You want to protect your child from hurt, be it the pain of a scraped knee or emotional trauma. So what do you do when one parent has had an affair? Often, you’re driven to just deal with the damages and then sweep the discussion under the carpet. Infidelity, though, can put a strain on the family, even when you try to ignore the effects. Should children be made aware of a parent’s infidelity? Will it help or hurt a married couple’s recovery?
Let’s find out.
Is It Their Business To Know?
One of the most common questions couples who have experienced an affair ask is whether or not they should tell people—mainly their children—about what happened. Many couples hold onto the belief that telling children could have a negative impact on them, while others argue that kids should be made aware of the issue.
There is no simple answer to whether children should be made aware of a parent’s infidelity. Depending on the age of the child, they might not even understand the idea that two people are in a monogamous relationship. Yet, when tensions are high in the household, not telling the kids what is wrong could be damaging, too.
So what do you do?
Is It Right To Tell Children About Infidelity?
Let’s backpedal for a moment. Say you have children who understand the concept of marriage and monogamy. In this event, is it even okay to tell them that one parent betrayed the trust of the other? Should your hurt them with that terrible truth? Realize that you have already hurt your family. The moment one parent goes behind the backs of their spouse and children to have an extramarital affair, they have damaged the very foundations of that family.
There’s no going back. There’s only going forward, and you have to choose which sinking stone upon which to step.
If you are struggling to decide whether to tell a child or not about the affair, there has to be a discussion between both parents. If you’re the one who was hurt by the affair, you have to avoid calling your spouse terrible names. For the one who cheated, it’s important to outline why it was wrong.
Lastly, if you decide to tell your children it must be because you have both decided that the affair is something your kids must absolutely know about. You have to also acknowledge that your children might have to grieve and deal with their own negative emotions and you mustn’t fault them for how they react.
Telling Young Children About An Affair
One way to figure out whether to tell your children about an affair is to consider their age. A young child who is in elementary school won’t understand why an affair is so terrible. You could decide to wait, but the chances of them hearing a rumor about what happened and misunderstanding increase the older they get. By that time, they may be angry that you didn’t tell them.
The important thing to note when telling young children about infidelity is that you provide simple but truthful responses. Tell them why there is tension between Mommy and Daddy. Explain that what happened was wrong and that it’s going to take some time for things to go back to normal.
Give your child space to process this. While young, children can pick up on emotions and body language well. As they get older, they might ask for more rational discussions about what happened; for now, the less complex the explanation, the better.
Telling Teens About An Affair
Teenagers are a different story. By this point in a child’s life, they are forming depictions in their mind about what a family should and shouldn’t be. They are paying attention to the details, and they may know more about what happened than they let on. You shouldn’t try to hide something as devastating as an affair from adolescents.
You and your partner must disclose the affair together, though the one who made the mistake must be the one to deliver the news.
Here are some tips for telling a teenager about a parent’s affair:
Timing Is Everything
Don’t bring up such an emotional subject when everyone in the household is moody from a long day. Wait for an appropriate time, preferably a little after you and your spouse have started working to rebuild your relationship. Choose a comfortable location, such as the dinner table after a calm meal. Make it formal but don’t get too dramatic or heavy. State what happened as plainly as possible then let your children ask questions.
Make It A Teachable Moment
You want to describe the affair in such a way that your teenager knows that it is wrong but that your marriage is stronger. You want them to understand that affairs are terrible and never justifiable, but you must also explain that forgiveness is always an option.
This discussion is a great time to talk about taking ownership of your mistakes. Depending on the age of your teenager, you can talk to them about the consequences of poor decisions and how the ripple of one choice can affect everything else.
Also, if the person who had the affair is up to it, have them admit that what they did was irresponsible and destructive and that they regret hurting the family. Teenagers will be responsive to that.
Realize Teenagers Are Volatile And Impulsive
Even if you have an excellent relationship with your teens, they may be disappointed, hurt, and disillusioned by your admission. Sometimes, their upset will become hostility. They could blame you for hurting the other parent or withdraw from both of you.
Let them know their emotions are valid. Give them time to process their anger. However, if things continue to take a turn for the worst, it is best to seek family counseling to help your child handle their emotions.
Disclosing Infidelity To Adult Children
Are your children already old enough to be in college or starting their own families? The discussion is very much the same. You have to be honest with your family. Consider this a chance to mentor your older child on life’s challenges and tell them about forgiveness. This lesson could be beneficial to them in the future.
Moving Forward Together
Should your children be made aware of your affair? Obviously, you want to protect them. For older kids, the betrayal can be turned into a teachable moment that shows them the importance of loyalty and communication. However, you should always analyze the situation to determine how it will impact your family. If you’re peacefully working through the infidelity with your spouse, you’re in a better position to tell your kids what happened.
Recovering from infidelity can be challenging, as can talking about it. If you want to learn some additional tools for overcoming difficulties in your marriage, Couples Academy can help. Developed by an infidelity recovery specialist, Couples Academy is a unique program that helps you strengthen your bond together. Contact us today to learn more.