Been Cheated On? You Could Have Post Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD)


    6 Min Read


    Being betrayed by your partner is devastating. Even if you can get past the initial shock and forgive them, there will be scars left behind that can make it difficult to move on. Sometimes the effects are so profound that they’ll disrupt several aspects of your life causing Post Infidelity Stress Disorder to develop.

    But how do you know if you’re suffering from Post Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD) or just going through regular ups and downs?

    Let’s clarify.


    The Normal Ups And Downs After Infidelity

    If you’ve discovered your partner is cheating, it’s natural to experience a range of dramatic and intense emotions.

    These may all occur at the same time or in stages.

    Along with these feelings can come impulses like,


    Neither of these is a healthy or productive option, however.


    But once time has soothed some of the raw intensity and pain, many people can still find it challenging to return to their pre-affair selves. The scars they carry are just too great.

    These people have Post Infidelity Stress Disorder.

    What Is Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder?

    Although Post Infidelity Stress Disorder isn’t a formally recognized diagnosis and won’t be found in the DSM-5, its symptoms are recognizable to anyone who’s dealt with the aftermath of an affair for themselves or someone they love.

    PISD manifests in ways similar to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Unlike PTSD, however, the intrusive thoughts and debilitating worry aren’t related to physical trauma but emotional trauma.

    Infidelity destroys the trust you once placed in someone with whom you shared your most intimate and vulnerable relationship. The lingering effects can cause someone to question all relationships going forward, making it challenging to feel secure and loved again. The thought of allowing yourself to be vulnerable again becomes almost unbearable.

    PISD can leave you feeling stuck and make maintaining healthy, romantically solid relationships a losing battle. So much so, in fact, that some people just give up trying.

    How Do I Know If I Have Post Infidelity Stress Disorder?

    If any of the above sounds familiar, but you’re still unsure if what you’re dealing with is Post Infidelity Stress Disorder, there are some common symptoms associated with PISD to look out for.


    Among them are:

    • Sudden intrusive thoughts. In the same way, people with PTSD can experience sudden, disturbing memories of their trauma during unrelated events, so can Post Infidelity Stress Disorder sufferers. It’s not uncommon for benign situations to trigger thoughts of the betrayal experienced and for the painful feelings to come flooding back.

    • Obsessive thinking. Fixating on the actions that caused such deep pain also isn’t unusual. A partner who’s been cheated on will find it hard not to create a mental picture of what the interludes looked like, what they did with one another, where the cheating occurred, etc. They may look at every hotel or set of sheets wondering if they were part of that painful story.

    • Depression and anxiety. Betrayal can cause a person to spiral into depression and worry. Sadness, emptiness, unworthiness, and lowered self-esteem often stem from knowing your partner was with someone else.

    • Sleep disturbances. Nightmares and insomnia are often part of Post Infidelity Stress Disorder.

    • Hypervigilance. Once cheated on, it can be hard to look at anything as “innocent.” Seeing threats in every conversation with a member of the opposite sex, every glance, every five minutes that they’re late home, is a common experience.

    • Relationship avoidance and trust issues. There’s a reason the phrase “Once bitten twice shy” came to be. When trust has been broken to that level and the pain that intense, the need to protect yourself from ever being hurt that way again can mean you avoid getting close to anyone.

    This type of distrust can lead to keeping all relationships superficial and not being vulnerable to anyone.

    As a result, Post Infidelity Stress Disorder sufferers may sabotage new relationships by making assumptions or unfounded accusations, snooping, ending them early, or operating on a “strike first basis,” inflicting pain before pain can be inflicted.


    It should be noted that nearly all of these symptoms will be experienced by anyone who’s had a partner cheat. What makes them a sign of Post Infidelity Stress Disorder is the severity of the symptoms and the length of time they persist.

    PTSD doesn’t typically go away on its own – neither does PISD. It can come in waves, however.

    A person who’s been cheated on may believe they’re fine and ready to move on, only to find that these symptoms crop up again and again.

    If you feel like you’re “over” the pain of infidelity and unexpectedly begin to experience these symptoms again, you’re likely suffering from Post Infidelity Stress Disorder.

    These Things Can Help If You Develop Post Infidelity Stress Disorder

    Getting past PISD can take time and is often best done with an experienced counselor who can provide the tools you need to move forward.


    Dr. Kurt has worked with many patients suffering from Post Infidelity Stress Disorder. Often they’ve suffered for a long time before seeking professional help. According to him,

    Finding healthy, helpful, objective support can be very challenging. Family and friends will be well intended, but many have their own betrayal pain (or will take on yours) and can feed your pain, rather than helping you to move past it. Your partner is likely to be very uncomfortable with your feelings, especially if they caused them, so they can want to ignore them and move on too quickly. When you're struggling with Post Infidelity Stress Disorder you need to rely on someone who can be empathetic but also realistic, so that you can work through your pain and get past it, as opposed to staying stuck in it. So, choose wisely who you lean on."

    That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do, though.

    If you’re experiencing Post Infidelity Stress Disorder, the following practices can help:

    • Acknowledgment of your pain and what you’re experiencing. You’ve been hurt, and it’s taking time to get over - that’s okay. Don’t try to rush things. Pretending you’re fine when you’re not or telling yourself that it wasn’t a big deal will backfire.

    • Allowing others to support you. Opening up to trusted family or friends who can help keep you looking forward and not back can speed your recovery or help you reset when needed.

    • Practicing trust in baby steps. Relearning to trust is a process, whether with the same partner or someone new. Be honest with yourself about the difficulty you’re having and take small steps at first.

    • Being open about your worries with your partner (old or new). When you’re suffering from PISD, it’s vital that your partner understand what you’re going through, which they won’t if you don’t talk to them about it.

    • Pushing back on negative self-talk. You didn’t make your partner cheat – that was their choice. Yes, there were problems that left your relationship vulnerable, but that’s not solely on you. Choosing to cheat was the wrong way for your partner to deal with what was happening. So, feeling bad about yourself or blaming yourself for the current state of your relationship is not only unnecessary but also unhealthy. Remember, being cheated on isn’t a reflection on you – it’s a reflection on your relationship and the character of the person who cheated.

    These actions can help a Post Infidelity Stress Disorder sufferer make progress toward recovery. However, as stated above, it’s possible the assistance of counseling will be needed to truly move forward.


    What To Take Away

    Being cheated on causes deep pain that can feel physical in some cases. Getting past that pain, whether you stay in the relationship or not, isn’t easy by any measure of the word. But if your emotional recovery seems to be more difficult and is taking longer than seems reasonable, you’re probably suffering from Post Infidelity Stress Disorder.

    If that’s the case and PISD is a factor in your life, keep the following things in mind:

    • You’re not alone. While Post Infidelity Stress Disorder may not be formally recognized mental disorder, the trauma of infidelity can have dramatic and long-term effects on a person’s emotional health.

    • You don’t have to accept PISD as a permanent state. There are certain practices that can help you move past the nagging worries and persistent distrust that’s preventing you from truly enjoying your relationship.

    • Unaddressed Post Infidelity Stress Disorder can make it feel impossible to emotionally invest in any relationship, making happiness seem like something constantly out of reach. It can also lead to behavior that’s overly defensive and sabotaging of new relationships.

    Recovery from Post Infidelity Stress Disorder means being ready to trust and be vulnerable again. A happy, healthy, and long-lasting relationship is only possible by being prepared and willing to do that.


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