Health & Fitness News
Can Infidelity Cause Illness?
(NEW YORK) -- Valerie Trierweiler, known in France as the "first girlfriend" of the country's President François Hollande, was hospitalized after she learned he was having an affair with a younger actress.
Trierweiler, who is 48 and has been with the 59-year-old Socialist leader since 2005, was treated for "gros coup de blues," or a "severe case of the blues," according to Le Monde. Twice married, she is a hard-hitting journalist known around France as the "Rottweiler."
On Jan. 10, after hearing of Hollande's alleged trysts with 41-year-old Julie Gayet at a borrowed apartment near the Élysée palace, Trierweiler was taken to a Paris hospital for exhaustion, and doctors prescribed bedrest. She was expected to be released Monday.
Hollande has never been married. He left his former college sweetheart and mother of his four children, Ségolène Royal, for Trierweiler. Royal ran for president herself in 2007 but lost to Nicolas Sarkozy. Hollande has not denied the affair but has objected to the invasion of his privacy.
The French are well-known for their casual acceptance of sexual affairs, but that does not diminish the impact on Trierweiler, according to Lawrence Josephs, a professor at the Derner Institute of Psychological Studies at Adelphi University in New York. The trauma can make a person sick.
"It is a common idea that the French have different standards when it comes to infidelity than do Americans," he said. "Rates are similar in the U.S. and France, and they get just as hurt, jealous and enraged when they suffer sexual betrayal."
Infidelity occurs in about 15 to 40 percent of all American marriages, according to Josephs. In a survey of his students, he said 25 percent reported awareness of parental infidelity.
"The question that is yet to be researched is if the more philosophical attitude that the French possess toward marital infidelity provides them with any immunity from the psychological suffering sexual betrayal causes," he said. "Americans are probably more inclined to use couple's therapy to help them recover from the adverse impact of extramarital affairs."
But Josephs said the physical symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are not an uncommon response to infidelity, and the betrayed party can have flashbacks of the spouse having sex.
Emotional trauma can even trigger a broken heart, according to Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical editor.
"Fortunately, the condition is quite rare," Besser said. "It's almost exclusively seen in postmenopausal women. And while the symptoms are similar to a heart attack, 1 to 2 percent of people who are diagnosed with a heart attack are really suffering from the broken heart syndrome, what's happening to the heart is quite different."
Broken heart syndrome is thought to stem from a surge of hormones that impairs the ability of the heart muscle to pump.
According to a 2005 study at Johns Hopkins Hospital that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, sadness or emotional trauma can be a stressor. But, say researchers, unlike a classic heart attack, it is rarely fatal.
But when it comes to infidelity, many people underestimate the extent of the trauma when one partner betrays another, according to Janis Abrahms Spring, a Connecticut psychologist who specializes in infidelity.
Spring wrote After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful. Published in 2012, it was the first book to frame infidelity as a psychological trauma.
"The hurt person is buried in an avalanche of losses," she told ABC News. "It doesn't just involve a loss of trust, but the basic loss of self. It cuts to the core."
Spring said hurt partners experience feelings of being "helpless, crazy and alone."
"They become obsessed with the affair and the other person," she said. "They spend all their time checking, looking at the partner's cell phone and emails because they don't feel safe."
Spring said physical symptoms, such as those experienced by Trierweiler, are not uncommon.
"People experience disorientation, not sleeping," she said. "Because they don't sleep, they don't function well during the day. They go to the parking lot and can't find their car. They get lost in their mind. It feels like it's been hijacked."
She said it doesn't matter if the hurt partner is married or not. The trauma is still there.
"Betrayal is not about marriage. It's about one person believing they are in a committed relationship and the other acts outside of the contract," said Spring. "Affairs are not about sex but about secrets."
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
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