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Extramarital Affairs & How the Spouse Is Affected

By Anna-Sofie Hickson ; Updated June 13, 2017

Trust is the foundation of any relationship, but it’s significantly more sacred in marriage. An extramarital affair betrays this fundamental element of a relationship, and destroys every fiber of the indispensable characteristics of a healthy marriage. Betraying a spouse’s faith causes serious conflict within marriage, if not divorce. Infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce in the United States. Infidelity doesn’t have to end in divorce, but it’s vital to understand the effects of the extramarital affair on your spouse. Recognizing your partner’s devastation can alleviate the inevitable struggle following the affair, and possibly help to save your marriage.


Engaging in an extramarital affair generates profound suspicion on the part of the faithful spouse. The distrust that has entered the marriage provokes a perpetual line of questioning about the affair, the third party and the details pertaining to the progression of the liaison. Additionally, the innocent spouse usually pressures the unfaithful partner to provide a time line of her whereabouts throughout the day, following the discovery of the affair. Ultimately, the interrogations generate increased conflict, distrust, accusations and resentment from both spouses.


The spouse who falls victim to an extramarital affair often suffers from extreme self-doubt and loss of self-esteem. There is a tendency for the faithful spouse to question her actions within the marriage; she obsesses over the possible reasons for the infidelity. She feels abandoned, only to be replaced by someone who is younger or, in her eyes, somehow better. The faithful spouse may dramatically modify habits, physical appearance and employment. These behavioral patterns are a result of feelings of inadequacy, and a desire to fulfill what she believes to be the expectations of the unfaithful spouse.


Infidelity usually leads to a power struggle within the relationship, as the faithful partner seeks to punish the unfaithful one. The innocent spouse feels the need to regain control after being powerless over the actions of the cheating spouse. The faithful partner seeks to dominate all aspects in the subsequent course of the relationship, causing an imbalance of power that leads to further resentment, anger and distrust.


Discovering that a spouse has been unfaithful produces myriad overwhelming emotions. The feelings may seem irrational; one moment he's crying, and the next minute he's screaming. Retaliation is a defense mechanism that the faithful spouse uses in order to respond to the fear and pain of the circumstances. Lashing out is a method of self-protection he may use when he feels helpless in the situation or unable to control his emotions.


Feelings of deficiency and worthlessness can prompt a victim of an affair to alienate herself from the situation and those around her. The withdrawal is a defense mechanism used to evade the painful reality of the circumstances. Her sense of security has been shattered, and lives have changed as a result. The spouses have a choice in the manner in which they cope with the affair; they can attempt to work together to repair the relationship, and regain trust, or choose to handle the infidelity individually.

Recalling the Past

Attempting to repair the relationship after infidelity is a valiant endeavor; yet, the recovery process can be extremely difficult when the faithful spouse continually recalls the affair. Dredging up the painful history of the extramarital affair counteracts any constructive means in healing the relationship. Overcoming distrust after infidelity can be an incessant obstacle in regaining strength in your marriage, but resolving to go marriage counseling can greatly improve the chances of a second chance in marriage. By resolving to get help for the relationship, spouses affirm a level of commitment and a desire to reclaim the marriage.

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