps into your brain? This can happen to anyone who catches their partner red-handed. They would get overly conscious about their looks and their behavior around their partner, and end up blaming themselves for chasing their partner away. When these insecurities become overwhelming, a person might even end up having suicidal thoughts.
5. Being cheated on affects their future relationships
Nandita enlightens us on the matter, “There’s no denying that being cheated on affects future relationships. The cheated person goes through a lot of trauma psychologically and that, in turn, leads to a trust issues even with future partners. They become extremely cautious, checking and double-checking just to be sure if their partner is lying or not. Sometimes, due to the effects of repeated infidelity, a person may not want to get into a committed relationship again.”
I am sure that many of our readers, who have gone through the turmoil of experiencing cheating, can relate that we hide ourselves in a shell as a reaction to cheating. We learn how to protect our hearts and not make the same mistakes again. Long-term effects of cheating in a relationship lead to dating anxiety. Putting yourself out there again, meeting new people, dreaming about a future with somebody – everything that came so spontaneously earlier seems like a daunting job now.
6. It can give rise to ‘revenge cheating’
Revenge cheating – does that term sound unfamiliar? Let me paint a mental picture for you. Hannah was dealing with immense pain and anxiety after her boyfriend cheated on her with her best friend Claire. This rage storming inside her wanted to punish him, and to hurt him as much as he had hurt her. That’s exactly when the thought of revenge cheating popped into her mind.
It is basically cheating on the cheater to give them a taste of their own medicine. To be honest, the negative effects of cheating like this one would never do any good to anyone. It will only magnify the complications, inviting more disputes. Moreover, the guilt trip that a person suffers after revenge cheating is simply unbearable.
Related Reading: 20 Myths And Facts About Cheating In A Marriage
7. Cheating affects your family life as well
Cheating affects mental health that is for certain, but it also plays havoc in your family life. Say, you are attending a family dinner right after an episode of cheating hit your relationship. Naturally, there will be tension between you and your partner. As subtle as it is, this strenuous situation might become visible to everyone.
Even worse, if anger management is not one of your strong suits, an unpleasant fight could break out right in the middle of the dinner. It will create an awkward bubble among the family members. Perhaps, earlier, the guilty partner was trying to apologize for cheating. Sadly, after tonight, they will have to live with many judgemental stares looking down on them.
8. Cheated partner might keep waiting for karma to show its game
Do you believe in the philosophy of karma? Then, I am afraid the aftermath of cheating in a committed relationship will last a little longer. Because you are going to wait and hold a grudge until you see your partner suffer the karmic consequences of cheating.
My dear friend, how will you ever find your share of peace if you do not let go of someone else’s petty act? You have to make a choice to get over the cheating and move on with your own life. To execute this mature decision, it’s important to liberate your mind from the toxic past. Why should you waste time on something as intangible as the karmic consequences of cheating? Loosen your clasp when you cannot control it.
Related Reading: Online Affairs Reshaping The Idea Of Fidelity In Modern Marriage
9. You come out stronger as a couple
If luck favors you and the universe smiles upon you, you may overcome the cloudy days after all. This miracle could materialize only when both partners agree that this relationship means more to them than a short phase of bad choices. We admit it will take a lot of courage and strength to forgive your cheating partner. But with genuine remorse and loving gestures from your partner, you can walk past this together, hand in hand.
When asked if partners can get over the cheating episode, we absolutely agree with Nandita as she says, “It depends on the partners as each relationship is unique. I cannot generalize and say yes or no, but I can definitely say that it is possible that partners come out stronger after an incident of infidelity. It depends on the stage of the relationship, the maturity of the partners, and how strong their bond is. If they both want to work on the relationship honestly, yes it is possible. But it will definitely take a long time.”
- Infidelity affects a person’s mental health as well as their family
- Cheating is not restricted to monogamous relationships and can occur in open relationships too
- An affair is not a death sentence for a relationship. With love and effort, you can mend the damage
With that, we wrap up our discussion on the ramifications of cheating in a relationship even if it is a one-night stand. I hope our insights clear your foggy mind. And if it’s not too late yet, try to save this relationship from the unsolicited consequences of infidelity. There is hardly any problem that can’t be solved with consistent, meaningful communication. Give it a whirl.
This article has been updated in December 2022.
People cheat in a relationship for a multitude of reasons – lack of love and affection, or sexual dissatisfaction being two of them. Boredom from staying with the same partner, commitment-phobia, and tempting circumstances provoke many people to follow the path of infidelity as well.
Yes, if the cheated partner cannot find a place in their heart to forgive this unethical deed, or the betrayer refuses to take any accountability, the complications may lead to a miserable breakup.
Sometimes, cheating occurs due to an impulsive decision influenced by outside factors. As soon as the person gets back to their reality, they start to internalize the gravity of their action. They will probably take every necessary step to mend the relationship and make things right again. Although, there are very low or almost no chances of character reformation for serial cheaters.