Angry and hurt man looking across the table at his wife wondering if she still loves him despite her cheating.

Can A Woman Cheat And Still Be In Love? Understanding The Emotional Complexity

Infidelity is a deeply painful and complex issue, stirring intense emotions and raising difficult questions. If you’re grappling with the life-changing question, “Can a woman cheat and still be in love?”, you are not alone.

This question cuts to the quick of our understanding of relationships, love, and trust. Feeling hurt, betrayed, and confused is natural when you have been betrayed. You need to acknowledge your emotions because it’s the first step toward making sense of everything. When you take the time to understand your emotions, then you can begin to examine how love and betrayal can coexist, and how you can navigate her infidelity.

The Paradox of Love and Infidelity

Infidelity is often assumed to mean there’s no romantic love or respect left in the relationship. However, the reality is not so black and white. There are umpteen different shades of gray.

Love and infidelity can, despite what most believe, coexist. This might seem confusing and contradictory, but that is what a paradox is. But to make sense of your experience and her choices, you must wrap your mind around it.

So, let’s revisit the commonly held belief that cheating always stems from a lack of love for one’s spouse. While the depth of and commitment to love can play a role in infidelity, this is rarely the whole story.

Many women who cheat still deeply love their spouse. They stray because they are seeking something they feel is missing in their marriage. The things unfaithful women cite as missing in their marriage are the same as what men who cheat say are missing from their marriages – emotional connection, validation, a sense of novelty.

Then there is the fact that emotions are incredibly complex. A person can love their partner and still feel unmet needs that lead them to stray and seek fulfillment elsewhere. This does not necessarily mean they do not value their marriage. Instead, it often indicates underlying issues that need to be addressed. When you know what the root causes of her infidelity are, it is much simpler to find ways to heal and move forward.

Why Do Women Cheat?

Understanding why women cheat, even when they still love their spouses, often comes down to three factors.

  1. Emotional Disconnect

    A healthy relationship requires emotional intimacy. If the emotional intimacy fades or feels lacking, some women seek it elsewhere. This does not necessarily mean they no longer love their partner.

    What it does mean is they are searching for a deeper emotional bond that is missing for them. The desire to be understood and appreciated on an emotional level is powerful and can lead people to make choices they never anticipated. (Yes, this is true for men and women.)
  2. Self-Esteem Issues

    Mental health can also play a significant role in infidelity. Women struggling with low self-esteem might cheat to validate their worth and desirability.

    This validation can temporarily boost their self-confidence, making them feel more valued and attractive. However, this external validation is often fleeting and does not address the underlying issues affecting their self-esteem.
  3. Desire for Novelty

    Sometimes the routine of a long-term relationship can lead to a longing for novelty and excitement. Wanting new experiences does not necessarily reflect a lack of love.

    Instead, it can simply be the desire for the dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine hits the thrill and passion of a new relationship can supply. Women who cheat may be seeking to experience the highs, even if they still love their partner deeply.

The Role of Mental Health

As previously mentioned, mental health significantly impacts behavior, including decisions around infidelity. So, it’s a good idea to investigate whether mental health issues played a role in her decision to stray so you can better understand how her infidelity and its aftermath might be resolved.

Looking at some of the mental health issues that could be connected to a person’s decision to cheat can help in understanding why women who cheat can still be in love with their spouses.

(Please keep in mind that this information is not meant to provide a diagnosis. Its purpose is simply to offer additional information you may want to consider as you work to wrap your mind around whether a woman can cheat and still be in love.)

Anxiety and Depression

Common symptoms of anxiety and depression are feelings of disconnection, hopelessness, and a lack of fulfillment. Women struggling with these issues might not feel the emotional closeness they crave in their relationships.

Instead, they can feel stuck in an emotional void. Sometimes this can push them to seek comfort and understanding outside their marriage. It’s not necessarily about their partner’s shortcomings but rather the internal struggles these women face.

Unresolved Trauma

With all the attention over the past couple of decades, most of us have heard the term PTSD. PTSD is the result of unresolved past trauma which can often impact current behavior. More and more, unresolved childhood or previous relationships are the source of the trauma that lead to infidelity.

Women who have experienced emotional neglect, abuse, or betrayal might cheat to cope with their unresolved pain. In this case, the cheating can be a misguided attempt to regain control or to numb the pain they don’t feel equipped to handle.

If past trauma has played a part in your partner’s decision to be unfaithful, this knowledge can help you both in developing a plan for moving forward.

Impulsivity and Risk-Taking

Some mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder or certain personality disorders, and neurodiversity, like ADHD or ADD, can increase impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors. Women with these conditions might cheat to experience the thrill or distraction it provides.

This impulsivity doesn’t negate their love for their partner but highlights the need for proper mental health support and treatment.

Understanding the role of mental health in infidelity emphasizes the importance of compassion and the need for professional support. Addressing these underlying issues through therapy can help individuals and couples navigate the difficulties of love and trust after betrayal.

Reconciling Love and Infidelity

Understanding that love and infidelity can coexist is just the beginning. The next challenge is reconciling these conflicting emotions and moving forward. As you have probably already guessed, there’s nothing simple or quick about it. However, as you will see, open communication, seeking professional help, rebuilding trust and forgiveness, healing is possible.

When you are dealing with the aftermath of infidelity, open and honest communication is not optional. It’s required. Both of you need to express your feelings, fears, and hopes without judgment.

Obviously, this is easily said, and it will likely be incredibly difficult to do – especially when emotions are raw. However, creating a safe space where you both feel heard is the only way to rebuild trust.

It’s important to talk about her infidelity, what led to it, and how you are both feeling in its aftermath.

Therapy can be invaluable for getting through the aftermath of infidelity. A skilled therapist can provide a neutral ground for both of you to explore your feelings and work through your issues.

Couples therapy or even private, intensive couples retreats can help address the root causes of infidelity and develop strategies to prevent it from happening again.

Individual therapy may also be helpful for addressing personal issues such as low self-esteem, past trauma, or mental health conditions that may have contributed to or resulted from the infidelity.

Yet even with the supportive groundwork of open communication and the help of skilled professionals, rebuilding trust takes time and consistent effort.

Both partners need to be committed to the process of rebuilding trust.

She must be willing to be transparent and patient, allowing you to rebuild trust at your own pace. This might involve sharing more about her whereabouts, being open with communication, and consistently showing commitment to the relationship.

And you need to find ways to manage your pain and gradually open up to trusting her again while avoiding the betrayed spouse cycle.

Ultimately, if you choose to stay together, forgiveness is required. Reaching forgiveness requires the understanding and empathy previously mentioned. It also necessitates a willingness to move past the hurt.

Both of you need to be ready to forgive and let go of resentment. This doesn’t mean forgetting the infidelity or pretending it didn’t happen. Instead, it means finding a way to accept it and move forward together.

(For a more in-depth discussion on how to heal and move forward after infidelity, you will want to read Surviving Infidelity as a Couple: Can Your Marriage Make It?.)

In the end, there’s no way around it. Infidelity is a painful and complex issue. However, hopefully you can now see that love and betrayal can coexist. And this knowledge can also be the first step of the many required to move through the pain and toward healing. If you both choose to work together to address the underlying issue(s) in your relationship and each of you, your relationship can become stronger and even happier.  

Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, schedule a ½ hour complimentary consultation.

Posted in

Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats