Infidelity disrupts personal commitment – which is why infidelity is so painful.

why infidelity is so painful

By Sarah P.

For any betrayed spouse, there is no doubt in their minds that infidelity hurts.

The number one question that betrayed spouses often ponder is this: how can the person who loved them so much hurt them so badly. But, further, why can’t the wayward spouse understand the pain of betrayal?

Many people seek closure because it is human nature. I have noticed that if one can explain a thought process to another, that individual can put the puzzle pieces together, and it can provide them with a sense of understanding.

If someone can have understanding, and know the WHY, they sometimes can emotionally distance themselves from what their spouse is doing and realize it’s not about them.

What’s worse is when a person believes he or she directly caused an affair, it is one of the single most devastating events of a person’s life and developing PTSD is not uncommon.

Trauma Series Part One: PTSD and Affairs

For some reason, wayward spouses cannot understand how their betrayal causes complex PTSD in their spouses. And, rightfully, betrayed spouses cannot understand how their spouses who promised to cherish them, to forsake all others, and to be faithful forever can completely abandon them.

Betrayed spouses experience infidelity as absolute and devastating abandonment. It is not uncommon for betrayed spouses to experience a complete loss of feeling safe in life. Sometimes a person’s entire mind, body, and soul is affected when their spouse commits adultery.

Betrayed spouses can sometimes become physically ill when their spouse commits adultery. Sometimes the experience of being betrayed takes over a person’s entire identity and the repercussions of betrayal can affect every aspect of their being.

Affair Causes

At some point, betrayed spouses can often become stuck on the why of infidelity – and rightfully so.

See also  Infidelity Recovery and the Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Are affairs caused by…

Attachment issues?

Childhood feelings of abandonment?



Mid-life crises?

Watching a parent or other role model commit adultery?




Why is Infidelity So Painful?

In the past, my blogs have done deep dives into the why’s of infidelity, but a recent research study caused me to realize that there is more to the story.

The topic that might give betrayed spouses a better understanding of comprehending their personal pain, has to do with the factors that make relationships successful.

Here is where research studies are tremendously helpful. The reason infidelity is so painful is because it renders null and void the very thing that couples need to feel safe and satisfied in a relationship: a sense of commitment.

“How Could You?” – The Psychology of Justifications, Rationalizations and Excuses for Infidelity

I found this in a Psychology Today article that sheds light on why infidelity is so painful, written by Rob Pascale and Lou Primavera Ph.D. These two psychologists found that relationship success comes down to a specific form of commitment; however, it is only one type of commitment that truly makes the largest impact:

“One of the fundamental cornerstones of a successful marriage is commitment, an unwavering allegiance to a relationship and a partner. Commitment in marriages comes in different forms. People can be committed out of moral reasons. These couples typically have religious beliefs or social norms that compel them to stay in their marriage. They can feel a sense of duty, be concerned about how a divorce would be judged by others, or feel obligated to follow the guidelines of their religion.

Another is practical or structural commitment, which results from an intermingling of resources. Married couples pool money and other material possessions, have children, and establish a social life together. In doing so, their lives can become entangled to such an extent that it can be easier to stay in a relationship than to leave it. For both moral and structural commitment, external factors to keep the marriage together, and partners believe they have no choice but to stay married, regardless of whether or not they’re happy. This type of commitment does not imply that partners are personally connected to each other.

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A third is personal commitment, which differs from other two in that it has an emotional component. Personally committed partners see their relationship and their emotional bond as the most important thing in their lives, and stay married because they want to, not out of necessity or a sense of responsibility.

Personal commitment is the one that really matters. The emotional aspect of personal commitment enhances our marriage because it directs how we feel about our partner, and how we feel about them regulates how we treat them. Personally committed partners tend to think of each other in a positive light — how can we be emotionally committed to another person if we don’t think favorably of them? As a result, they tend to work hard to keep their relationship on solid ground. In conflicts, they try to diffuse the situation and not let it get out of control.

They also tend to sacrifice their personal needs and focus more on pursuing ones that serve the couple. They think of themselves not as individuals but as a team, sharing aspirations, thoughts and interests, all of which strengthen their desire to stay together.

While moral and structural commitment may keep a marriage intact, they do not affect how partners feel about each other. Morally and structurally committed partners are dedicated to their marriage, but not necessarily to each other. So we might not work as hard as we could to make our partners happy and to make the marriage a happy one. Furthermore, because we’re committed to the idea and not the person, we might not feel the need to express much interest or affection for our spouse. The truth is, as hard as they might try not to, couples who are only morally or structurally committed are at greater risk of divorce than those who are personally committed, because they won’t put the effort in to make sure their relationship stays healthy.” (1)

See also  Affair Recovery - Moving On After Infidelity

How Infidelity Affects the Eight Areas that Lead to Successful Relationships

In Summary

While the why of infidelity matters, in the end a successful marriage comes down to two partners being equally committed to one another.

Infidelity hurts so much because infidelity disrupts the most important form of commitment: the knowledge, knowing, living, and understanding that each person in a couple is a team and has the back of the other.

In the end, it’s not structural commitment or moral commitment that keeps a marriage in tact. The most important part of a marriage is two people being genuinely and personally committed to one another.

Infidelity disrupts personal commitment. It is the disruption of personal commitment, that causes the stinging and unforgettable pain, which betrayed spouses suffer.

If you are the betrayed spouse, I invite you to share this article with your wayward spouse. I hope they (you) can understand the different types of commitment and how they (you) disrupted the one type of commitment that matters most – personal commitment – when they (you) had an affair.

Please share your thoughts on why infidelity is so painful in the comment section below. 


    12 replies to "Infidelity Disrupts the Number One Component of Happy Marriages and Why this Disruption Causes Pain"

    • Phoenix2020

      Thank you, Sarah. This may be the most coherent explanation I’ve read as to why it hurts so much. NOTHING in my 62 years has ever hurt more deeply. We’re a year out from discovery and are struggling to heal, but the ongoing pursuit by the OW is making it so much harder to keep the past from intruding into the present. My WS reads this blog, and l hope this helps him grasp what I have struggled to express.

      • Sarah P.

        Hello Phoenix 2020,
        I hope your husband is receptive to this article and I wish you many blessings.

        I am sorry that the other woman is still in pursuit. Perhaps your husband would be receptive to closing ALL social media accounts and changing his phone number. However,in the end, your husband must say NO to the other woman and he must be completely done with her and he must be committed (within himself) NOT to return to her.

        I hope you find the solace you need and hope you find the safe anchor that you need through this difficult time. ❤️

        I hope that your husband reads this article and takes to heart what it means to be committed.


    • RegretEverGivingHerAchance

      So what happens after Infidelity if the cheating spouse says they love you, willing to do wateva it takes etc etc etc. But has actually shown via their actions that they’re not sorry and that they’re not willing to put in much effort at all(other than telling me that, “they’re here. That they could just be with their affair partner if they wanted.” So what should we do then? This has gone on for over a year and I’ve told her that I can’t and won’t accept this. I’ve told her what I’ve wanted from her in regards to complete honesty and full disclosure etc but her actions have shown a complete lack of care or love towards me. I’ve told her that I’ve reached a point where I can only see divorce as the only solution. And her reply was that I was the one forsaking our wedding vows!
      I’m so tired of this. So tired.
      Her words mean nothing to me now. Just something she says but doesn’t mean. I’m turning 40 tmrw and being stuck at home due to covid is just so……lonely? Disappointing and frustrating.
      I’m so over this. I feel no pain now. Just a deep seated resentment. Why did I put myself through all this? Why didn’t I just walk away? What the hell happened to me?

      • Sarah P

        Hello Regret,
        I am so sorry to hear about your account. Your account echoes those of many betrayed spouses, but the commonality in the dynamic doesn’t make a dent in the visceral pain you feel.

        What happened to you? You might feel a temporary loss of sense of self due to your spouse’s actions. Everything feels upside down and disorienting.

        Watch your wife’s actions and not words and see if you can live with her actions. If you cannot, you are still a young man and have many opportunities to find peace and to find someone who appreciates you.

        I tell betrayed spouses not to take it personally, but I have to admit even I take it personally. But, the truth of the matter is, people have affairs due to how they view life and people have affairs due to internal deficits.

        You are welcome here and hopefully this blog can provide a safe space for you. I am truly sorry about this shocking disappointment.


    • Raymond

      Thank you for this blog post. It’s been 2 months since d-day for me and my wife refuses to end the affair. She’s lied to me once already about her breaking it off (she was talking to him a few days later). The dishonesty since then has been breathtaking. Always a story… and something to hide. (I won’t get into detail). She can’t empathize with me and does not show remorse. She’s put up a wall that allows her to not show any feelings for me (a way to protect herself?). I honestly think she is so ashamed by what she’s done that she’d rather let the momentum of her affair take her further away from me than try to rebuild. I want to forgive her and work towards reconciliation. The affair “fog” is really thick though. It’s like she’s reading right from the unfaithful spouse’s script. She’s checking every box (changes in personality, circle of friends, habits (she’s smoking now… to cope… lol), change in appearance, apparel, defiant at times, defensive…. etc. She’s 44 and I can’t help but think there is a mid-life crisis component to this. I’ve done exhaustive reading and video viewing as well as therapy to understand better my situation and also her’s.

      There was a series of incidents a couple of weeks ago that caused me to ask her to leave the house. I refuse to be treated that way. She was having her cake and eating it too….

      She’s been out of the house for about 2 weeks and just recently, when I asked what she was planning to do… she said that she’s “probably” going to put the AP on the side for now and try marriage therapy with me. Ummm… I told her that all contact with the affair partner needs to end before we start therapy and I need to witness it and trust but verify all social media, phone etc) Her response… ok, I’ll think about that. My response to that was…. those ground rules are not negotiable. If you can’t do that.. then the only solution I see is divorce.

      My commitment to my wife and marriage is very strong (even still). It really hurts that she’s disconnected from me so hard and is so stuck in denial that she can’t see the mistakes she’s making. The amount of rationalization she has done to get to this place is beyond concerning. Everything from putting the AP on the same level (or higher) as me to thinking I’m going to punish her if we reconcile (worried about her “freedom”). I explain to her that I want to reconcile and rebuild towards a healthy relationship again. Me punishing her is not part of that equation… but there needs to be a level of transparency (from both of us) We’ve been married for 10 years and the vast majority of those years have been happy and productive. We have a son, a great house, nice pets, good careers, and lots of great memories etc. I love my wife but every day that goes by with no resolution is hurting our chances to reconcile. She says she loves me, acknowledges our marriage has a strong foundation, trusts me, respects me… can look at our history with pride and fondness… but in the same breath, can’t break it off with him because of the “feelings”. STUCK!!! She can’t explain more than that. Lots of “I don’t knows…. and “I can’t answer that question right now”. She does tell me that the decision is a lot harder than I think it is?????? I’m losing patience… and it’s only been two months (and I’m a patient person usually) This feeling (since d-day) has not changed at all. The frequency and feelings are the same every day. The hurt, the betrayal and the anger. I am much better at handling the feelings now than I was 7.5 weeks ago. I’m trying to nudge me wife as best I can. Sharing memories with her and trying to be more positive around her and not all doom and gloom. Is that a good idea? Or… is it a better idea to disengage from her for a while as she considers her “options”?

    • Ray

      Thanks Doug! I appreciate you bringing this more into perspective. I have been focusing most of my attention on me, my well-being and also my son… and will continue to do so. The articles you recommended were helpful.. Your comment…”In her current state of mind, she is really of no help to you.” really struck a chord with me. That’s so true. It’s a tough fact to acknowledge… but it’s spot on. I don’t recognize the person she has become right now but I’m hopeful that someday… her state of mind will change and she will want to be helpful.

    • MER

      Its been over a year since DDay1, although more information about the affair came out in March, so that was really a second DDay. We had been in marriage counseling, but had stopped to find a therapist that was a better fit. And then quarantine started. My spouse did end the affair the same day I found out, and has been making quite a few changes and I am trying to rebuild trust with him. We’ve start MC again, and I have an IC as well. One of the biggest issues that I still am trying to work through is that my spouse talked about their feelings for this other person with most of the people in our social circle while it was occurring. This includes my cousin and his wife (and his wife is related to the AP, and the AP is actually the one who told them). The affair was mostly long distance, so there was no other way these people would have found out. I am still struggling to come to terms that so many people knew, and knew because my spouse (or the AP in the case of my cousin) decided to share that information. Some of the people who knew have apologized for the whole situation, and told me that they defended me – telling my spouse that it was stupid, etc. A couple have not, and one couple actively hid that they knew until I pushed the issue. Its like my entire social circle has blown up. I am feeling more charitable towards the ones that admitted they knew to me (some still apologize any time they ask how we are doing) but I am really having issues with the others that haven’t addressed it. Especially since they keep pushing my spouse to hang out, and I keep saying no, which is upsetting my spouse. I am not quite sure what to do at this point; he doesn’t seem to understand why this whole situation bothers me. Any advice would be helpful.

    • Sarah P.

      Hello MER,

      Let me understand. Was the affair partner your cousin? Or a friend of your cousin? Tell mr more about all the social dynamics here, because it sounds like they are more awkward than usual.
      Regardless, I am 100% on your team. Don’t hang out with people who don’t care about your feelings. If they cannot have empathy for you, I don’t think they can be good friends to you. Only spend your time with those who have your back.

      Sarah ❤️

      • MER

        Its actually a relative of my cousin’s wife. And actually the AP and their spouse, my cousin and wife, and us used to all socialize regularly. Then the AP and spouse moved away, which is when the affair started (although I expect that it would’ve happened if they stayed as well and have progressed to full PA). The AP pursued my spouse; starting before they left and then continued until I found out.

    • Kels

      Feel more lost with each new day. It has been four months since D-day. Just found out he took his AP to our children’s school at night for a get together? I don’t even know what you’d call it. This all happened several years ago and there has been no contact with the AP for more than 4 years but I was just told about it all 4 months ago. I am struggling with what kind of person could be so cruel to their spouse as to do something like that. He also took her to our country club. It sounds like he was showing her the lifestyle she might inherit. Though he insists they never ever spoke of any kind of a future in the four months they were hooking up. It all feels completely hopeless though he has done everything possible to reconcile. How will I ever respect him again knowing the cruelty he is capable of.

      • Shifting Impressions

        My heart goes out to you. In my experience recovery from the betrayal of infidelity is a long hard journey. It’s only been four months since your D-day. I was a complete puddle on the floor in those early days. Do you have anyone that you can talk to?

        Give yourself permission to grieve what has been lost. It doesn’t help to rush the process or help to sweep it under the rug. The cheating spouse often would like nothing better than to “just move on”. But it simply does not work that way.

        I found it extremely helpful to educate myself regarding infidelity and to have the support of a few close friends. I also had some sessions with a counselor just for me…..unfortunately my husband was unwilling to go for counseling. Coming to this site was also extremely helpful as well…..I found tremendous understanding and support here.

        Today is the anniversary of my D-day……it has been nine years. We are still together and really doing quite well. But it has been long and difficult. Often one step forward and two steps back.

        Thinking about you.

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