Having an affair devastates more than your partner, it hurts the children, too. What happens when those children from families where one parent committed infidelity grow up and have relationships of their own? Turns out that the impact of infidelity can be either good or bad for children, depending on how the affair was handled.
Affairs & The Family Dynamic
When one person has an affair, the whole family has an affair in some way. While the parent who cheated is going to feel guilty or angry or remorseful, there is the betrayed parent who was saddened, betrayed, and depressed. There are plenty of large, overwhelming emotions involved, and such feelings can be too intense to hide from children. While young children can often overlook the fight between Mom and Dad, older children are far more perceptive.
There is also the in-between period where Mom and Dad have to hash out their emotions. As the adults talk about splitting up or staying together, for example, there are children hearing these words and feeling the tension.
Even if the affair didn’t destroy the marriage, there will be hard times. Parents have to recognize that their children have their own thoughts and feelings about the incident, even if they don’t completely understand. If the parents do not focus on the well-being of the little ones, there could be negative consequences further down the road.
How Has Your Parent’s Infidelity Affected Your Relationship?
In 2013, a sociologist named Jean Duncombe researched the affect of infidelity on the children of unfaithful parents. Duncombe found that many parents who have an affair tend to overlook the impact infidelity has on the kids. Some people even said that the children are far too young or too oblivious to realize what is going on.
However, evidence from Duncombe’s research told a different story. The children of these unfaithful and broken marriages ended growing up with seriously dismal beliefs. For starters, they believed that their parents were also unfaithful to them. Children who had parents who betrayed one another ended up feeling abandoned, and their performance in school dropped.
The research even looked at the relationships of those children once they were adults. Turns out, experiencing infidelity as a child often influenced betrayal in adult relationships.
Are you struggling to keep relationships? Do you feel depressed and anxious about the relationship? Have problems forming connections? Feel tempted to have an affair despite being committed to another? These are all signs that your parents handled the infidelity the wrong way.
It might be difficult, but think back to the time when your parents’ relationship started to fall apart. When an affair has been discovered, the entire atmosphere shifts. What may have been perpetual blue skies is suddenly a tumultuous thunderstorm. You might not remember what was said or done, but you do recall the emotions involved.
The older children are when the betrayal happens, the worse they take it. You may have once been an extrovert who could spend hours talking. Once your parents started fighting about the affair, you withdrew and preferred spending time alone.
Infidelity in a marriage often compels children to become self-sufficient loners. This is often worse when the parents distance themselves from one another and thus spend less quality time with the children.
How does this affect you growing up? You may also be emotionally distant in your own relationships. Does talking about problems stress you out? Do you emotionally shut down when confronted? Unfortunately, such behavior is unhealthy and may even be toxic to your partner. Consider seeking help from a therapist, so you can close the gap and be better than your parents.
One parent hurt the other. Now there is a good parent (the hurt one) and a bad parent (who cheated). For children, this is difficult. Nothing is black and white, and it means they have to manage their emotions during a chaotic period. Not only will the child be unsure of which parent to trust, they won’t know how to show their love either.
Learning that your role models did not follow the rules and hurt one another in such a way is painful and traumatic. As an adult, you may struggle with loyalty to your partners. Perhaps you feel that they are simply waiting for the opportunity to betray you.
Conversely, children who learned about disloyalty from a parent’s affair may also be unfaithful in the future.
Now, let’s say that your parents happened to handle infidelity the right way. Rather than hiding the issue from you or trying to turn you against the other parent, they sat you down and talked. Infidelity doesn’t have to be the end of the road for marriages. In fact, if parents use infidelity as a learning opportunity, it could have a positive influence on the children (and the marriage as a whole).
Parents who attend therapy and learn to discuss problems in a healthy way pass that onto their children. Not only are children given a better representation of what a real marriage looks like, they also develop coping skills that don’t involve anger, depression, and other unhealthy habits.
When one parent has an affair, things may never be normal again. However, infidelity can either have a positive or negative effect, depending on how it is handled. If you know that one of your parents had an affair when you were younger and are struggling to form healthy relationships as an adult, it may be a sign that your parent’s betrayal was traumatic.
You don’t have to struggle as your parents did. With Couples Academy, a unique platform for relationship therapy and marriage counseling, you can learn skills that make you a better partner. Change is possible! Give us a call today to learn more about our services.