Why Do I Still Love My Husband After He Cheated?

So your partner cheated on you but you still love him. You might be wondering if something is wrong with you. How can you still want to be close to the savage monster who murdered your soul? How is it that sometimes you want to set his balls on fire and other times you want to collapse into his arms and let him feed you chocolate cake while petting your hair and gently whispering the perfect words to soothe the flickering light of your heart?

It feels like an insane roller coaster, but it’s actually totally normal. In fact, you are reacting exactly the way that millions of years of evolution have designed all humans to react. Anyone who says you should stop loving him and simply move on is basically telling you to simply ignore your biology, genetics, and the entire history of humanity. That monstrously ignorant advice has as much value as a unicorn fart. As in none because it’s fake bullshit.

The Two Extremes of Betrayal Trauma Dysregulation

Most people who are victims of betrayal trauma vacillate wildly between two states:

  1. Rage, disgust, and loathing whenever you see or even think about his stupid face. Wanting him to GTFO and never speak to you again. Dreaming up ways to inflict a similar level of pain (or worse) on him. You know, your typical garden-variety hatred.
  2. Love, longing, and desire to be close to him. Wishing he would hold you while you cry and validate your pain. Remembering all the good times along with all the future plans, hopes, and dreams the two of you had together.

It probably feels like these two parts are at war inside your heart. You want to stab him in the dick one moment and be held and supported by him the next. You’re crying your eyes out over the pain this monster has caused, but you also want him to comfort you and make you feel loved.

If you think about it, this makes sense considering that the very person who created this absolute clusterfuck in your heart is the same person you’ve felt most connected to and loved by for the last however many years. The person you trusted more than anyone else is the same person who completely wiped out your sense of security and connection. It’s enough to make anyone feel torn in two.

Why Evolution Has Torn You in Two

When you start intertwining your life with someone else, you become emotionally attached to them. This doesn’t mean you’re codependent (a bad word around here). All relationships involve some level of mutual dependence or interdependence. This is what creates a sense of security, grounding, and wholeness.

You also become biologically attached. The two of you literally start to function as one biological organism. Research has shown that couples regulate each other’s blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, hormones, etc. Your brains literally become rewired to bond you to each other. Dr. Amir Levine, attachment expert and fancy Ivy League professor says, “getting attached means that our brain becomes wired to seek the support of our partner by ensuring the partner’s psychological and physical proximity.”

This bond was really useful back in caveman days. Humans didn’t survive for long on their own back then. They had to form close attachments with others because there was safety in numbers and it was way easier to live in a community with shared resources. Ensuring psychological and physical proximity served to keep the group together, congruent, and alive. Plus, being biologically attached meant the fight-flight-freeze response could be activated extremely quickly throughout the group, potentially saving lives.

In fact, John Bowlby, founder of attachment theory and psychology super star, said the attachment bond is more important for survival than basic physiological needs like shelter or even food. This was sadly proven true back in the day when babies in orphanages who received adequate food and shelter but little to no physical touch or nurturing kept wasting away and dying. They had food, water, clothing, and shelter, but they had no sense of love or human connection. The ones who survived had underdeveloped brains, undernourished bodies, and their mental health was basically a flaming pile of garbage. All because of a lack of human attachment.

What happens when you form this incredibly powerful biological, psychological, and evolutionary attachment to someone and then they murder it? The very person you’re drawn to for safety and support also becomes a source of danger and a threat to your very survival.

So your brain is trying to keep you safe and alive by telling you to reestablish physical and psychological proximity to your safe, loving person. But then it remembers that that same person is a threat and it screams at you to RUN AWAY! Then you’re freaking out so your brain tells you to seek the safety of your person again. Then it remembers the threat and goes into red alert again. And round and round we go. It’s fucking exhausting.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Your brain is basically playing a constant loop of Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash. But way worse because it literally thinks your survival is at risk.

The problem is that you’re living in two realities. And both are true. Your partner is your safe person, the person you’re biologically, psychologically, and evolutionarily attached to. Your partner is also a vicious monster whose behavior threatened both your health and safety. There is an incompatibility between the betrayal and your innate biology.

This obviously requires a major adjustment. Your existing model of a loving, trustworthy partner still exists. But so does a new model of an abusive and/or dangerous partner. Your existing model of your life as a safe, predictable experience still exists. But so does a new model of extreme uncertainty and unexpected danger. Somehow these models have to be merged to create a new model.

Super star John Bowlby has more to say about that: “To dismantle a model which has played and is still playing a major part in our daily life and to replace it by a new one is a slow and arduous task, even when the new situation is, in principle, welcome. When the new situation is by contrast unwelcome, the task is not only arduous but painful and perhaps frightening as well. Certain situations that are both new and unwelcome may, indeed, appear at first sight so appalling that we dread to recognize their very existence.”

In other words, this adjustment is so overwhelming to your poor, deeply human brain, it simply can’t take it all in at once. Typically, it responds by doing one of two things:

  1. It oscillates restlessly between the two models.
  2. It ignores or excludes the betrayal from consciousness (betrayal blindness).

The first option is what’s going on when you feel torn in two opposite directions. The second option is what happens when your brain is exhausted and just wants to restore a sense of safety and connection, preserve your worldview, and simply survive. Betrayal blindness is not dysfunctional. It’s an adaptive response to one of the worst situations a human can find themselves in.

Unfortunately, it isn’t a long-term solution. You can’t simply push the betrayal out of your mind forever and go on living life like nothing happened. I mean, you can try, but it won’t work long-term. Most likely, it will eventually manifest in one of the following forms:

  • Shame or internalization of maltreatment, leading to decreased self-esteem, depression, and lots of other problems
  • Fear/avoidance of your partner and/or certain triggers or situations
  • Somatic symptoms such as medically inexplicable pain or fatigue
  • Forms of dissociation including substance abuse

So do you leave the cheating husband you love or do you learn to trust him again? Do you stay or do you go? There’s no simple answer to this question. But because the very person you would turn to in a disaster is no longer safe, it’s essential that you have other people you can turn to for comfort.

supportive friends for betrayal trauma

If you choose to stay, you will experience fewer of the above emotional and somatic problems if you have high-quality, close relationships with others (friends, family, therapists, etc.). Leaning on those attachments will decrease the conflict your brain experiences when seeking comfort and safety.

The key phrase here is high-quality. If those close relationships are with people who can’t empathize or who act judgmental about your decisions, it will simply create more conflict in your brain, leading to isolation or dissociation from your true feelings and, ultimately, your true self.

If you choose to go, the same thing applies. Leaning into high-quality, close relationships will soothe your brain’s need for attachment, making the transition to a new life less frightening and difficult.

What If I Have No Other Close Attachments?

I won’t lie, this is going to be hard. This was the situation I found myself in after my D-Day. I had devoted so much energy over the years to my marriage and my husband’s needs that my friendships had simply withered up to practically nothing. I tried to pick a few of them back up where we left off, but understandably, those friends had moved on and weren’t available to be there for me in the capacity I needed to recover from betrayal trauma.

So where did I turn? Therapy and support groups. It doesn’t take long to create a healthy attachment or bond with a knowledgeable therapist. And relevant support groups (see my resources page for a few) get real deep real quick. So lean on your therapist and the folks walking the same path as you. It’s the only way to restore that biological need for attachment.

And listen here for a sec. If your therapist and/or support group members (or even internet strangers) offer to be there for you through this, DO NOT feel like you are burdening them with your problems. They know what you are going through, they want to be there for you, so let them. Contact them when you need someone to listen to you cry or vent. Talk to them when you feel like you can’t go on. Tell them when the only good thing in your day was that you got toothpaste out of a tube.

I know this doesn’t really answer the question of whether you should stay or go, and that is an important decision to make. But what’s arguably more important initially (depending on how safe you are) is restoring attachment with safe people so your brain can chill the hell out and you can stop being at war within yourself. Only then can you start to consider things rationally.

Cats know how to lean into attachments

If you’d like to schedule a session with me to talk more about attachment, toothpaste, or anything else, head over to my contact page. I get it.