About Affairs

07 Feb

How Do Affairs Affect Children? (Part II): Should We Tell Our Children?

Your Role as Parents

No matter how devastated you are, you are still faced with the task of keeping it together for the children. This can be a double-edged sword. The immediacy and sometimes enormity of children’s’ needs can function as a welcome distraction from the pain you are in on the one hand; on the other, you may be feeling depleted emotionally and physically and not have much to give. With regard to the latter, it is very tempting to then turn to the children for support, which is a role reversal that is, in the end damaging for children. Whatever you end up disclosing to your child, the overall message should be, “This is our problem, it does not involve you and we are taking steps to deal with it. You are still in capable hands”

It is crucial to set aside some time with your partner to discuss your child’s needs and agree on a plan together. If the discussion strays from the question of what is best for the children and moves into conflict about the affair itself, each partner can take responsibility for reminding the other of the purpose of the discussion. If emotions are running so high that you are unable to do this, it might be useful to get help from a professional.

Frequently the discovered feels so guilty that he or she doesn’t feel any right to be included in these decisions, and relinquishes all control of how and what the children will know to the betrayed spouse. The betrayed spouse can feel self-righteous about this and go along with the split. However, the children still belong to both of you, and acting as a parenting team during this time is an overarching way to minimize the psychological damage your child may experience as a result of disclosure.

So Should We Tell Them? And If So, How Much?

If at all possible, the children should not be told. This is the consensus of most family therapists. However, this is only true if both of you truly believe that the children are completely oblivious to what is going on. It is important to remember that this is your problem and not theirs and your goal is to protect them from emotional trauma if at all possible.

Whether they know, or “know but don’t know they know,” should be assessed not only by what they might be saying to you, but also by any changes in behavior or mood that they may be showing, even if you think it’s unrelated. You can read about behavioral and other changes children demonstrate before disclosure in Part I of this post.

Not telling your child about the affair does not mean that it is not important to acknowledge that “we are having some problems in our relationship and are doing everything we can to take care of it.” If your child can tell something is not right, it is important to confirm their experience. What they imagine in a vacuum will most likely be much worse than the truth and they are vulnerable to blaming themselves for whatever they imagine is going on. However, if any of the following conditions exist, disclosure of the fact of the affair itself is very important.

1) If the child has overheard parents talking or arguing about the affair. (It is very tempting to act like that didn’t happen, but that’s a mistake and can lead to alienation between you and your child)

2) If the child has witnessed direct evidence of the affair, for example, has heard conversations between the person who had the affair and the other woman or man, or has seen them together . (It is very tempting to deny what is now obvious, but you really wouldn’t want to be treating your child as if he or she was stupid, or discouraging them from trusting their experience.)

3) If the other pereson is likely to make contact with the child, or call the house, or already has a relationship with him or her.

4) If the the child has a relationship or goes to the same school as the other person’s children or spouse.

5) If there is likely to be gossip, or public scandal about the affair. (It adds gasoline to the fire if your child hears about this from someone other than you.)

6) If the child asks if there is an affair. (If they are young it is good to find out what they think an affair is.)

Children need to be told about the affair in language that is age appropriate to ensure that they can understand and process what they are hearing. And there are ways to help them cope once disclosure has happened. I will begin to address these issues in Part III.

12 Responses to “How Do Affairs Affect Children? (Part II): Should We Tell Our Children?”

  1. 1
    Anonymous Says:

    After I found out about my husband’s affair, it was very hard not to discuss it when our teenage son was in the house. We tried to either leave the house or wait until he was in bed or at a friend’s house, but sometimes that was impossible, especially for me, because I was boiling over with anxiety, hurt, anger, and questions. After a week or so, it became obvious that he knew something was wrong because of the angry whispering or quiet talking. He also saw us being a lot more physically connected…a lot more hugging, holding hands or sitting closely on the couch, and holding each other. After I had an emotional outburst one night, he got very upset and went to his room and shut the door. I talked to him and told him that his dad and I were really upset with each other, because I thought Dad had been dishonest with me about something, and that it was causing us to be angry, but that we loved each other and we were getting everything worked out, and that’s why he was seeing us be more affectionate with each other, because we were trying to make sure we supported each other even though we were so upset. He seems to have accepted this, and hasn’t asked any further questions about it. In fact, he kind of jokes with us when he walks in the kitchen and we’re hugging or kissing. I think he really needed to hear that we love each other and that we are going to work it out, which in this case is accurate. Thank God I didn’t have to tell him otherwise.

  2. 2
    Anonymous Says:

    I have another issue going on. My ex husband and I divorced 3 years ago and he is living with his male lover now. I have felt hurt that he did not tell me about his need to be with men, so that I knew what was going on and why we did not have sex. I feel I am to a high degree over what happened.
    Im my process I am taking my share of the responsability that the marriage endd this way. What has come up for me is that 20 years (early in our relationship) I had a few brief affairs that I have newer told my ex about.
    I would like to get some advice om whether there could be a point in sharing this now – although I feel that if I confess, then I loose the right to feel hurt that he did not tell me about him going gay. And I feel the children ( 19 and 23) have enough to deal with in adjusting to their dad living a different life-style, that to tell them about affairs before they were born.. Any thoughts would be appreciated

  3. 3
    Anonymous Says:

    AFFAIRS should be ILLEGAL. They are destructive for children in any circumstance. It is not OK. An affair creates a victim, which usually includes the children. The mental affects on a child is overwhelming, and puts them into a state of grieving, but also leads them to have a lack of trust in people, especially those they love. The stress on a child is massive, and many turn to drugs, drink, smoking, or even begin to fail at school. All of which is the parent who committed the affairs fault. So they can go to hell for ruining children and teens alike, for there selfishness and there own moral corruption.

  4. 4
    Anonymous Says:

    Dear Susan,
    I am heartened that this website exists. As a twenty year old (in 1998), I was devastated to learn that I was the direct result of my mother’s one-time affair with a friend. There were no resources readily available to me to help me cope with this sudden loss of life as I knew it. I had a brief downward spiral (bad grades, temporarily dropped out of college, moved across the country to try and cope with the new reality of my family). It is my hope that other adult children of affairs can access adequate support mechanisms to cope with some of the emotional carnage of being the adult child of an affair.

    Siblings and the parent who thought you were “theirs” treat you differently when the truth comes out. I am an advocate for honesty and openness in these situations, but there is no doubt that there are healthy ways for the information to come to light…and toxic ways.

  5. 5
    Anonymous Says:

    I do agree with the person who said “AFFAIRS should be ILLEGAL” because I am actually teen and I’m f**king pissed off that my dad wants to have an affair with somebody. -well he is kinda drunk so idk if he actually wants to have an affair” but also, did you know that there is as site called “Ashley Madison”?? Its a f**king site where ppl want to have an affair. THAT SITE SHOULD BE TAKEN DOWN DAMMIT! I dont want my dad to be in an affair because if my mom catches him with a slut then my dads relationship with my mom will end TT_TT and then they will probably go through the whole divorce thing and then…. thrn… well… I dont even know anymore! Ok look, I do love my dad but seriously this whole “affair” thing has got to stop. o_o I think we should sign a petition to end all affairs! It destroys marriages and children will be devistated that if the mom or dad gets pissed off at eachother they will have to probably go through divorce! So what im saying is. AFFAIRS SHOULD BE ILLEGAL. And I agree with that guy who said affairs should be illegal.

  6. 6
    Anonymous Says:

    My wife had admitted an affair to me, it was another woman who she befriended in AA, the woman was in Ala-non.
    Their relationship started as friends while I was deployed in Afganistan, Upon returning a AA retreat (Jan) at the beach she said those famous words “I think we need space” the switch that shut me out, always running to her house..
    I tried to convince myself that they were just friends… She wanted me to move out to sort her feelings out.. I really was thinking of kids and hung on too long, She declared the affair in Jun, Well I told her her friend was NOT allowed around our house nor our kids.. I was making plans to move out
    The kids (15-14-5)loved the other woman, I was very angry at her for taking advantage of my wife which is 22+ yrs younger..
    The kids were confused how daddy dissed her.. The 14 yr old approched the momma and ask why daddy has it out for her, the response was “Well we have been a little more than friends” My kid was floored, hating mom and the white haired witch instantly.. My kid stayed with her Aunt for about a week. I really tried to be a mediator between the two, I really didn’t get past the hurt myself but tried to be the better person and help mend their relationship.
    Tried the therapy for my kid to help. The moms lack of remorse did little for my kid
    I moved out
    My kid HATES the other woman and thinks she let her mom off easy. My kid wants to tell her older sibling, I suggest that she don’t. She will if the sibbling asks the right question I predict.. My kid wants revenge, I tell her to pray.
    My kid that knows, believes mom is still involved with her AND the white haired witch life is going on in bliss as she tore down her life…
    I just tell her its none of my business what or who her mom doing or doing it with…
    I’m here for my kids, Wife screwed up telling my kid.. She’ll have more damage control as the other kids find out.
    I am just about in the middle of separation paying house and child support, living a very different life now. I’m going to get thru it with the grace of GOD.. I’m not going to bash the ex, the kids don’t need it nor do I.. An affair hurts everyone..
    a good quote I seen
    “When people cheat in any arena, they diminish themselves-they threaten their own self-esteem and their relationships with others by undermining the trust they have in their ability to succeed and in their ability to be true.” Cheryl Hughes

  7. 7
    Anonymous Says:

    My husband of 19 years had a affair and now we are going through a very tough divorce. We have three kids and the older two were crushed. The younger one just asked”Why doesn’t daddy like you anymore” and “When his he coming home” He thought only of himself and distroyed his relationship with the older kids. Our older son was really close to him. Not any more.My husband lets his girlfriend come between them and continues to put her first. She was also married and left her family to be with my husband.People who have affairs are the most selfish, self centered people. They only care about their needs and sex desires. They don’t care who they hurt and are very sick individuals who need help!!

  8. 8
    Anonymous Says:

    The story of the woman married for 19 years is similar to my own. In fact, in February when she wrote her comment, my husband and I were organising a trip to Italy for our 20th wedding anniversary. Since his business was going well, we were also looking around for a new house in a more upscale neighbourhood. He bought me a diamond bracelet for Christmas, whisked me off for a lavish weekend away from the kids in January. As usual, I received numerous texts from him about how he loved me, wanted to kiss my neck when he came home from work, was thinking of me. There was no outward sign that anything was wrong.

    Something felt strange, however. A second sense, I guess. One night in early March this reached a pinnacle: I just couldn’t sleep. I went to read on the sofa and heard the ping of a text being received. I looked at his phone and my world came crashing down.

    It was pretty obvious from the text exchange that he was having an affair. I knew of the woman but had never met her. I actually never worried about her as a rival because she is rather large (fat!) and wears tight dresses in animal prints. My husband prefers more refined style. She is also married with three young children, ages two, four, and six.

    When I read her text to him, all the pieces fell into place–the odd sense I had here and there of things being ‘off’. I didn’t immediately confront him, however. He’s the kind of man who denies and denies until the evidence is indisputable. He would merely insist that the text was a stupid joke. Or he would delete it and claim I had misread it.

    Instead, I sent the woman a text from my phone that said: “It appears from recent electronic communication that you have an inappropriate relationship with my husband. In my world, it’s always very sad when married people cheat, especially when there are children involved. You most hurt the very people you claim to most love. PS The only thing you and my husband truly know about each other is that you’re both capable of the worst kind of betrayal.”

    The next day, I heard nothing. This silence was exact confirmation of the affair. I mean, if you woke up in the morning to a text accusing you of an affair you were in fact innocent of, you would immediately do something to clear up the matter. Your good reputation depends upon not being thought of as the kind of person who has illicit relationships. So her silence was damning.

    I confronted my husband, who was immediately shameful (but not really remorseful or apologetic, which is an important distinction). This was his second affair. I forgave him ten years ago for something similar and said he would never again have such a chance at forgiveness from me. That if he went down that road ever again, the marriage would be over. And that it was up to him to build trust and learn how to value the good things in his life. I am standing by those words.

    That confrontation was very emotional and strained, but I meant what I said. I sent him packing. Later, I received this text from the other woman: “It is gratifying that you are finally getting what you deserve after all you have done to divide us. Evil has an new name…Jacqueline… and karma is a bigger bitch than you could every be. I will enjoy watching you reap what you have sown. Be assured patience is a virtue we are well-versed in………xxxx”

    I found this to be threatening and menacing. Frankly, it terrified me. And none of it made any sense. How was I evil? I wasn’t having an affair. I wasn’t lying or cheating. I had forgiven him. How could I have done anything to divide them when I only just learned there was something to divide? What awful things have I sown for karma to be a bitch to me? Of course, it was just crazy-making. Blame the victim of what you are in fact guilty of…

    The difference between us is striking. I wrote a text to her in the middle of the night consumed with emotion when I had just learned that my marriage was over, and yet I still managed the height of civility in my manner, words and tone.. And she, who was in the wrong in every way, responded without compassion, humanity, remorse, care, or insight. After I calmed down, I realised that she must be a psychopath. But still, how he could have chosen to become involved with her is just flabbergasting.

    Because I protected him for ten years, never breathing a word about the first affair, and he never a valued my protection, I was determined to be honest about the reasons we are divorcing now. The kids (ages 12, 17, 19) know about the affair and each has been devastated in turn. But I think it was the wisest course in our circumstances to tell them. The magnitude of the betrayal is just too much. He wanted to approach the end of the marriage on equal ground, but that is putting a huge burden on me and letting him off. Because I am more in pain and more emotional, I look nuts without the truth being known. Once it is known, everything falls into perspective…

    Also, it is important to note my husband has been diagnosed as having Manipulative Narcissistic Personalty Disorder–every detail fits like a glove! I think that not being honest with the kids subjects them more to his manipulations as well as to his continued deceptions. At least now there is a label and his behaviours can be explained by a diagnosis. It’s not me, it’s him. It’s not the children, it’s their father.

    It is hard for the kids, however, which is why I am looking into sites like this one. But an affair is all about lies and I think that to cover up lies with more lies is not good. I did that once to no avail. I am trying to be as compassionate as possible when dealing with the kids. But I welcome all suggestions and advice.

    PS My daughters and I are going to Italy without him. On my anniversary (30 May), we will do something special–in a positive spirit, nothing about ransacking the previous twenty years, but about affirming the next twenty–not exactly what we envisioned when we made the plans for the trip, but not too bad either.

  9. 9
    Anonymous Says:

    My story is slightly different. My father had an affair with my mother, and I (now aged 20) was the result. I have grown up knowing about the affair and I am aware that everyone in my fathers side of the family apart from his children (now 19, 22 and 27 roughly) know about the affair and my existance. I have always felt the need to know my Dad’s family but have never met any of them. I am particularly interested in getting to know my brothers and my sister, and recently have been very pushy with my Dad to get him to tell them. His wife and him are still together, but he refuses to tell the kids, and even though I know I can contact them over the internet I don’t feel like it is my place to tell them what their father did. Should I stop pushing my father? Feeling rejected from his side of my family has given me issues with depression and anxiety, which my father also struggles with. I don’t know what I should do.

  10. 10
    Anonymous Says:

    Mine is an odd situation, in 1993 my ex had a wild dream we were in a threesome with one of his friends. He then went on and on for a year to live the fantasy eventually i gave in. Prioe to all of this i had hospital treatment for severe depression. What happened just confused me and made me ill. The lack of respect, etc. I had several flings all for sex i was so unhappy. My ex never tried to stop me to tell me he loved me or anything. In the end he has left and is with his best friends wife. I am ok my 18 year old daughter is devastated and has had severe depression

  11. 11
    Anonymous Says:

    My husband a retired cop, fathered not one, but two kids, from two different woman. Wtfudge? He is a sex addict and to this day denies he has a problem.
    I’ve lived in wonder for 35 Years knowing something was really wrong about him. I forgave him for the first child, and just recently found out about the new?
    The one thing I received from this, is if you think for one minute something is not right. Listen because you are totally correct?
    Constant secrets, lies always, becomes distant, works weird hours, texts from woman at work, keeps everything separate, tries to control everything, plays a lot of golf , takes off like he’s single, lives a life in the flesh and darkness, sinful. Run and never look back! He is a cheater and will eventually distroy you if you allow him to.
    Strong mothers teach and make strong daughters to never live in such abuse! I was shown sever codependency, and shown sever disfunction is ok?
    Yes I know I should of left, yes I knew the signs were screaming at me in a billion signs, but due to severe codependency I wouldn’t listen to any of them. I just lived in wonder, doubt if these signs were real?
    Well, ladies do me the favor, when you are have any doubts at all, or something seems different, you’d best listen so you don’t end up like me,
    Humiliated, disgraced, embarrassed, living on a swords edge, living a life of misery, anguish for not listening to my gut, instinct of what this narrcist sociopath, sick man was doing to himself, but me sickly allowing him to shred me limb by limb. Please ladies….listen to your guts! It’s telling you to listen…
    God help me… To find my strength in his sickness. Now that his truth has come out, if I was to leave him he threatens he will kill himself? Wtfudge …
    I could be on the Oprah show or even better the Jerry Springer show is where my story should of been.
    Gods hands

  12. 12
    Anonymous Says:

    My story is so much like #8 it’s kind of freaky. Married 22 years. Ready to buy a home in an upscale neighborhood. His business was looking so good and we had been doing quite well financially for years. He was becoming more and more successful each year. I have been a stay at home wife most of the time. I had stuck by him through so many years of struggling and finally all his long long hours and the workaholic years and me basically being a single parent were finally paying off. I was going to help him make this new business a success for our family. We had fought badly for two years when I had discovered he had a porn addiction that had been present throughout our entire marriage. I had forgiven him but the pain and distrust with the knowledge that this had been going on our entire marriage was eroding the stong passion and love we had always had for each other. And it was severely affecting my health. The fights in those two years had escalated from bad to severe as he threatened divorce nightly and placed blame for his porn issues on me, never admitting it was an addiction and never really showing any real remose or empathy for what I was going through with it. I kept this secret from everyone but as time went on he brought our fights in front of our children and started telling them his strange version of what each fight was about and how “mom was accusing him of another affair”! Which was weird because I had referred to the porn as similar to an affair but never never accused him of an actual affair. I didn’t talk to our kids about it because I felt they didn’t need to hear what the contents of adult fights were about and that they should never be involved in any of our fights even when they were about the kids themselves. Then as time went on these fights waned and “child issue, undermining my authority with the kids’ kinds of fights took over but somehow he always seemed let our kids know out loud in front of everyone what he felt our fights were about and he always turned each fight into ” mom accusing dad of having an affair again”! I felt like he was manipulating our children’s perception of our problems to blame me or make me out to be crazy. But again I always tried my best to keep them knowing as little as possible. There were times where things started getting better and I sought out counseling numerous times with new counselors each time after they had told me they felt I was dealing with a narcissist and there was very little hope for my marriage. So I left that counselor to find one who would give me more hope. My husband kept me tightly bound to him through all of this with his constant reassurance of his devoted love for me and how we would be together forever and we would make it through this just as we had always made it through the last 22 years. Our love was too strong and too passionate and our sex life was amazing, and I was the most beautiful woman on earth and kept amazingly getting more and more beautiful each year and how proud and cocky he always felt displaying me on his arm when we went out in public and he could never live without me and and he needed me more than life itself, so even though he was a fat ugly old guy, I was stuck with him. And if I could just look in a mirror and realize how beautiful I was and just have that trust in him again then we would never fight at all and everything would be just fine. So I would do my best to try to believe this and have faith that his words were true and just when things were going well, and I felt I could trust him more, I would glance over at the computer screen or his phone and he would pull it away quickly or change screens. He would change his password every few weeks. He would cancel all counseling appointments we had claiming he worked and more and more I noticed his history was deteled. I would let months go by not even wanting to check anything and afraid of what I would find and because I just wanted to believe his beautiful lies and not find something to question. But each time I checked anything I found more and more to question and seldom was there even a word said by me it was just a look I gave him and instantly he involved our children and the fight became public. Soon I found out he was telling friends and relatives that I was accusing him of another affair. I was beginning to even question my own sanity. I knew I would question him sometimes but I didn”t accuse him of another woman. But something always felt off. I did my best to try to not ever roll my eyes or look as he pulled his phone screen out of my line of vision or clicked off the screen each time I entered the room, always just to avoid the new fight even with me never saying a word, or just asking him to once in a while leave it on the screen he was on just so I could see what he had been on becuse it looked fishy. He got more and more volatile and angry and very violent breaking things, hitting things, and pushing me into things and eventually hitting me and with anything I said or any look I gave or even just dropping my eyes to avoid eye contact with him, so he couldn’t tell me “but my look was an accusation itself or the accusation was in my eyes” and soon everything became a fight. Then one night I pulled up his email account which I hadn’t looked at in months and there it was, so many emails telling this woman how badly he wanted her and couldnt wait till the next time they got together and how they planned their getaway weekends, and when he would meet her and explicit sexual things he would be doing with her and how his divorce was solid and how crazy I was and how each of his kids were in now even the youngest and he couldn’t wait to get it over with so they could be together forever. He was still coming home to me and telling me how we would be together forever and how deeply in love with me he was and having sex with me every night and still planning to buy this house with me when I confronted him about it. He said it was harmlessly flirting and nothing ever happened and it was over. I then found more and more as I checked his phone for the next month and as he suddenly had “issues” to go deal with. Finally after offering him complete forgiveness and willingness to work hard if he would only leave her completely as he worked with her, he refused! So, I filed. Now I am in a very very bitter divorce and he is living with her. The kids live with me but under advice from the people I talked to about it, I did not ever tell them anything about the affair. That now I see was a big mistake. Quite quickly I saw how our relationship changed, they went from loving me to hating me and blaming everything on me, and for over three months have barely spoken a word to me. They leave without telling me, they speak horribly disrepectfully to me, they will ignore me and refuse to do anything I ask them to do. If I try to give a punishment but he makes sure I am unable to do anything to them. They have all kinds of reasons that have popped up from the tiny recesses of their memory to bring up things that happened when they were 8 and now they are teenagers and hating me for something I did to them, way back when. They all say they want to live with their father and want me to leave. He has bought one a brand new car and buys them gifts and takes them shopping constantly. They now justify his affair because they say I was always accusing him of having an affair and it was about time he had one, I deserve it. He justifies his behavior and has extreme hatred for me and tells me had I just forgiven him and not been so hurt by him then this would never had happened to me. That I deserve what I am getting. The kids don’t really have good solid reasons for all their anger with me but they completely make him out to be innocent and justified. He rarely see’s them only a few hours a week because he is always with her. He still denies to me that there is anything going on with her but friendship although he lives with her. Everything he does is somehow my fault and I need to suffer to learn my lesson. He has comvinced my children this is true as well. I have been unemployed basiclly for over 20 years and have devoted my life to my husband and children and now I am finding just how difficult it is for a woman my age to re-enter the work force. I will be left possibly with nothing at all, but most especially without my family which has been my entire existance. And ultimately I think the fact that I did not tell my children in the beginning and let their father be the one manipulating the telling of things has warped their entire view on everthing. They are all going through so many things emotionally but will not let me in to help them at all because they view me as the enemy. They were brought up going to church every week and with very clear morals and values and now their father doesn’t want them going to church so they stopped and their entire view of the world has changed. This is causing so much turmoil and I can see it in all of them, especially in their teenage years. I am going through so much myslef and just trying each day to have a reason to keep goiing and knowing there is nothing I can do now to change anything for them and that as each day goes by the likelihood that I will even be involved much in their lives decreses more and more. I have tried on a couple of occasons to talk to them more recently but it ends up very very badly each time with me trying to defend myself of something from the past and them defending their father and we get nowhere. They also talk about me recording them as they are holding their phones out so I am guessing that their father probably has insturcted them to record me for evidence for court which will hurt me even more in court. So I have to be verry careful with eveything I say to them now which is so insanely sad for any child or parent to be thinking about whenever they communicate. Absolutely now I feel that I should have sat them down and discussed it with them before he had a chance to warp the truth and convince them that he is in the right and that this is ok.

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Susan Berger is a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Francisco, CA and Walnut Creek, CA (lic. # MFC21193) | 121 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118 | 1415 Oakland Blvd, Ste. 100, Walnut Creek, CA 94596
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