The Critical First Step in Healing from Intimate Betrayal Trauma

Updated: Sep 5

Victoria Schroder, PsyD, LMHC


Discovering infidelity in a relationship can feel like the world as you know it is crumbling down around you. Your mind goes into overdrive: racing through timelines of events, past discussions, moments of doubt…ultimately trying to make sense of it all. At the same time, your body responds to this flood of thoughts and emotions by activating the “fight or flight” response. This can show up as symptoms of rapid heart rate, muscle tension, headaches, chills, and a feeling of being disconnected from everything around you. It can be overwhelming to know how to manage all of this going on at once.


You might also feel pressure to quickly “solve” the problem that has been introduced to the relationship. This is, after all, how our minds are typically designed to work. We don’t do well with uncertainty and when presented with a problem we utilize all our resources to understand it and find a solution. You might be thinking, “where do we/I go from here?” or “what is the future going to look like?” and the fear of the unknown continues to drive a deep desire to “solve the problem” and ultimately feel less pain. While there are many important conversations and decisions that lie ahead for your relationship, it is important to know what you can do to take care of yourself in the here and now to support your healing going forward.


Another concern with “problem solving” immediately after discovery is that infidelity can leave you feeling completely drained of all resources. In fact, the term “intimate betrayal trauma” is used to describe the post-traumatic stress symptoms that individuals experience after discovery and the impact on the mind and body (described above). So, while the impulse may be to go into problem solving mode, your mind and body are simply not in a place to do this effectively while flooded with trauma symptoms.


Research has shown, when the fight or flight center of our brain (the amygdala) is activated, the area of our mind that is responsible for planning, decision making, critical thinking, emotional processing, and more (the prefrontal cortex) shows significantly decreased activity. This is particularly true in individuals who have experienced a recent trauma. Thus, to even begin to navigate the next steps for yourself and your relationship, it is essential to build the skills necessary to calm the fight or flight response and to free up space for the prefrontal cortex to function effectively.


It can be tempting to turn towards online resources such as articles or podcasts with titles like “Why Do They Cheat” and “How to Heal from Infidelity” for understanding and ultimately comfort. However, any well-trained Intimate Betrayal Trauma expert will tell you that trying to use information processing skills (again, the role of the prefontal cortex) to manage your trauma symptoms will likely be ineffective and can potentially worsen trauma symptoms in the moment. It is completely natural to want to understand the facts of the situation, but I encourage you to first take care of YOU by managing the uncomfortable and even debilitating trauma symptoms that can emerge from infidelity.


If you are ready to take the next step and receive guidance to stop your trauma symptoms, sooth your nervous system, and begin the process to feel like yourself again, reach out to an intimate betrayal therapist today!

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