Understanding Post Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD)

The phenomenon of Post Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD) captures the profound and tumultuous aftermath experienced by individuals upon discovering a partner’s infidelity. This condition parallels the symptoms and emotional turbulence associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While not formally recognised, PISD highlights the profound psychological impact of betrayal in intimate relationships. 

Infidelity can leave individuals grappling with a myriad of intense emotions. These feelings range from overwhelming anger and sadness to a profound sense of loss and confusion.

Some of the most commonly reported symptoms of PISD include: 

Lack of Trust and Emotional Safety

Lack of trust and emotional safety, pivotal in Post Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD), destabilizes the core of intimate relationships. This leaves the hurt individuals in a state of constant uncertainty and vulnerability. As the foundation of trust crumbles, individuals struggle with fear, loss, and confusion. They grapple with the challenge of rebuilding a sense of security and faith in their relationships. This leads to a spectrum of psychological disturbances that can profoundly affect one’s mental health and well-being.


When trust is eroded, the individuals get stuck in a state of hypervigilance which is mentally exhausting. In this state, the betrayed partner becomes overly alert and suspicious. They often engage in behaviours akin to “detective work” in an attempt to find a sense of safety and safeguard against further hurt. 


Hand in hand with other symptoms, rumination becomes a prominent feature of PISD. This is where individuals find themselves caught in a loop of obsessive thoughts and questions about the affair. This relentless mental replay not only intensifies emotional pain but also perpetuates the state of hypervigilance and distrust. Rumination can lead to a deeper entrenchment of the trauma as individuals struggle to make sense of the betrayal. They grapple with incessant thoughts about what went wrong, why it happened, and how it could have been prevented. 

This experience may also include intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares about the affair, leading to a state of constant emotional turmoil. 

Relationship Impacts 

Individuals may experience hyperarousal, characterized by an exaggerated startle response, irritability, and bouts of anger. In addition, they may swing to the opposite extreme, exhibiting emotional withdrawal and numbness as mechanisms to cope with the overwhelming pain. 

Therefore, they may oscillate between intense love and hate towards their partner. These complex feelings lead to their desire for wanting to engage emotionally or sexually with their partner, or they may want to withdraw or isolate themselves from him/her. These symptoms indicate the body and mind’s attempts to process and make sense of the betrayal, oscillating between confronting the pain and attempting to shield oneself from it.


After the discovery of an affair, the hurt partner might struggle with insomnia. They experience difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep. This sleep disturbance is often fueled by the stress and anxiety stemming from the betrayal. As the mind becomes consumed with thoughts of infidelity, leading to a heightened state of alertness that wards off sleep. The lack of sleep, in turn, can amplify feelings of sadness, anger, and vulnerability, further entrenching the psychological impact of PISD.

Navigating the aftermath of infidelity requires patience, self-compassion, and, often, professional support. Whether through individual therapy, couples counselling, or a combination of both, healing is possible. It demands a willingness to confront and process the pain, an openness to rebuilding trust, and a commitment to moving forward, together or apart, with strength and resilience.

If you find yourself in the aftermath of infidelity and wish to speak to an experienced couple therapist, please feel free to contact me. I would be more than happy to work with you and your partner and support your way out of this emotional turmoil. Together, we can navigate the challenges ahead, focusing on healing, rebuilding trust, and strengthening your relationship for a healthier, more connected future.

I wish you all the best.

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