If you’ve been cheated on, you’ll know that it can leave you feeling upset, angry and confused.
What did you do wrong?
According to a new study, asking yourself this question could be doing you a lot more harm than you think – physically as well as mentally.
Researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno surveyed 232 college students who’d been cheated on in the last three months – the average relationship length was 1.76 years. The aim of the study was to find out how their behaviour and mental health was affected by infidelity.
“We were interested in this topic for a couple reasons,” study lead author M. Rosie Shrout told PsyPost. “First, we know that infidelity is one of the most distressing and damaging events couples face.
“The person who was cheated on experiences strong emotional and psychological distress following infidelity. We wanted to know if this emotional and psychological distress leads them to engage in risky health behaviours, such as unprotected sex, drug use, alcohol use, binge eating, or not eating at all.
“We were also interested in whether perceptions of blame played a role in their psychological distress and risky health behaviours. Did individuals who were cheated on blame their partners for cheating or did they blame themselves? Did who they blame affect whether they experienced psychological distress or engaged in risky behaviours?”
The researchers concluded that: “negative appraisals (partner blame, self-blame, and causal attribution) had indirect effects on health-compromising behaviours through mental health (depression, anxiety, and distress).”
According to the study, being a victim of infidelity can significantly affect your behaviour, view of cheating and, perhaps unsurprisingly, your ability to trust.
And some people are affected more than others.
The researchers found that those who suffer more psychological distress after being cheated on have a higher likelihood of turning to alcohol or drugs, developing disordered eating or extreme exercising.
“Being cheated on seems to not only have mental health consequences, but also increases risky behaviours,” Shrout said.
“We also found that people who blamed themselves for their partner cheating, such as feeling like it was their fault or they could have stopped it, were more likely to engage in risky behaviours.”
The researchers aren’t sure what the reason for this is, but Shrout suggests it could be damaged self-esteem, lower inhibitions toward risky behaviours, or retaliation toward the cheating partner.
They also found that people who blamed the cheating partner were less likely to engage in risky behaviour than those who blamed themselves. And these effects were stronger for women than men.
“This gender difference is consistent with previous research showing that women experience more distress after being cheated on,” Shrout said. “We think this is because women typically place higher importance on the relationship as a source of self and identity.
“As a result, women who have been cheated on might be more likely to have poorer mental health and engage in unhealthy, risky behaviour because their self-perceptions have been damaged.”
It’s important to note, however, that the participants in the study were aged around 20 and the results might have been different with older people.
Remember, if your partner cheats on you, it’s not your fault. It’s them.