PTSD Spirituality: Cheating Spouses, Infidelity, and PTSD

 

Having a loved one with PTSD is an exceptionally hard experience. We watch them suffer and we also suffer. Sometimes the PTSD, mixed with alcohol and porn, leads to infidelity and the leading of a double life. What can we understand about this situation? Is there Hope? Is there anything we can do? The following observations apply to my experience with military trauma survivors as well as those who have survived rape or molestation.

This is a terrible experience and it takes its toll on you and everyone who cares for the person afflicted with PTSD. I wish I could say this behavior is unique and uncommon, but it is more common than not in cases of PTSD.

Drinking too much is a typical response to PTSD. So is on-the-fly sex where there is no emotional, loving, interaction, just only the physical animal act of breeding in the place of love.

The alcohol is an effort to dull the memories and any on-going physical pain. The promiscuity is often an attempt to try and feel alive and sometimes an attempt to feel they have enough personal worth so as to be desirable by another person, even if only for a sexual quickie).  The trauma they survived eats at their sense of self and diminishes their ability to realize their own self-worth.

The PTSD erodes our sense of self-worth and one of the ways PTSD fools us is to make us think that the more people there are who are willing to have sex with us, then we must have some degree of self-worth, after all. These sorts of on-the-fly sexual encounters are doubly sad because the other sex partner is usually suffering from their own sense of loss of identity as the PTSD spouse in question (and they may also be cheating on a spouse or partner..PTSD loves that!).

Paradoxically, the person who already knows the essential self-worth of the PTSD-sufferer is the wronged spouse. In many, but not all cases, the PTSD-sufferer will not engage in sex with their spouse or committed partner for fear of tainting someone they perceive as too good or too pure for them.

The oddity here is that they feel the sexual act indicates they have value as a person, but end up further alienating the very person who genuinely loves them.

The PTSD-sufferer may go away for sex with relative strangers who are also soul-wounded by PTSD while they keep their spouse or committed partner at a physical and psychological distance.

Afterwards, after the drinking, porn, and adultery binge the PTSD-sufferer often feels anger and/or depression. They feel even more tainted and unworthy than they did before. They may feel they are beyond redemption, beyond forgiveness.

Double Life

Prior to being caught (in some cases shame and guilt inspires one to confess it themselves) in their infidelity they may have been trying to lead a double life:

Life One: At home they played the role of the loving, caring spouse, and devoted parent.

Life Two: Away from the family hidden in their smart phone or their computer’s internet history file is all the residue of their PTSD-driven sexual behaviors.

It is not unusual for the wronged spouse to wonder who this new, angry and alienated, person is. Is it the person they married and trusted, or is it a stranger who only looks like that person they married and committed their life to?

What can be done?

Still Responsible

The cheating spouse is still responsible for their behavior and its consequences even when understood in terms of PTSD. The pain and damage they have done to themselves, their spouse and family, still matter.

A quickie prayer to Jesus does not suddenly erase the harm done.

Repentance is required and this is a process, a journey, not a quick one with the Lord and everything is all better as if it never happened. Relationships need to be restored and fundamental issues need to be addressed in an ongoing manner.

The Forgiveness Journey

Sometimes the wronged spouse can endeavor to forgive, other times not. Sometimes the relationship is too damaged for it to continue. Forgiveness does not inflict us with a case of amnesia to the past or the new need to be tested for STDs due to a wayward spouse.

The wronged spouse should not feel compelled by others to forgive or not to forgive. Forgiveness is also a journey and can take some time to arrive at.

At times it comes upon us a surprise after months of prayer.

The wronged spouse requires a fair amount of time to assess the wounds inflicted upon themselves and also upon the relationship. Thus, the wronged spouse should not be barred from asking questions down the road. Part of being forgiven from a grievous soul- wounding sin is a commitment to help the wronged person to heal. Not every cheater is willing to risk the implications of the forgiveness journey.

A wronged spouse should not be rushed into offering or denying forgiveness by others.

When to Talk, What Time of Day?

Recovering from infidelity requires commitment to communication.

There will be a lot of questions that need to be asked.

And that requires patience.

It requires multiple conversations over months.

Part of the dialogue will be discovering when can we talk? When are we both able to be as honest as we can? It is not just a question of when can we both be in the same physical location, but when can we actually communicate?

There are particular times of day a PTSD-sufferer is most vulnerable to anger and other PTSD behaviors. There are certain times of the day when I am weaker to resisting PTSD’s seductions to negative behaviors. I am also less even-tempered at those times. At those times I am more vulnerable to trying to relieve my anxiety and anger with alcohol.

Once I know which times of day I am most vulnerable to negative PTSD behaviors I can take precautions against being more of a fool than I usually am.

This all leads to there being better times for me to have serious, deeply vulnerable, conversations than at other times.

Is there a time of the day when you know it would be a bad time (or a good time) to talk to your spouse? Sometimes the spouse will not even know when they themselves are at their most communicative and it is up to you to figure it out

Don’t Argue with a Drunk Person

If your spouse is soused with alcohol you will just get an angry response that is useless for redeeming a relationship.

Fasting from Porn and Alcohol

If a person’s spouse or committed partner is truly interested in redeeming the relationship then they need to engage in certain types of fasting.

At the times of day they are most vulnerable to PTSD-based anger and hopelessness they need to abstain from alcohol, they need to fast from alcohol.

At those times of day they need to make commitments to staying offline if they have a porn problem. They need to fast from porn.

Now, I am old fashioned, if someone is consuming porn, an activity which treats others at meat-popsicles, then they have a problem. I know that not everyone agrees with that, but porn and PTSD go together, they feed off each other and cause alienation and deterioration of healthy relationships.

When one is fasting from porn and alcohol they ought to not be left by themselves, if possible. The temptation will be strong when in isolation. It is easier to beat temptation when doing so in the presence of another person who cares.

Replacing the Culture of Death with a Culture of Life

Porn, alcohol abuse, and unrestrained anger are elements which contribute to a culture of death and alienation. They corrode our most vital relationships. In order to not cause our healthy relationships to be diseased we need to replace corroding behaviors with healthy behaviors, behaviors which will lead to healing and life.

We cannot simply knock off the negative, life-stealing, PTSD activities and expect to heal merely by their absence.

Instead, we need to replace PTSD’s negative, death, activities with endeavors and commitments which encourage healing and life.

Creative arts are very healing (even if their subject matter might be dark). Music, drawing, painting, singing, and other forms of creativity promote life and healing.

If the relationship is still at a tenuous and fragile stage, perhaps listening to music together or watching a movie together can be useful.

The primary goal is to fill the space of time and place where we used to be isolated and subject to act upon PTSD-based temptations with activities that do not promote death and isolation.   Even just watching a football game together is better than isolation, booze, and porn. But, one needs to not seek stress relief solely in a computer or smartphone with the internet’s temptations always ready to drive us more deeply into the mire.

None of these things are easy, yet, they can promote life and healthy relationships. Relationship killing and soul-corroding activities need to be replaced by healthy partnership.

Last, but Not Least

The wronged spouse has been wounded. They are vulnerable to PTSD from their partner’s adultery and anger. The wronged spouse may have their own traumatic history triggered by the present day infidelity of their partner. This area is fraught with PTSD shrapnel. Therefore, the wronged spouse needs to also seek healing so that their wounds from a betrayed relationship do not harm them even further.

Having someone trustworthy to speak with and who is not judgmental helps a lot.

Individual and couples counseling can be helpful.

The wronged person should also engage in writing, prayer, music, and any activity which encourages healing and community.  PTSD throws out a type of shrapnel which wounds those who care and love us the most. The PTSD seeks to isolate not only the cheating partner, but also the wounded partner. This makes taking care of yourself even more important than taking care of others. If you become too ill from PTSD, then it will be harder for you to be able to help others survive.

Longwinded but Hopeful

I’ve been longwinded here. It probably took a sack lunch and some spare sox to get all the way down to here. If you did, know that there is always hope. The situation with a PTSD-afflicted spouse who cheats is not hopeless. I have seen relationships go both ways. After PTSD-inspired infidelity I’ve seen some relationships self-destruct and I’ve seen other relationships survive and even have grow stronger in the long run.

While I certainly do not wish this sort of adversity on anyone, for those who are going through it, do know that you can learn a lot about yourself and your relationships as you traverse a journey which can feel like plunging into a boiling cauldron.

But always remind yourself that it will not always feel this bad. This anguish does not have to define the rest of your life. You can heal. I’ve seen it happen.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    So if the infidelity is PTSD induced, a coping mechanism to ward off apathy and painful thoughts, and it escalates, should it be treated as a sex addiction? Or once the PTSD vet deals with the dark thoughts and learns to meditate, etc., does it just stop? And he’s no longer an addict?

    • Hello Jennifer,
      I am going to give one of those confounding answers: It can go either way. Since we are dealing with unique human beings the phrase, “Your Mileage May Vary,” will always apply.
      Infidelity as a coping mechanism, in my experience, is not usually about the sex. Rather, it is to try and create a bulwark against the emptiness and risk of self-harm that PTSD poses. Any sustained healing is derived by finding healthier ways to cope with the threats of PTSD-based apathy, fear, and seductions of self-harm. Addiction treatments can be one of the ways to go about helping someone in this position heal, but it is only part of the journey.
      For many of us, dealing with dark thoughts and the abyss which is PTSD, it is a life long healing journey. Like an old wound or an old injury, there will be times when it flares up and tries to bite us. The discovery of, and sustained commitment to, deeper living that is not permeated with fear allows us to shift to a life where we thrive rather than respond only to our PTSD.
      The negative PTSD coping behaviors have created neural pathways that encourage us to cope in a certain way. In the case of PTSD, this encourages more negative PTSD behavior. Part of the healing journey is to not keep reinforcing those pathways (this is related to neural plasticity), which is to stop the behavior. We need to figure out new, healthier, ways to live and over time they will create new pathways that are life-affirming and replace the ones which were PTSD’s death-affirming pathways.
      So, I don’t see it as a case where one can “flip a light switch” and everything is better. But we can get to a place where we can no longer utilize the PTSD behaviors to help us deal with our traumatic history and what it has done to us. If a person has a history of porn or other sexual issues, then it would always be a good idea for them to not “read” the latest swimsuit issues … why lay out bait for the old PTSD behaviors? We will always, thinks me, have some residual susceptibility even when we have mostly disposed of the old, harmful behaviors.
      I can say with certainty that the life of the PTSD vet and family can substantially improve and be worth living together. Yet, there is never a guarantee because we are dealing with unique human beings. There will be times of heightened risk or sensitivity, but over time, those risk periods can become less intense and fewer and far between.
      My response was all very long-winded and I hope it made some sense. The situation is not one of absolute hopelessness. One can heal, one will probably have a few setbacks too. Recommitting to life and healing is the way to ensure the setbacks do not become the new normal.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. Thank you for this article Dr Z. I am still recovering from a marriage break up – I believe now that both of us had some PTSD from childhood; we had received some significant emotional Christ-healing and were very glad to give and receive genuine healthy love in our marriage and new family for a good while. But in the end he chose to go back to the tri-fecta above mentioned… I did appreciate your clear statement about responsibility in such a case; I am not sure I have fully forgiven him… Am still realizing and remembering some things… Appreciate your words about the process of true forgiveness.
    Going to war w/ his manipulative jealous unbalanced gf caused terrible trauma for me and my two children (who I got sole custody of), and I barely survived for a while. It is time to be healed tho’, and move ON, and your writing is a part of this!

    • Hi Ann,
      Yes, forgiveness is quite the journey. While God does not set us up for the hurt which we may one day forgive, we are allowed a journey of graceful exploration as we understand more about ourselves, the sin that hurt us, and the sinner. Forgiveness is not a one-off that we can flip like a switch and then forget about (and I am not saying that is your view), it is more like learning a language whereby the more we immerse ourselves in it, the more can understand it and then immerse further.
      I am grateful that some of these essays have helped!
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  3. Hello and thanks for reading.

    Briefly, I have PTSD from my past sexual issues. I come from a word of past molestation as a child and sexual abuse from my fiancee for 12m. No one protected me and even when some close relatives knew, they did nothing in my honor. I have always grown up feeling alone and worthless. I shut down in certain situations as to get through them. Like I emotionally leave my body to simply trance through an event. Not truly tranced but more like the walls of protection go up and I feel much less.

    When I met my husband at 39, I had had terrible sex, hated it and always felt like a chore. My husband gave me all I need emotionally to finally feel free and appreciated. I felt beautiful and loved and special..I felt seen for once. I became very experimental in a very heatlhy way. But soon after, things changes. We have a blended family. His teen daughters did some means things to me at the request of Mom and on their own as time passed. They have done things like walk in to our bedroom when I was topless and he would have chats with them without demanding they left the room because I was not dressed…. No defending me when they would steal my phone and send Mom’s my pictures and all from it….. Mean book pages left out attacking us…. many things over the yrs. He would balance and I wanted defending as a Dad. Put them in their place because I am your wife. But then he became the offender. He waits til I sleep and then starts to have sex with me. This is not good me! I wake to a man’s fingers in me and emotionally it cripples me…. He knows we have gone down hill fast since this started and has broken porn promises and promises I am safe from all of this to simply put me into s situation where he would again activate that shut down so he could have sex with me. We went from a healthy romantic sexlife of sex 2x a week and often 3x….to me making sure I put out 1ce a week to be a good wife….. This went on for yrs. He has not been a good communicator in yrs now.

    My husband is good man and I love him. My #1 thing was Communication and it is not good now. For yrs he does not necessarily want to because he does not like the negative he hears. He does not like to hear how he did this and that to hurt me but I have no one to turn to. I do not tell my friends because they would dislike him. He has sexual addiction our counselor said. We looked it up and we agree. He is not a person who has a porn issue or infidelity but he does know the consequences and the issues his actions will cause and still does what he does anyway.

    I have forgive him I feel but when he does not seem to care enough to help me emotionally work through all these horrible feelings he has put here along with a lot of triggering he has done to cause hell inside myself from those issues in me prior to him, hoe can I feel loved?

    I love lonely, feeling like hell, It gets the point I cannot breathe and see myself through this. His shelf life for empathy for this is about a week and expects sex to return full force and yet he not the man who can set me free anymore. I want us to work out but I feel by staying and trying I have done so much more then him. He has been going to the SSA meetings but he still does not give the gravity to his actions that truly are. If he goes to a meeting and comes home and I wake up to him between my legs again, a few weeks later he makes claims he has been good for 6 months. He does not automatically consider that he is only as good as his last episode.

    We have done counseling, separates, and countless arguments and he seems to have such a short shelf life for understand and feeling bad. I am bitter now….. I do not trust him, I hate sex, I hate men, and I live on his being my best friend and the romantic side of me is closed….. I do love him but I feel so very lost….

    • Hello,
      You have been through a horrible time. It’s not just a single event or two but a series of them which have worn at you and harmed you even further, like erosion to a nice garden.
      I hope that you are able to seek individual counseling on your own whereby you can better understand how all the injustices you have endured affect you. From your comment it sounds like you are struggling to figure out if you will remain in this relationship or not. I hope that face to face counseling with an expert in SSA will be able to tell you what to expect as a realistic future.

      You have every right to want to be awake and cognizant during intimacy. You don’t owe anyone sexual services. No husband has an unrestricted right to his wife’s body without her waking consent. Even if a wife loves her husband, he does not have a license to trespass her boundaries if she decides she does not want to take part in certain behaviors.

      Your first duty is to look after your own well-being. You are not selfish if you look after your own rights, health, and personal well-being.

      You have value and should not be used as a sex toy.

      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  4. Hi Harry, Always a pleasure to hear from you! Yeah, isolation, drinking, and porn are kind of like the Trifecta of Death. Anytime we can disrupt them is a Life Saving exercise.
    Congrats on fasting from the drinks!
    Art is Life and leaves no hangover like I used to get.
    Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  5. Dr. Z, thank you for writing so frankly about the rarely spoken of triplites — isolation, booze and porn. I’m going on 6 months of fasting from drinking, and it truly has made a big difference.

    I *do* have my physician’s approval (and recommendation) to use medical marijuana, and that has helped in vodka’s absence. The great part is Art and I have none of alcohol’s negative effects with the presence of pot.

    Secondly, isolation is always an enticing island on which I wish to take a long vacation. Thirdly, I plead the 5th. Thanks for being so honest, too. 🙂

    Oh, and I also got a big smile when you wrote about your readers needing a “sack lunch and spare sox.” 🙂

    It’s *truly* great to hear from you, Dr. Z. Thanks for the good read.

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