Relationships & Love

The Pain of Physical and Emotional Infidelity

Many people can move beyond where their mate put their genitals, but it is much more difficult to heal from their lies and deceit. In a recent survey of 674 infidelity survivors, found that 75% said that the emotional betrayal was harder to overcome than the physical. This may be an unexpected outcome for those who haven’t experienced infidelity, but as we take a closer look at the open-ended responses, it might make more sense.

For example, one betrayed woman wrote:

“Sex is an act of flesh and blood. Love is a gift of the soul. The physical part of the affair betrays one’s body. The emotion part betrays ones soul. One can be forced to have sex, one cannot be forced to love.”

It is appropriate here to remember that the “love” felt in an affair, if it was an entangled relationship, is almost always a blind infatuation that sees no faults. Another word for this love is limerence. It is like an obsessive need, a fantasy in which there are no worries at all: no debt, no kids, and no stress. Everything about the affair partner seems to be perfect in this fantasy world.

Of the open-ended responses from around the country, most fell into four categories describing why the emotional affair was harder on them. Here’s what we found:

Many felt that the trauma of the emotional aspect of the affair took much longer to overcome than the physical. It feels like every hour they see something that reminds them of the betrayal. These reminders then trigger a spell of emotional flooding, and when experienced frequently it is even more difficult to heal from the devastating event.

The thought of the unfaithful spouse opening up about their life goals, dreams, and feelings to their affair partner but not to their spouse was tormenting. This is one of the main indications of an emotional affair. For a spouse, realizing they were not as close to their mate as they thought was devastating.

Knowing that their spouse was giving their love and emotional support to someone outside of their marriage made the betrayed feel as if they weren’t good enough or couldn’t meet the needs of their spouse. This damaged their ability to connect emotionally to their spouse.

In any marriage, lying and deceiving your partner is detrimental. In the cases of infidelity, the lies told to hide the affair caused emotional scarring to the betrayed spouse and an inability to trust their partner as they once did.

However, it’s interesting to note that for some men, the physical betrayal was more devastating than the emotional one. Forty percent of betrayed men felt the physical aspect was tougher, twice as many as betrayed women.