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.

It may seem odd that more betrayed men don’t struggle with the emotional aspect of the affair considering that women typically first have to emotionally detach from their husbands before they get involved in an affair. But since men think about sex so frequently, this may also carry over to how they respond and process their mates’ actions of infidelity. Often, betrayed women who try to put themselves in their mate’s shoes do not understand how on earth their husband could have possibly done that because they’re thinking, “If I were to have an affair, I would have to have zero desire for the marriage and feel no love towards my mate.”

For many of the men who responded, the pain came more from the thought of physically “sharing” their significant other with someone else. Men aren’t alone in this, but they in particular said that the affair felt like a territorial invasion, eliciting a form of primal panic. Partaking in sexual activity was reserved only for the marital relationship, and knowing that their spouse was having sexual relations with someone else invaded the marriage. Along with the agony of having shared their partner, many men said that the physical images and visual details of the affair were burned into their minds and caused them significant turmoil for years to follow.

Today there are more ways than ever to fall into the trap of a seemingly innocent friendship, yet the danger and devastation that it can cause if it progresses is rarely realized at the onset. It’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that becoming “just friends” with someone can cause years of pain to you, your spouse and your children or even end a marriage. One step you can take to prevent relationships from becoming too dangerous is to become familiar with the 9 signs of an emotional affair ( If you have personally experienced infidelity, know that it is not as hopeless as it feels. We’ve helped thousands of marriages not only survive, but thrive. specializes in helping people heal after infidelity. After recovering from his own affair 25 years ago and helping 2,000+ other couples do the same, founder Rick Reynolds and his team have developed research-validated, groundbreaking online and in-person programs for reconciling the losses created by infidelity, betrayal, and sexual addiction. To learn more, visit



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