Being cheated on impacts more than feelings and has both short and long-term effects on our brains. It affects almost every aspect of our lives, from the type of pain we experience initially to the manner in which we evaluate our future mates.
Although understanding the neurological effect might not aid recovery, it makes it clear that cheating bears severe consequences. These consequences are proof that grief and the consequent questioning should not be downplayed or dismissed.
We experience physical pain
Heartbreaks can induce physical pain, meaning betrayals and breakups are both physically and emotionally painful. They activate the sections of the brain that react to physical discomfort. A study conducted by the University of Michigan shows both physical and emotional pains are processed the same by the brain.
The dorsal posterior insula and secondary somatosensory cortex lit up after volunteers were exposed to both types of pain. It hurts a lot to be cheated on because the brain processes emotional pain same as physical pain. For monogamous individuals, infidelity equals a rejection of the core value as partners, which is why it hurts.
Gender influences reaction to infidelity
Gender mediates the physical reactions to being cheated on in every relationship. A study conducted in 2009 aimed to prove men felt guilt for emotional infidelity and women for romantic infidelity. Unfortunately, the results were the exact opposite of this hypothesis. Can the results change if you are the victim and not the perpetrator?
Another study conducted in 2015 on 64,000 Americans aged between 18 and 65 shows the same results as the previous one. Interestingly, non-monogamous individuals demonstrate no gender differences. Jealousy still mattered but was mostly mediated through communication, a necessary part of all non-monogamous situations.
It might feel like breaking an addiction
When cheated on, our brain reacts as if we are trying to quit an addiction cold turkey. To the brain, love is just as addictive as cocaine. As Berkeley explains, the experience of love follows a similar brain pathway as the rush of any addictive substance. Seriously in love individuals indicate strong reactions in the caudate nucleus, which releases feel-good chemicals, motivating behavior.
Without the feel-good chemicals, the body reacts in a manner almost similar to when one quits nicotine. Experiencing that rush with someone else might trigger an addictive substance-seeking mode, causing disregard for everything else searching for the next “fix.” As it turns out, affairs are just as addictive as the first dose of love.