The revelation that her husband has been having an extramarital affair for past three years with one of his office colleagues came as a big traumatic shock to Shalini (name changed) and her two children.
She had been devastated, traumatized stressed and depressed .She felt as if someone had hit her with a big stone on her head. She felt dizzy as she could foresee a tough time ahead for her and her two children .Her heart sank. She could see her marriage of twenty years, falling apart at that instant.
Shalini and Amit (name changed ) have been married for twenty years .They have a son 11years and a daughter who had just completed her 18th birthday last week .So far they have had an acceptable level of understanding within the family, like any other middle class educated family. There have been occasional arguments and some fighting incidents between husband -wife or mother in -law and daughter in law, but none could have expected that one of them could be going astray in an age when it is often felt that marriage has withered all storms and it will be all smooth sailing from here. The kind of traumatic stress that had befallen all members of family after the revelation of extramarital affairs of the head of the family needs to be understood in the larger context here.
It has often been assumed that such an unfortunate situation affects the couple and it may not have much impact on other members of the family. But that is only a myth; in fact it leaves very deep scars on all members of the affected family.
The traumatic shock of such revelation of infidelity by (either spouse), brings about profound stress levels to all members of the family. The impact of such revelation of the infidelity perpetrated by the spouse can be as potentially and severely traumatic as the trauma brought about by a natural disaster uprooting entire family, mentally, socially, emotionally and financially. The post infidelity traumatic stress disorder unlike the other PTSD needs to be assessed on entire family as a whole and on each individual family member individually .
PITSD mentioned in the above case can be seen as it affected all members of the family, in the following manner.
The wife has lost total confidence in her and has ever since been suffering from low self esteem. She has not been able to find reasons for the infidelity brought about by her husband, around whom she had built her world of twenty years.
She often complains of somatic pains and sleeplessness. At times her memory gets affected .She forgets attending to smaller details about herself. Frequent visits to her psychiatrist /psychologist do help .Yet the gnawing pains and the thought “why” come back repeatedly. Seems she will take a long time to recover from the PITSD.
The young ones too suffer from PITSD .A sense of impending breakup of the parents’ marriage hurts them all the time. Their son not being in a position to side with any parent ,has gone into silence .He speaks in low tones and uses very few words to ask for anything needed by him This has resulted into his neglected of studies and self care. It has however brought both siblings closer to each other.
Daughter of the family doesn’t like such a situation .She believes that this could have been avoided if she had paid more attention to the family environment over the years. She has been in the process of self remorse .Any discussion in the family on the subject matter triggers her severe depression and she would start crying in no time .She believes her father has been her infallible hero and should have been more careful with his conduct. She ends up fighting with both her parents a few times a day. She refuses to listen to any reason by her father. She suffers from eating disorder and her physician has diagnosed her for IBS
Post Infidelity Traumatic Stress Disorder as such doesn’t happen to one individual .It virtually affects the complete family system. As a family therapist we have been focusing on the couple #both the spouses as a single system but in such cases it becomes obvious that the systems within the system too need as much attention and intervention/therapy as we give to the main couple.
The impact of such revelation/disclosure/finding is no less traumatic to the spouse who has been wayward and promiscuously adventurous .He feels miserable now thinking that his children know everything about him. He faces the wrath of his partner always feeling guilty. A defiance attitude was fine so long as he had been dealing with the spouse. But the reaction of both, the daughter (who’s an adult) and the adolescent son has been a little stronger to be taken lightly .Resultantly business suffers, nightmares occur and visit to family therapist occur frequently now.