Effects of infidelity on child
8 Effects Of Infidelity On Kids (Experts Say It's Not All Bad)
It's not as bad as you think.
by Jennifer Parris
Cheating can be devastating to any relationship, but what happens when you have kids together? Even if you and your partner decide to work out your issues, if your child somehow finds out about the affair, it can make things even messier. If you’re wondering about the effects infidelity has on kids, you might be surprised (and relieved) to know that it’s not all doom and gloom — if you handle it the right way.
Everyone in a family is affected by an affair, in one way or another. Whether it’s seeing the parent who was cheated on angry and upset, or seeing the cheating partner feeling guilty, it’s important to keep in mind that these are big emotions for everyone, especially little kids. And while cheating might feel like a deathblow to a relationship whether you decide to stay together or not, you’re still going to have to work out some very real (and raw) feelings that your child might have about it.
Even though it might seem like there’s no relationship rebound from an affair, it’s important to keep in mind that, even in the middle of such a mess, your role is that of a parent. After all, your child’s needs come first. So be sure to put your kiddo’s emotional well-being first as you forge ahead with your life, and understand the ramifications when infidelity makes its way into a relationship so that you can help your child handle their own emotions.
1They Might Feel Abandoned
Even if both parents still reside in the same home, it doesn’t deter negative feelings from occurring, the most common one being abandonment. “When a parent strays the feeling is oftentimes translated by the child as abandonment,” Kimberly Friedmutter, author of the best-selling book Subconscious Power: Use Your Inner Mind to Create the Life You've Always Wanted, tells Romper in an email. “The feeling of abandonment leads to mistrust and the child pulls away from the value of that parent, placing a higher value on the parent that stayed.”
2They Might Feel Like They Have To “Win Over” The Cheating Parent
Whether intentional or otherwise, kids often internalize what’s happening in the home, and more to the point, your relationship. So even though they have nothing to do with the infidelity, your child might feel some sense of responsibility to help patch things up again between you and your partner. “Kids are smart and they react to changes in their parents behavior — if they see them acting differently such as sad, angry or shut down, it will have a profound effect on them,” Dori Shwirtz, a marital and family mediator at divorceharmony.com tells Romper in an email. “They may feel like they need to help make the ‘sad’ parent happy again or win the love back of the cheating parent.” Make sure that your child doesn’t assume this unnecessary responsibility and focus on helping them through this tough time.
3It Can Cause Them To Question Everything
When one parent is unfaithful, it can make your child wonder what’s real — and what’s not — in your relationship. “When a parent is unfaithful, it can cause a child to question the stability they felt at home,” Dr. Cassandra LeClair, Ph.D., a relationship expert and author of Being Whole: Healing from Trauma and Reclaiming My Voice tells Romper in an email. That’s why you’ll need to work extra hard to ensure that your child feels stable (and loved) by both you and your partner. Make sure to answer their questions and allow them the time they need to process what is truly a very adult issue.
4They Might Be More Likely To Cheat In The Futurekampee patisena/Moment/Getty Images
Not only can an affair can rip a relationship right down to its very core, but it can also set the stage for your child’s future relationships, too. “Depending on the way it's handled, the cheating can have a long-term impact on the children,” says Shwirtz. “Studies show that kids from cheating households are twice as likely to be unfaithful themselves.” And this can definitely be the case: the study, “Family Background and Propensity to Engage in Infidelity,” found that children of parents who cheated were more likely to cheat as adults, too.
5They Might Be Afraid To Be Loyal To Either Parent
When an affair occurs, it often feels like there’s a good guy (the one who got cheated on), and a bad guy (the one who cheated). But things aren’t always so black and white. And for kids who love both of their parents, this puts them in a particularly prickly spot as they try to navigate their feelings. As such, they might feel unsure about who to trust, and more importantly, who to show their love towards. “They may feel a sense of betrayal and confusion about loyalty,” says Dr. LeClair. “If they have been taught to be honest and care about others' feelings, they may question why their role models did not have to follow the same rules. ”
6They Might Become Depressed
Although it can be hard to separate your own feelings about the infidelity, put yourself in your child’s shoes for a minute. Imagine that you’re the child in the scenario, and you suddenly find out that your parents (whom you love) have not been living an idyllic life. It can cause you to question everything that you thought was real or true about your family, and in some cases, might cause your kiddo to become pretty depressed. “Infidelity can have a detrimental psychological effect on kids and lead to a dysfunctional family, which can then disrupt their life and hamper their potential,” Tatyana Dyachenko, a sexual and relationship therapist tells Romper in an email. “For example, a kid may become less motivated and depressed, underperform at school or succumb to bullying as a way of expressing their inner anger and resentment.” Make sure to monitor your child for signs of depression or changes in their personality, and give them as much love, kindness, and caring as possible so that they feel safe and protected.
7They Might Worry It’ll Happen To Them
Even though your child might be too young to process the gravity of infidelity, they might still believe somewhere deep down that if it can happen to their parents, it might happen to them, too. That’s why you need to help your child understand that just because an affair happened doesn’t mean that they’re automatically doomed to repeat the cycle, Friedmutter advises. “You don't want the child feeling that the same will happen to them when they mate,” she says. “This false belief can steer the child to believing they are unlovable and then continue a pattern of inevitable abandonment.” Even though there might be a greater likelihood that it could happen, try to teach your child that infidelity is not an inevitability.
8It Can Help Them Communicate Better
If you’re planning to stay together (and not just for the sake of the kids), then you’re going to have longs talks about the affair and how to move on from it. Lots and lots of talks. The way this helps your child is by teaching them that through communication, understanding, (and yes, love), you and your partner are working together to solve a very real problem, says Shwirtz. “Infidelity can actually have a positive influence on the children if it's a small incident and leads to a reckoning in the marriage where therapy is started and better communication between the parents is initiated,” she says. “Meaning, the cheating event can spur growth and make the family healthier and more bonded.”
The discovery of an affair is gut-wrentching for everyone involved, but especially so for your child. Be sure to allow them to express their emotions so that their feelings are heard and validated. You might even want to seek support if necessary so that everyone gets the care (and counseling) they may need during this turbulent time.
Weiser, D., Weigel, D., Lalasz, C. 2015 “Family Background and Propensity to Engage in Infidelity”
Kimberly Friedmutter, author of the best-selling book Subconscious Power: Use Your Inner Mind to Create the Life You've Always Wanted
Dori Shwirtz, a marital and family mediator at divorceharmony. com
Dr. Cassandra LeClair, Ph.D., a relationship expert and author of Being Whole: Healing from Trauma and Reclaiming My Voice
Tatyana Dyachenko, a sexual and relationship therapist
Children Of Infidelity—How They Hurt, And How They Heal – Kindred Media
Visit the site for a film discussion guide, more educational materials, and science references at www.BreakingtheCycleFilm.org
The Legacy of Infidelity and Divorce
Kindred Media · Why Dads Leave: Insights and Resources for When Partners Become Parents, with Meryn Callander
The following is a chapter excerpt from the new book, After His Affair: Women Rising From The Ashes Of Infidelity, by Meryn Callander. This is her follow up book to Why Dads Leave: Insights and Resources for When Partners Become Parents. As a co-founder of the venerable Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children and an attachment parenting advocate, Callander addresses the very real and frequent issues of infidelity and divorce and their impact on children in her books. You can join Callander to explore this realm of marriage and parenting in her upcoming Parenting As A Hero’s Journey Virtual Retreat. The dark side of family life may be real, but, as Callander teaches, so are the many paths to healing.
The Legacy of Infidelity and Divorce
Infidelity—and the divorce that often follows—is a legacy passed from one generation to the next. As adults, these children of infidelity are more likely to be unfaithful to their own partner, and children of divorced parents have a higher than average divorce rate as adults.READ THIS BOOK NOW
Jennifer Harley Chalmers, Ph.D., Surviving an Affair, believes one of the important lessons children learn when a parent is unfaithful is thoughtlessness: “doing what you please, regardless of how it affects other people. ”
Research by Judith Wallerstein, co-author of The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, shows that experiencing parental divorce during childhood has a sleeper effect. The worst symptoms often appear when children of divorce leave home and try to form intimate relationships and families of their own, but do so with much less ability to trust and little idea of what a lasting marriage looks like. Ana Nogales’s study, reported in Parents Who Cheat: How Children and Adults Are Affected When Their Parents Are Unfaithful, indicates that this sleeper effect applies similarly to children of infidelity.
In 2012, one quarter of adults under forty-five in the U.S. were children of divorce. This means that today, in the U.S. alone, many millions of people are struggling with the residue of divorce in their personal lives. Wallerstein questions what it may mean that a million new children a year are added to our “march of marital failure.” Now if we add the children of parents who separate, and children of infidelity, to those numbers…
Seeing more and more relationships fail or fall to infidelity reinforces the belief that failure is inevitable. Yes, adults have greater freedom and more opportunity than perhaps ever before, but there are hidden costs—and the costs are escalating. It is for each parent to determine the legacy they will leave for their children.
Marriage: To Be or Not To Be?
In a culture inundated with disposable items and the relentless production lines of new and improved models, when something doesn’t work, or doesn’t bring the satisfaction it initially did, people are ever ready to dispose of it. Relationships—like many things—are more easily disposed of than worked on. If a person’s car breaks down, what do they do? Do they take it to the junkyard or to the mechanic? What does it say of a person—of a culture—when their relationship is more disposable than their car?
These dilemmas are exacerbated by the increased pressure we put on marriage. The expectations of marriage have grown as other social networks—with friends, extended families, neighborhood groups and so on—have broken down. In marrying, the expectation is that the couple will form a lifelong bond that is safe, nurturing, loving, financially stable, and exciting.
Andrew Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round, believes we have a “schizophrenic culture about marriage.” He explores the American habit of marriage “churning”—people divorcing and remarrying quickly. “We value marriage, but we also value thinking about ourselves—what makes us happy, what makes us most fulfilled. We think if we are not happy we have the right to end our relationships.”
On average, marriages end after eleven years. This raises the question: Have the past decades created such levels of narcissism that we will not tolerate a relationship that doesn’t give us unabating bliss? Psychotherapist Rachel Morris believes that our modern culture is counter-intuitive to sticking with marriage through the long haul; that to do so is totally at odds with modern messages of choice and freedom and ambition.
Despite the seeming incompatibility between marriage and modern messages of choice and freedom, growing numbers of young adults are saying they want a monogamous marriage, and growing numbers of Americans are disapproving of infidelity. Yet we are more likely to accept infidelity in our own relationships, rather than see it as the automatic deal-breaker we saw it as in the past—and more likely to confront it directly with the help of therapists and counselors.
It’s important to help people understand what it means to work on a relationship and to withstand periods of adversity, and to deeply reflect on what they—as individuals, as a couple and a family—lose when they leave.
While not all marriages can—or should—be saved, no therapist can save a marriage if either partner is not committed to working on the issues brought to the fore through the infidelity. Sometimes too much damage has been done, or reconciliation remains elusive, or the unfaithful partner is unwilling to leave the affair in order to work on the relationship. Couples who have a strong commitment to rebuilding their relationship and have the strength and determination to do so, have a high probability of staying together and renewing a relationship that grows in depth, honesty, and intimacy.
Many parents end their marriage prematurely, believing that the children will “get over it.” As reported in The Unanticipated Legacy of Divorce, by Judith Wallerstein, et al., the whole trajectory of an individual’s life can be profoundly altered by parental divorce. From the viewpoint of the children, divorce is a cumulative experience.
When the time comes to choose a life mate and build a family, the effects of divorce are exacerbated. Parental divorce affects the children’s personality, ability to trust, expectations about relationships, and ability to cope with change. Ana Nogales, Ph.D., Parents Who Cheat: How Children and Adults Are Affected When Their Parents Are Unfaithful, reveals a parallel pattern in children of parents who betrayed. While martyrdom is not a healthy option for children to carry into future relationships, ending a marriage because the grass looks greener elsewhere—or because they are running from conflict, or it just looks easier—says little of a person’s character. Ultimately children benefit from parents who show them how a conscious and loving couple can grow together, through good times and bad.
MARILYN: If two people are in a committed relationship, they owe it to one another to be honest. If they cannot stay committed, they need to extricate themselves from the relationship before pursuing other relations. The consequences of acting otherwise are tremendous—especially when children are involved. When a man is unfaithful to his wife, he is being unfaithful to his children as well. How will the children ever trust again? What kinds of relationships will they have? Will they bring unfaithfulness into their own relationships because that’s their experience in their own family and that’s what they expect?
Ana Nogales, Ph.D., author of Parents Who Cheat: How Children and Adults Are Affected When Their Parents Are Unfaithful, coined the term “children of infidelity” to identify children of any age whose parent or parents engage in one or more acts of infidelity. As permissive as society has become, most children are badly hurt by a parent’s infidelity because, like the betrayed parent, they feel betrayed.
More than 800 grown children whose parents were unfaithful responded to Nogales’s online Parents Who Cheat survey.
- 88.4% felt angry toward the cheating parent.
- 62.5% felt ashamed or embarrassed.
- 80.2% felt that it influenced their attitudes toward love and relationships.
- 70.5% said their ability to trust others had been affected.
- 83% stated that they feel people regularly lie.
- 86% reported they still believe in monogamy.
By and large, adult children of infidelity know, from experience, the extent to which a family suffers with a parent’s betrayal, and so do not want to follow in their unfaithful parent’s steps. A 2007 survey found 93% respondents rated faithfulness as the single most important component of a successful marriage.
Nogales’s survey confirms that children feel betrayed when a parent betrays a spouse. While the betrayed parent may not expect anything from the cheating spouse, their child is left with hopeful expectations as well as a host of fears. Children often find themselves in a nightmare that offers few viable options. One option is to accept the unacceptable: that they have been betrayed by their parent, and hope that by doing this they will ensure their parent’s love and attention. Another option is to express their outrage, and in doing so risk being abandoned by a person whose love they so desperately want and need. Whether six, sixteen, or twenty-six years of age at the time of a parent’s infidelity, these children are left with psychological issues that—unresolved—can plague them throughout their life.
Responses to Parental InfidelityREAD THIS BOOK NOW
Regardless of their age, children whose parents have been unfaithful often react with intense feelings of anger, anxiety, guilt, shame, sadness, and confusion. They may act out, regress, or withdraw. They may feel pressured to win back the love of the unfaithful parent or to become the caretaker of the betrayed parent. The bottom line is that when parents are role models of infidelity, their children can’t help but react—and they may have a particularly hard time finding their way through the challenging time of dating and marriage.
While every family is different, and each child is unique, Nogales identifies the following core responses experienced by children of all ages—from young children to adults—when they find that one or both of their parents has been unfaithful.
- Loss of trust. When a child learns of a parent’s infidelity, they usually find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to trust that someone they love will not lie to them, reject, or abandon them. They very often learn not to put their faith in love, and may also develop the belief that they are not worthy of receiving monogamous love.
- A child may feel as if the cheating parent’s sexual transgression is a black mark against them and the rest of the immediate family. If the child has been pressured by the cheating parent to keep the secret of infidelity from the betrayed parent, the child is left with the added and unwarranted burden of guilt.
- A child often draws the conclusion that marriage is a sham and love an illusion. Additionally, when parents stay married even while one or both continue having an affair, children are profoundly confused about the meaning of both love and marriage.
- Anger and ambivalence toward the cheating parent. When infidelity partially defines a parent’s character, a child often feels torn between feelings of anger and yearning for their love.
- Resentment toward the betrayed parent. Some children resent the betrayed parent for requiring them to be their emotional caretaker, for under-parenting due to preoccupation with the drama of the infidelity, or for not preventing the infidelity in the first place.
- Acting out. Rather than confronting sad, angry, or confusing feelings directly, children may exhibit behavioral problems during childhood, sexual acting out during adolescence, and intimacy problems or sexual addiction during adult years. Issues of promiscuity may arise in an attempt to play out what a child perceived from their parents about the casualness of sex and the impermanence of love.
In an attempt to protect children from the realities of infidelity, a parent may fail to offer any explanation, minimize the situation by telling a half-truth, or simply lie—this then becomes a second betrayal. It is best when the parent discusses the infidelity in a way that is both honest and age appropriate.
The younger the children are, the less a parent needs to say about it. If the children have heard or suspect something is wrong, and are asking questions, then it is very important to recognize that a factual—rather than emotional—response is needed. It is worse for children to feel there are secrets being withheld from them, especially when these secrets are affecting them. When they have no idea about what has happened, it may not be necessary to tell them—even if they are adolescents. The caution here is that parents usually greatly underestimate what the child suspects or knows. It is best when parents who are separating agree what they will tell the children and then do this together, perhaps with the support of someone known and trusted by the family. It is easier on the children knowing that their intention is to continue to parent them together.
Nogales reports that when one parent betrays the other, a child’s inner world and sense of the world at large are shattered. The personal environment in which a child lives and from which she draws her sense of safety and security—namely her family—is fundamentally changed because the most important people in that environment have become unrecognizable.
When children learn that the most important people in their world are untrustworthy, their ability to trust others can be seriously impaired. They may be overly suspicious, emotionally distant, or refrain from committing to a relationship because they can’t trust the other person will act honorably and be there for them. Wanting to avoid being hurt in the same way they witnessed a parent being hurt, they may do whatever it takes to protect themselves from being emotionally vulnerable.
Learning to Trust Again
Is it possible to relearn how to trust? Nogales believes that trust is a need and a feeling, but also a skill that can be learned. She outlines a process whereby even when a child has been subjected to infidelity, she can learn to trust again:
- Acknowledge the need to trust. We all need to trust and to feel safe, to develop and express ourselves, and to give and receive love. A young child learns to trust when there is someone she can rely on to provide structure and be there for her unconditionally. Without that sense of security, she is afraid and tentative. An older child and young adult needs to be able to trust in order to develop healthy relationships and the sense of security that allows her to fulfill her goals. Admitting to herself that she needs to trust others in order to be emotionally healthy, paves the way for her being able to do so.
- Each person goes through the process of developing trust at her own pace. With time, a person can learn to make wise choices about who she trusts, and to what degree. Trustworthiness is not black and white. While it is crucial to have people in our life that we can trust, we hurt ourselves if we allow ourselves to trust everyone unconditionally.
Each of us needs to remember that we always have the option to trust, even when that trust was shattered by a parent. We don’t have to trust everyone, but we don’t have to mistrust everyone either. A person can decide to be trusting of those who deserve her trust. Being aware of how others demonstrated or failed to demonstrate their ability to make her feel respected, listened to, and safe will help her hone her skill at choosing who to trust.
Dealing With a Child’s Anger and Ambivalence
Nogales offers guidelines for parents dealing with a young child’s anger and ambivalence toward an unfaithful parent:
- Be willing to listen to what your child has to say, even if it’s expressed with anger and hurt. Anger is a normal human reaction and, expressed appropriately, it is healthy.
- Listen to your child’s angry feelings with respect, even if it means putting aside your own emotional distress.
- If you are the betrayed parent and your child expresses understanding or longing for the other parent, allow them to do so without interjecting your own bias.
- Listen to your child’s questions and respond with the truth, even when it may not be pleasant. Lying perpetuates the lies of infidelity. Be up front and direct—usually, details are not necessary.
- There is no need to insist the child talk about what has happened, but being a good listener lays the foundation for your child’s questions and venting of feelings.
LINDA: What a horror it was for me to feel like I not only had to protect my son from the drama of my husband’s betrayal, but from overwhelming him with my own grief and anger. I remember my anger just grew realizing how my relationship with my son had been broken and contaminated by the whole sordid nightmare. I knew I protected him as a mother from the world, but it was a horrible feeling to realize I had to protect him from my own rage and sorrow. The only good news is that I did heal.
Helping Adult Children of Infidelity Deal With Their AngerREAD THIS BOOK NOW
It is important that adult children of infidelity feel able to share their thoughts and feelings with another person—be it a parent or trusted other—rather than hold onto any anger they feel towards the unfaithful parent. Often, expressing anger or hatred leads to deeper feelings of sadness, hurt, and fear. Working to understand the main issues they are facing and the emotional impact of their parent’s betrayal is an important part of the healing process.
A Native American story tells of a grandmother talking to her granddaughter. The grandmother said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one. ” The granddaughter asked her, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?” The grandmother answered, “The one I feed.”
Dealing With a Child’s Sympathy For or Resentment Toward the Betrayed Parent
Nogales offers guidance for dealing with a child’s sympathy for, or resentment toward, the betrayed parent. In summary:
- It is common for the betrayed spouse and children to stick together in the initial phase of the infidelity crisis. Once that time has past, children need also to relate to their own support system—friends, and extended family.
- Both parent and child can benefit from counseling during the crisis. It is never the child’s responsibility, regardless of age, to take care of their parent emotionally.
- Children of every age need to maintain a positive connection with both parents.
- Never encourage your child to “take sides” or feel animosity toward the cheating parent—even though you may feel it yourself.
- If you need to vent your feelings of anger and hostility toward your unfaithful spouse, do so with a trusted friend or therapist, not in the presence of your children.
REBECCA: I never thought that I would ever hate, or be disgusted by, the father of my children. But this is where I find myself. I am bewildered as to what to do. I can feel this way—my feelings are justified, but I don’t want my children to grow into adulthood and their own relationships with men, hating their father, or knowing I hated him. Or, maybe it’s healthy they do. Maybe it’s healthy that they know men cannot be trusted. I don’t know. I just know how I feel. I hate him.
One side of a woman may say, I hate him. I want to poison the children’s relationship with him, and for them to refuse to have anything to do with him ever again. I’d love to get even. The other side may know that the children need a dad, and that she does not want them to live with this bitterness in their hearts. And so she may worry, Will they be afraid to commit to intimate relationships of their own? Will this turn them against the world? Will they blame themselves for what happened?
In the face of a woman’s hatred for her husband, for her to open her heart and find the courage to make the children’s welfare—which includes supporting them in developing a healthy relationship with their father—the priority over her hurt, outrage, and desire for revenge, is no small thing. Questioning whether it’s healthier her child grow up not trusting men, reflects both a level of self-absorption and also a truth in that it is appropriate her children learn all people cannot be blindly trusted—this, however, does not mean it serves to hate them.
It is important for a child—and woman—to be aware that because she loves someone, does not necessarily mean that person is worthy of her trust. It is neither safe nor wise to immediately give yourself over to what is in the moment seductive, especially when entering a sexual relationship. Trust is cultivated over time, and through self-inquiry. Do I feel respected by this person? Are their words and actions congruent?
Advice for Older Children and Adult Children of Infidelity
Nogales advises older children and adult children of infidelity who are tempted to hold their betrayed parent responsible for the cheating parent’s unfaithfulness, to remember that they don’t know the whole story behind their parents’ marriage and what may have led to the infidelity. It is also important that they be assured it is not their role to offer their parent ongoing emotional support. They may be sympathetic and comforting, but an appropriate emotional boundary should always exist between parent and child, regardless of the child’s age.
Supporting Children in Facing the Impact of the Infidelity
What can parents do to open lines of communication with their children and help them face the painful truth of how a parent’s infidelity is affecting them? Nogales asserts that the unfaithful parent must admit wrongdoing, if only to win back some of the respect from their child. When a parent refuses to offer any genuine apology—for the betrayal, for breaking up the marriage—and to acknowledge his child was profoundly affected by the infidelity, it makes it very difficult for the child to come to any kind of healthy resolution. When wrongdoing is admitted, this may encourage children to open up and talk about their feelings surrounding the infidelity.
“Most parents don’t understand how severely their children are impacted by their infidelity.” —Ana Nogales, Ph.D., Parents Who Cheat: How Children and Adults Are Affected When Their Parents Are Unfaithful
Children need time alone to process what has happened, but also the opportunity to be together with a parent, even if the infidelity isn’t brought up. When children finally do speak out, they need to be free to talk without an adult’s commenting or judging what they say. Assure them that their feelings are valid, and that there is no such thing as a right or wrong feeling, and no shame in having emotions. When children bury their feelings, the rage, sadness, and confusion will spill over into other relationships without their being aware of it.
Jennifer Harley Chalmers, Ph.D., author of Surviving an Affair, likewise believes that when a cheating parent is able to end the affair and explain to their children how wrong they had been, as difficult and humbling as this may be, they are more likely to be able to alleviate to some extent the lessons they had taught their children.
Adult Children of Infidelity Forgiving the Unfaithful Parent
It can be easier for children to think of forgiving the unfaithful parent when they understand that forgiveness does not mean ignoring or condoning what the parent did. It means coming to terms with what happened, and allowing themselves to move through the negative emotions that they find themselves in the grip of.
Forgiving is not condoning. Nor is it an agreement to ignore wrongdoing. Forgiving is about accepting human frailty—even that of a parent whom they looked to as their primary role model. Nogales emphasizes that to come to this place of acceptance as an older child requires going through a process of understanding, expressing, and letting go of their resentments. This includes understanding how they and their family were affected by the infidelity, working through and expressing their feelings about it, and finally relinquishing their anger and resentment.
This requires confronting difficult questions such as: Can I accept that someone I love and trusted has breached my trust? Can I accept my parent failed to live up to his/her professed moral values? Can I accept that one parent deeply hurt the other?
Counsel with a skilled professional or wise and trusted other can be very important, as can journaling, or some form of expressive arts therapy. To the degree a child of infidelity is able to come to a place of understanding and acceptance, they will be free of the weight and the shadow of all those unresolved feelings that otherwise follow them into their own intimate relationships with others.
The Parents Who Cheat Survey
One of the most striking findings in Nogales’s Parents Who Cheat survey of more than 800 grown children whose parents were unfaithful, is that while 87% of respondents said they still believed in monogamy, and 96% said they don’t believe that cheating is okay even if one’s partner doesn’t find out, nearly half—44%—had been unfaithful themselves. Most of those who were unfaithful were so during the first stages of their relationship, after which time they realized that infidelity did not resolve their problems, nor did it fulfill their emotional needs.
Nogales is not alone in believing that the intense insecurity in children and adult children that being exposed to parental infidelity provokes, may create the need to resolve unfinished emotional business by engaging in the same pattern of behavior. Many adult children whose parents had been unfaithful repeated the same behavior as a way to act out, understand, and/or overcome what took place between their parents. So, although these particular statistics tend to indicate a contradiction between respondents’ attitudes and their behavior, it may be that their unfaithfulness was an attempt to work through their feelings concerning their parent’s infidelity.
Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., in After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, proposes that adult children of infidelity may have an affair to create a safe distance between themselves and their partner, so as to protect themselves from being violated again.
The Unacknowledged Legacy of Divorce—and of InfidelityREAD THIS BOOK NOW
The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce by Wallerstein et al. brings to light the largely unrecognized and unspoken reality that when children of divorce become adults, no less eager than their peers who grew up in intact families for love, sexual intimacy, and commitment, they are badly frightened that their relationships will fail—just as their parents’ did. The strongest consequences of marital disruption do not appear until they confront the challenges of early adulthood. Now while Wallerstein is talking here of divorce, Nogales’s study indicates that children of infidelity struggle with psychological problems similar to those of children whose parents have divorced. And of course, many of the parents of these children separate or divorce.
Wallerstein writes that while the myths persist that children are resilient and resourceful, that “most of the kids in their class are from broken homes, they’ll get over it”—the fact is that they perceive the world as a far less reliable and more dangerous place because the closest relationships in their lives can no longer be expected to hold firm. One might think that the grown children of older couples who experience infidelity or divorce would feel sad but not devastated. After all, they’re adults. But grown children, too, are profoundly distressed and suddenly propelled into examining their own relationships and worrying what and whom they can rely on and for how long.
KRISTI: It’s important our children see that while our marriage isn’t perfect, that every relationship goes through its up and down periods, we can communicate and work on it together—even that we can get help when we need it.
Wallerstein found that the contrast between children of divorce and children from even moderately unhappy intact homes as they reached adulthood and went in search of love, sexual intimacy, and commitment was striking. Now while it is true that Wallerstein is talking of children of divorce, not infidelity, the parallels are clear and surely few would argue that the implications similarly hold true for children of infidelity. The children from even moderately unhappy families, as young adults, had an understanding of the demands and sacrifices required in close relationships—and memories of how their parents struggled and overcame differences. Adults from divorced families were at a greater personal disadvantage. Anxiety about relationships was the “bedrock of their personalities and endured even in happy marriages, as they lived in the shadows of their fears of disaster and sudden loss, of abandonment, betrayal, rejection. ” Be they children of infidelity or of divorce, seeing the breakdown of one relationship after another intensifies the fear that their relationships will fall to a similar fate.
Denis Ortman, Cheating Parents: Recovering from Parental Infidelity, finds that many have only vague, if any memories, of that time and little insight into the impact on their own marital life. The impact will not be evident until they begin themselves to engage in intimate relationships.
In Chapter 2: The Nature of Infidelity, we saw that young adults still expect fidelity and loyalty between their parents, and that adult children whose parents cheated still want monogamous relationships themselves. In fact, 93% of them believe marital fidelity is the most important element in a successful marriage. Wallerstein reports that despite their first-hand experience of seeing how marriage can fail, adult children of divorce sincerely want lasting, faithful relationships. They believe divorce in a family with children should be the absolute last resort.
KRISTI: The frontal lobe region of the brain is not fully developed until twenty-five years of age, so much of our behavior before this age is driven by impulse. Children and young adults are constantly observing us, and learn so much from what we say and especially from what we do. Being healthy, positive role models is the best way we can support them in making healthy decisions.
Again, this is not to say that anyone should remain in an unhappy, unhealthy relationship. Rather, it highlights the importance of a couple realistically looking at what divorce entails for the family, and the importance of exploring every possible avenue—including counseling—before making the decision to separate. And of course, with respect to infidelity, it highlights the importance of being aware of the repercussions on the family—and doing what’s needed to protect the marriage.
We have seen, in many of the stories in this book, the struggles children of infidelity experience as adults in forming healthy and intimate relationships. The women here have emerged stronger for their struggles—but not without tremendous courage, pain, perseverance, and a willingness to learn from their own failed relationships. Many have gone on to form healthy relationships. Similarly, as reported in Wallerstein, many children of divorce have emerged eager to rewrite history, not repeat it. The women who have shared their stories of infidelity here would hope too, that their children may grow to rewrite, and not repeat, the past. They have chosen to do their very best to serve as healthy role models for their children.
What to do if a child witnessed parental infidelity — karpachoff.com
Kazakh writer B. Toyshibekov noted in one of his books that “the parents bear the blame for the divorce, and the children bear the punishment” .
The validity of this statement is confirmed by statistics: after the divorce of their parents, 37.7% of children suffer from academic performance, 19% have worse discipline at school and at home, and 9% run away from home altogether. Adults only think that their conflicts go unnoticed by children. Plunging into their suffering, they do not notice the loud beating of a small frightened heart. nine0005
In our article we will talk about how parents' betrayal affects children and what to do if a child finds out that mom is cheating on dad or dad is cheating on mom.
The world has turned upside down: how do children perceive parental infidelity
How does a child feel when he finds out about his parents' infidelity? Probably anger, confusion, fear. Worst of all, for him this knowledge becomes an unbearable burden. You will have to think about those questions that, due to age, would not have come to mind. nine0005
Preschoolers and younger schoolchildren endure such situations more easily, because they still do not understand the depth of the problem and the gloomy prospects of the family, which can be destroyed by betrayal. Teenagers are the hardest. Yes, they are still psychologically immature and not quite ready for such information, but they already clearly understand that their family life is literally divided into “before” and “after”.
“I feel embarrassed, I can't think of anything else. I don’t know how to live on, ”this is how most children comment on their condition after realizing the fact of parental infidelity. This also affects their attitude: before, the child believed in a happy family and love between parents, but today he is faced with the unpleasant side of the personality of one of them - weakness, a tendency to betrayal. nine0005
Anger that is difficult to extinguish
The child's anger is directed not only at the cheating parent, but also at himself, at the other parent. Questions rage in my head about why this happened, what they did everything wrong, whether they could have prevented betrayal... But adults for him were a model of piety, because it was they who instilled in him moral principles. But in the end, everything turned into a huge hypocrisy and the actual recognition of their weakness. Those who called for respect for honor, for behaving with dignity, are themselves incapable of following this advice. nine0005
The attempts of the delinquent parent to improve the child's relationship with his new passion are also irritating: “This person has done nothing wrong to you, why don't you perceive him?!”. Although for a child, a homeowner or homeowner is almost the main culprit of what happened.
Moral responsibility to the second parent
Knowing that the mother is cheating on the father, the child becomes an accomplice to this "crime". On the one hand, he wants to reason with his mother so that she leaves her lover and returns to her family. On the other hand, it is necessary to keep her secret, and therefore you have to lie to your father. nine0005
Assuming the responsibility to return the squandered parent to the family, the children do not suspect that it is not some situational mistake, but a serious family crisis that precedes adultery. And adults should fight it, if they themselves want it.
Attempts to reunite the family psychologically exhaust the teenager. They study worse, refuse to communicate with friends, withdraw into themselves. Their self-esteem suffers. More severe consequences are possible - depression, suicidal thoughts, which can develop into intentions or even actions. nine0005
Find out how to raise a child so that he grows up emotionally healthy and develops correctly - at Dmitry Karpachev's free online master class "What Every Parent Should Know".
It is naive to think that a child who saw his father with his mistress will forget about what happened or will not attach any importance to it. But it is much worse to pretend that nothing happened, that it should be so. Trying to impose your joy from a new relationship or manipulate the child, urging him to enter into a position, to accept the choice of father or mother. nine0005
Some parents even bring their new companions to the house where the family still lives. Naturally, in the absence of the second half. Ask children to cover them in front of their spouse. Or even forced to lie to hide treason. These terrible mistakes come at a high price, as they undermine the trust between child and parent. And in order to restore it, you will have to work very hard, apologize and explain the reason for your ugly actions.
The experiences of a teenager who found out that his mother cheated on his father are well illustrated in the film "Three meters above the sky". Hache refused to communicate with her and even got into a fight with her lover. But at the same time, he could not communicate normally with his father, because he felt guilty for knowing about the betrayal, but was silent. And only a few months later, when the guy found out that his mother was seriously ill, he found the strength to talk to her and forgive her. nine0005
The film shows that sometimes parental mistakes can be fatal. And it is very difficult to restore relationships with children who have learned about treason.
Consequences of infidelity for a child
It is difficult to predict the depth of psycho-emotional trauma caused by the realization that a father or mother is cheating, because different factors influence this:
- the age of the child;
- relationship with a parent who cheats;
- relationship with the second parent; nine0077
- circumstances under which treason was revealed, etc.
One way or another, there will be consequences. Here are a few scenarios to look forward to:
→ According to psychologists' research, about 55% of children who experience a cheating parent also cheat on their partners in the future.
→ The child perceives family betrayal personally. And the result is a growing lack of self-confidence. The feeling that he is not worthy of a good, strong family. A teenager will stop trusting others, because he will subconsciously expect betrayal. nine0005
→ Faith in the institution of the family (a stable union of two people) will be shaken. In adulthood, a person may abandon the idea of creating a family, because he will remember the pain that his parent's betrayal brought him.
→ Difficult choice - who to support during the conflict over betrayal. Obviously, there will be more pity for the parent who was cheated on. But if initially there was a warmer relationship with the cheating parent, then a serious dilemma will appear. Solving it is beyond the reach of both a small child and a psychologically immature teenager. nine0005
Also read: How to treat a child's fear: psychologist's recommendations . They do not yet have a formed idea about the sexual life of adults and the essence of marital relations. Therefore, the details of the conflict, even if they led to a divorce, do not need to be reported.
At the age of 12, a child is already able to adequately perceive the information why his parents are breaking up, and even draw his own conclusions, try to understand their motives and actions. nine0005
How to start a conversation
It is difficult to find words to explain to a child why dad is cheating on mom or vice versa. But for sure, this task is for the person who has changed. It is he who must explain the reason for his act. The second parent may be nearby, but not argue, not emotional. Just show the child that both parents are with him despite their problems.
What to say:
- Set the stage for a difficult conversation if your child is under 14 years old. Perhaps for him the concepts of marital fidelity, routine in marriage, hobbies on the side, etc. will be unfamiliar.
- Do not increase the tragedy of the situation with phrases like "We have a serious conversation with you. " Use a familiar, confidential tone of conversation and a convenient time.
- Explain your feelings and what is going on with your spouse at the moment. If there are conflicts, you need to protect the child from them as much as possible.
- Express understanding of his feelings. Say that he has the right to any reaction. Do not forbid him to get angry, indignant and even scream. Let him express what he thinks about this situation. nine0077
- If the betrayal was one-time, and you want to save the family - tell us about your intentions, but without manipulative requests to the child to influence the other parent.
- Cheating can be a conscious step, then a divorce cannot be avoided. Explain to your child that little will change in his life and in your relationship. You will still be there, will not stop loving and caring for him.
- You can watch a film in which the theme of betrayal is well disclosed. It is better if these are stories when, after a divorce, children maintain a good relationship with their parents. Excellent films on this subject: "Mrs. Doubtfire", "Sunday Dads", "Stepmother". nine0077
- Sometimes children need to repeat the same thing over and over, this is normal. Therefore, if the child decides to return to the topic of infidelity on another day, do not stop his attempts to figure out what happened, even if you hate to talk about it.
A difficult but inevitable conversation about parental infidelity and a possible divorce should be carried out in a calm, confidential atmosphere. Be honest, answer questions honestly. You should not be cunning and try to “sweeten the pill”, because children feel falsehood well, and any “lie for good” will bring the opposite effect. nine0004
What threatens for adultery under the Family Code of the Russian Federation: laws and consequences | Krasnoperekopsk Online
Adultery or adultery is an extremely unpleasant situation, which, according to statistics, in 75-95 percent of cases leads to a subsequent divorce. And many of the people who are faced with such behavior of their legal spouse want to know about possible compensation for such a violation and destruction of family foundations. And in the Family Code of the Russian Federation, as well as in judicial practice, there are situations that allow using the fact of adultery to obtain certain preferences. nine0005
Adultery in the Family Code
The Family Code does not deal directly with the concept of adultery. However, certain legal regulations may directly or indirectly address this issue.
In particular, art. 92 of the Family Code of the Russian Federation provides for exemption from the need to maintain a disabled spouse if the court establishes his unworthy behavior. Adultery from the point of view of judicial practice is indecent behavior, which may be a reason for exclusion of responsibility for the maintenance of another spouse. nine0005
In addition, the issues of adultery and the fact of its existence may serve as the basis for other court decisions. In particular, when dividing property, the court may deviate from the established equality of shares in order to protect the interests of children or one of the spouses in accordance with the provisions of Art. 39 RF IC. In addition, issues of adultery and responsibility for it, including material, may be implied by the provisions of the marriage contract.
The practical application of marriage contracts in the territory of the Russian Federation is extremely limited. This is due to the fact that the provisions of the marriage contract that are contrary to the principles of the Family Code, as well as simply putting one of the spouses or jointly acquired children in a knowingly disadvantageous position, are recognized as null and void and have no legal force. Thus, the scope of legal application of the marriage contract as a measure of protection against adultery is extremely limited. nine0005
Consequences of adultery
The marriage contract may provide for the mandatory dissolution of the marriage in the event of adultery by one of the spouses. However, when such an agreement was not concluded, adultery does not have to end in divorce - the law completely leaves the solution of this issue to the discretion of the spouses themselves. The consequences of infidelity from the point of view of legislation can arise only in the case of a divorce associated with it. nine0005
In particular, a person convicted of treason may suffer the following sanctions in terms of legislation:
other spouse after the dissolution of the marriage. For example, an unequal division of shares can be provided if the cheating spouse was the only breadwinner, and his spouse devoted his entire life to housekeeping and childcare, losing the opportunity to build a career and gain insurance seniority and work experience. nine0005
2. In the absence of agreement on which parent the children will stay with, the courts can usually take into account the misbehavior of one of the spouses as a negative factor. Accordingly, this fact may interfere with the exercise of parental rights in full.
3. In the presence of circumstances in which, during a divorce, one of the spouses remains disabled, adultery on his part may act as a factor relieving the other spouse from the obligation to maintain and pay alimony. nine0005
There is no direct interpretation of adultery as misbehavior in the legislation. Therefore, court decisions on the above issues will depend solely on the opinion of the judge and the effectiveness of the lawyer.
Adultery and children - legal and extramarital
Issues of adultery and children can also be contentious issues. In particular, if it is established that one of the children born in marriage is not native to his father, then such a father may be relieved of the obligation to pay alimony for his maintenance. However, for the application of such standards, it is necessary not only to confirm the absence of paternity, but also to prove that the father did not have an understanding that he was not raising his own child. nine0005
Also, in situations where, after a divorce due to infidelity, it becomes necessary to provide for children from previous marriages, the obligation to provide for them is allowed only in the case of full acceptance of parental rights in the form of adoption or guardianship by a stepfather or mother. Otherwise, child support will not be paid.
The obligation to support children born as a result of adultery lies with both their mother and biological father. However, in exceptional cases, and also when the spouse actually recognized as the father was aware that this was his step-child, the court may decide on the obligation of such a spouse to provide these children with alimony, even if they were conceived in the course of adultery. nine0012
In addition, regardless of the fact of infidelity, when dividing jointly acquired children if they have reached the age of ten, the court always takes into account their wishes regarding which parent they would like to live with after a divorce.