When Cheating Is A Form Of Emotional Abuse

Cheating can become emotional abuse, especially when it is a repeated behavior.

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When someone has been unfaithful to you, it is a blow to your relationship unlike any other you will ever experience. When the truth of his infidelity becomes known, you will have to make one of two possible decisions — and neither of them will be remotely easy.

Do you do the substantial and difficult work of building your relationship back up over time? Or, do you leave?

Unfortunately, if you stay, there is no guarantee your partner will never cheat again.


Rebuilding your relationship from scratch the first time is one thing, but having to do it over and over begs an important question: When does infidelity become abuse?

RELATED: Relationships That Survive Cheating Have These 4 Things In Common

If you find yourself in the painful situation of trying to figure this out (and I'm so sorry if that's what brings you here today), here are 5 signs his cheating has become abusive.


5 Circumstances When Cheating is a Form of Emotional Abuse

1. When it's part of a cycle.

Cycles are easy to spot in domestic violence. There is a period of tension that continues to build up, often followed by an outburst, which is followed by an apology and a promise to change.

Rinse, wash, repeat.

When cheating is an isolated incident it can be a mistake or an opportunity to rebuild the foundations of your relationship over time. But when cheating becomes a repeated cycle, infidelity becomes abuse.

2. When they gaslight you about it.

Someone who cheats will do anything to get away with this behavior. One of the worst things the cheater can do in this situation is to lie in the face of evidence of the affair.


"You're crazy," they might say. "This is all in your head." This attempt to undermine you and your feelings, to make you feel crazy, is called gaslighting.

Repeatedly and deliberately making you doubt yourself and making you feel like your thoughts and feeling aren't valid so they can engage in behavior that violates your relationship agreement goes beyond infidelity into emotional abuse.

RELATED: 4 Unexpected Ways Infidelity Hurts Beyond Heartbreak (& What You Can Do About It)

3. When they betray you casually.

The actions of an unfaithful partner involve directly violating the trust you two have established. Knowingly betraying your trust can cause the same feelings of panic, shock, and terror that a victim of abuse feels.


They are knowingly taking a sledgehammer to your love, and it doesn't get more emotionally abusive than that.

4. When it crushes your self-esteem.

People who have been in long-term relationships with cheaters often demonstrate the same symptoms of domestic violence sufferers once they get out of the cycle of infidelity.

Repeated cheating and the related cycle of betrayal and gaslighting can cause panic attacks, self-hatred, fear, recrimination, and in some cases PTSD.

They may not have ever directly attacked you with their fists, but they have directly attacked your relationship with their actions time and time again.

5. When they blame you for their infidelity.

If your partner blames you for their cheating, they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Whatever their motivations for cheating were, it was their decision to pull the trigger and violate your relationship agreement.


Someone who cheats and tries to turn it around on their partner is no different from someone who hits another person and then says "you made me do that!" It makes just as little sense and it's just as abusive.

Should you stay or should you go?

The choice to stay or leave an emotionally abusive relationship is never easy. The feelings of shame and isolation can be overwhelming, but you'll need to sort the feelings out and decide if the relationship can go back to normal, or if cheating is going to be a repeated cycle of emotional turmoil you don't deserve.


If you or someone you know is stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-787-SAFE.

RELATED: How To Recover From Emotional Abuse After Leaving A Psychologically Abusive Relationship

Rebecca Jane Stokes is an editor, freelance writer, former Senior Staff Writer for YourTango, and the former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek. Her bylines have appeared in Fatherly, Gizmodo, Yahoo Life, Jezebel, Apartment Therapy, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, SheKnows, and many others