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What Happens When You Cheat in a Relationship?

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

Infidelity is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a marriage, according to marriage and family expert Dr. Willard Harley, Jr., in his Marriage Builder website article titled “How to Survive Infidelity.” Approximately 50 percent of marriages experience infidelity from one or both partners, according to Harley, with at least three victims -- the marriage couple, the affair partner and any children. There are various consequences to an affair.

Emotional Fallout

Before the affair is discovered, the betraying spouse can experience shame, guilt, anxiety and excitement equal to an addictive state, according to licensed marriage and family therapist Bobbi Jankovich in “A Crack in the Foundation: The Effects of Infidelity on a Relationship.” The betrayed partner can suffer anxiety, disquiet, self-doubt and confusion because he knows that there is something wrong, but isn’t sure of the problem. After the affair is exposed, other emotions that can appear include depression, loss of trust, anger, loneliness and hostility. The tears and negative emotions can continue for a long time following the revelation, depending on the actions and attitude of the couple.

Stealing From the Marriage

An affair is a form of theft from the marriage, according to marriage expert and coach Anne Bercht in her article “Do Emotional Affairs Constitute Infidelity?” The betraying partner steals emotional energy and time from the partner and shares it with the affair partner. The theft also includes time and attention that should be spent with the partner and family and funds that could go toward family needs and wants. After the affair is uncovered, the offended partner might be hurt and angry about the theft, especially if the family's needs were neglected to maintain the affair.

Cracks in the Foundation

Your affair can reveal cracks in the foundation of your marriage. This can benefit the marriage if you decide to reconcile and repair the marriage. You can discuss unmet needs in counseling and determine how the emotional connection to your mate was lost, according to the WebMD article “Overcoming Infidelity.” The affair can also reveal longstanding personal issues, such as trust difficulties and personality dysfunctions that inhibit emotional bonding. Those issues need to be addressed, whether the relationship continues or not.

To Repair or to Leave

Some individuals cheat as a way to leave the relationship, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy website article “Infidelity.” Many betrayed spouses feel there is no way to rebuild trust and decide to end the relationship. You have no control over your partner’s response to betrayal, so if you don’t want the relationship to end, reconsider your decision to cheat. If your partner does agree to reconcile and rebuild, it’s a long and bumpy process that can produce a better marriage, but the emotional toll and damage can haunt you for many years.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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