Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder

The phrase 'broken heart' belies the real trauma behind the all-too-common occurrence of infidelity.

According to Wikipedia, the definition of post-traumatic stress disorder is as follows: "A severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event which results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity, overwhelming the individual's ability to cope."

I am convinced this is what I have experienced for years since discovering my husband had an affair with my friend for well over a year. I discovered this bit of news Jan. 6, 2006. We divorced March 12, 2007. I have not yet recovered. It seems Dr. Dennis Ortman, author of Recovery from Infidelity as a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, could tell me why.

According to Ortman, the phrase "broken heart" belies the real trauma behind the all-too-common occurrence of infidelity. He discusses this book in Spirituality and Health Magazine:

"Many who discover a partner's infidelity have lasting reactions similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, like people whose lives have been threatened in war, natural disasters, violent crimes, domestic violence, or auto accidents. They are traumatized by the loss of partnership and security."

Victims of adultery are consumed with fear, rage and helplessness.  They often relive the horror of the discovered adultery at unexpected times, and consciously and subconsciously dread the thought of another betrayal, hence living in a state of heightened anxiety. As a result, relationships become ever more difficult. This, dear readers, is why I decided to write about this topic today. For those who suffer from post-infidelity stress disorder, read on. It's those triggers that will keep you up at night, keep you from thriving in new relationships, and keep your new partners searching for answers.

Ortman says, "Forgiving the adulterous partner may seem impossible, but is necessary for inner peace. Understanding what pain, suffering, and character flaws led to the affair can replace anger with compassion. In the end, only through forgiveness from the heart can one can be released to love again without fear."

In the book, Transcending Post-infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD): The Six Stages of Healing Ortman creates a clear and distinct diagnosis of the post-traumatic stress disorder related specifically to infidelity and the treatment he proposes for it.  His six-stage methodology includes forgiveness, spiritual realization, self-assessment and a path for moving on.

In an excerpt from this book, Ortman says:

"Some marriages end with a whimper, and the couples simply grow apart. However, many others end with a bang. All too often, couples separate because one partner has been betrayed when the other has sought a fulfilling love elsewhere. While the numbers vary in the studies, some recent researchers have estimated that 37 percent of men and 20 percent of women have had sexual affairs sometime during their marriage. (1) More tellingly, 40 percent of divorced women and 44 percent of divorced men reported more than one sexual contact outside their marriage. (2) These are not just impersonal numbers; they represent persons who have experienced untold pain and confusion with disrupted lives. If you have been abandoned by a lifelong partner, you know how overwhelming and unspeakable the hurt and outrage can be.

""Unless you release your anger and desire for revenge, replacing it with an attitude of kindness, you will not feel contentment. That is a strong, uncompromising statement. (Well, you got that right, Dr.O, that's a strong, and frightening statement if I must say so myself.) Nevertheless, my personal experience and clinical work confirm its truth. You forgive for your own sake, so you can mend your broken heart and find peace. Arriving at that place of forgiveness requires an extensive preparation of the emotions, mind, will, and heart. A forgiving attitude is the fruit of purposeful effort, a cultivation of virtues, and the healing of inner wounds."

OK, just to reiterate, one of the six steps to salvation—and the key to moving on—is forgiveness. I was just starting to enjoy my relentless attempts at revenge at the most childish levels. Is that not the route to salvation? I was just about to sell my diamond engagement ring and redo my driveway in flashy new pavers and thank my ex for it and rub his face in it!! IS that Wrong?

It seems I may have been wrong all of these years (and I rarely admit that). I've been adamant that forgiveness was never part of the package; in fact, I was certain any chance I had to see my ex suffer was simply God's way of relinquishing some joy into my life. Now, years later, after learning how to master the art of deceit and satire, I have to forgive the only person in the world that I actually have an excuse to blame all of my issues on? That's a BIG pill to swallow.

 Well, when I'm at a loss for words I like to quote some of the best movies ever made:

 "It looks like we're gonna need a bigger boat…"

The Big D. in Bergen C. is a weekly column cowritten by two people who have experienced divorce.

John Hahn April 17, 2010 at 11:17 AM
I am not sure why the editor(s) of Ridgewood Patch feel they need to start our Saturdays with affairs of the heart gone wrong. It makes me want to unsubscribe to daily updates. A periodic article is OK but weekly seems excessive.
Marthe Ludwig April 17, 2010 at 02:42 PM
Ridgewood Patch didn't start your day that way, you did. You knew what the article was about when you clicked on to it. It was your choice! Personally, it helped me to start my day in a kinder and more forgiving manner. I feel pretty good...you sound kind of negative. Maybe you could try its advice and you'll feel good, too!
DC Stein April 18, 2010 at 12:24 AM
John and Marthe-Hello and thank you for your input! We appreciate honest and candid feedback. This may not always mean positive feedback, but we welcome it nonetheless! I try to end all of my columns with a message, a lesson or a tip for a "better way" of dealing with divorce, loss, pain or betrayal. I actually receive many emails from readers who find this type of writing enlightening, but I know I can't please everyone. I would ask Mr. Hahn to read columns written by DC Murphy and myself dating back to October 2009, when we first began this adventure with Patch. My first column was very uplifting, I believe the message was "Your life is not over, and may even be better after Divorce and/or Betrayal." Perhaps our more recents posts have not been positive enough for you, and you will find something else we have writen in the past that suits you better (or perhaps not at all.) Regardless, I appreciate your taking the time to share your feelings, and I am sorry we did not leave you with a more positive outlook after todays post. Marthe-I am glad you are smiling today. All the best to both you-DC
James Pillot April 24, 2012 at 02:52 PM
I want to say its a good topic (for me anyway! Glad I'm not alone and all) and that a debate about PIST being a real form of PTSD is excellent food for thought...
AC May 05, 2012 at 05:08 AM
It is very helpful and healing (if only for a fleeting minute) to know that I am not alone in feeling "this" way; that there is an actual name for this inescapable nightmare: PISD. Thank you for the post.
Michael Rog June 10, 2012 at 02:48 PM
I'm with you James. I only heard heard the term PIST this week as I've struggled through infidelity of my partner. And it was only last week that I discovered that part of the crazies I'm going through is PTSD from my childhood abuse. Two weeks ago I thought I was going crazy. Now at least I have an understanding of what I'm feeling when I feel it. And for those that are not in need of the message, that is when I practice "Take what I like, and leave the rest".
Ronald January 29, 2013 at 04:00 AM
I fail to see why forgiveness is required for healing. How does one fogive remorseless cheater? What evidence is there that those who do not forgive fail to heal and move on? I have never forgiven my XW, a remoseless serial cheater. Nevertheless, I have thirived and have a beautiful girlfriend, a great career, wonderful relationship with my kids and ex-in-laws. financially and emotionally I am doing well. Yet, Istill hate my XW,when she enters my mihd. I feel this whole "must forgive" theory is unsubstantiated and merely a cliche with little analysis,
Jill February 27, 2013 at 04:47 PM
I like the column. I feel it is needed for me. And forgiveness of my ex is where I am at this point. I am able to forgive but I am not yet willing to forgive him. Forgiveness is a choice. Is it necessary? Being a Christian, we are to forgive others. We are to continually work at it. Forgiveness is for the one who was wronged so that they no longer are a victim of other. No one should have such power over another. I am not thriving. It has been six years this June when the marriage ended. I have been cared for by others. The mistreatment was lengthy. The effect was total in my ability to provide for myself and the daughters. He was a remorseless serial cheater.
dennis ortman May 13, 2013 at 07:19 PM
I understand forgiveness as a giving up of the anger and desire for revenge. Recognizing how much the anger is a poison tha consumes us, we forgive for our own sake. However, reconciliation is not an essential part of forgiveness. We may forgive and decide that it is in our best interest to separate from our unfaithful partner. Lingering anger and resentment will only interfere with our own happiness and keep us stuck. Dr. Ortman


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