Entertainment And News

Woman's Therapist Says Her Husband's Cheating Is A 'Trauma Response' To Her Neglecting Her Mental Health & Their Marriage

Photo: fizkes / Shutterstock.com 
woman contemplating divorce and infidelity

Cheating is a hot-button topic and a firm red line for many. Nevertheless, it is nearly always a nuanced issue that often results from bigger problems.

The situation a woman shared on Reddit is a perfect example. 

Her couples therapist said her husband's cheating is a 'trauma response' to the much deeper problems in their marriage.

In many ways, this woman's story is like many infidelity situations — times got hard, her husband strayed, and now they're trying to sort through the aftermath.

But her hardline stance on cheating — that it's the ultimate betrayal — seems to be standing in the way of their progress. "I am willing to take responsibility for my part in this," she wrote, "but cheating was entirely his choice."

RELATED: What It Really Means When Your Partner Cheats On You, According To Research

That view is entirely at odds with their therapist's view, however: That the things she put her husband through, which led to the infidelity, were traumatizing, and that matters as much if not more than her feelings of betrayal.

Their troubles began when she refused to take her medication for her borderline personality disorder for an entire year. 

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness, often resulting from severe trauma, that severely impairs a person's ability to control their emotions and is often characterized by intense, unstable and chaotic relationships.

People with BPD are usually both terrified of abandonment and fearful of intimacy and tend to oscillate between these extremes, leading to relationships where they are intensely attached one moment, suspicious, and withdrawn the next. 

   

   

Treatment is vital for people with BPD to have stable relationships, so when this woman went off her meds for more than a year during the pandemic, it wreaked volatile havoc between her and her husband. 

Her husband confided in an old friend during their crisis, and one thing led to another until it became an affair.

"My BPD would make me extremely angry and withdrawn from those who cared about me," the woman wrote. "I neglected my mental health, and day after day, I felt that those meds were being used to control me," so she refused to take them. "Unfortunately, this caused a lot of strain in my husband’s and I’s relationship."

During this harrowing time, her husband "had breakdowns after breakdowns" and needed someone to lean on. He found it in an old friend from college, and things quickly escalated. "He decided that our relationship was dead anyway, and there was no point in being loyal to me," she writes. 

When that relationship ended, he confessed to the affair, and they entered counseling, which she said had gone well for them — until recently, when the therapist gave them some perspective that she found very difficult to hear.

RELATED: Divorce Attorney Warns Couples That Phubbing Is Legit Grounds For Divorce

Their therapist said it is unfair for her to hold the affair over his head, which she thinks is denying her any agency in their recovery. 

The therapist contends that "what my husband did isn’t JUST cheating for cheating’s sake, but a 'trauma response' to my neglect," she explained. "He felt unworthy, he did everything that he could to help me, his fire went out… which caused him to react in ways he normally wouldn’t."

   

   

The therapist went on to say, "It would be unfair of me to hold the cheating over his head" because of the harrowing circumstances. But she feels that his infidelity is being "excused away," and she's furious. "I feel extremely offended, and this legit confirms my WORST fears that I’m being denied agency in my relationship," she wrote. 

But both the therapist and her husband feel that her response is part of "a pattern... of my inability to look at situations for what they [are]," a common struggle among people with BPD

Many on Reddit sided with the woman's therapist and felt she bore part of the responsibility for the affair.

"You are not being denied agency in your relationship," one Redditor wrote. "If you feel like cheating is a dealbreaker, you have complete agency to walk away. What you are being denied is the ability to walk away scot-free from your actions."

"To clarify, you are not at fault for your mental health," the commenter went on to say. But at the same time, they said, "As part of [your] suffering, you ended up inflicting suffering on somebody else."

Cheating is indeed a choice, and it's a wrong one. But the commenter's, therapist's, and husband's takes are quite literally in line with what many psychologists say about infidelity — it is, more often than not, a result of a feeling of "longing and loss" in the words of legendary therapist Esther Perel.

   

   

Perel told us in 2022 that the nuances of infidelity basically boil down to exactly what this couple's story is about: "Understanding is not justifying, and not condemning doesn’t mean condoning."

It is the type of nuanced, gray area where most of life falls: Yes, what he did was wrong, but human beings need comfort, community, and companionship when their lives are falling apart. His wife's actions are what created that need.

More than one thing can be true at the same time. And it's the demand that this situation be clear-cut and one or the other that is leaving this relationship with nowhere to go.

RELATED: The Question Your Partner Might Ask You Right Before They Cheat, According To Research

John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.