Children Of Infidelity—How They Hurt, And How They Heal

AUTHORS:

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.

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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.

After His Affair
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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?

Why Dads Leave Facebook AdThese 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.

 

Children Of Infidelity—How They Hurt, And How They Heal

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 Infidelity

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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 Anger

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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 Infidelity

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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.

Featured Photo Shutterstock/Patrick Foto

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17s Comments

  1. I’m 46 and I still resent my mother for serially cheating on my father, which I discovered at age 7. When I found the courage at that young age to confront her, she dismissed me for not understanding. I was taught to lie about and hide what I knew, and was used as a go between. The worst part is that I became just like her by cheating on my husband.

    Reply
    • Lee, Here is Meryn’s reply to you: Firstly, I want to say I am sorry Lee. I know how deep betrayal cuts, and how wide and deep the repercussions run. And yes, when a parent cheats, not only their partner but also their children experience the devastation of that betrayal. As a child, there’s rarely anyone to talk to about it and if you do, as you found, you’re told to be quiet or to lie. In other words, you learn betrayal is the name of the game. And so many of us, like you, go on to repeat the pattern—until we bring to the light of consciousness an understanding of the pattern, and our ability to shift it. I imagine it took courage to read this chapter, and courage to own and share as you have; and that same courage is what it takes to decide once and for all, enough. In After His Affair: Women Rising…, both women who have been betrayed and those who have themselves betrayed, share in a deeply personal and intimate style, their stories of doing just that. You can do this, too. And thank you for sharing this.

      Reply
    • My ex husband has repeated what his mother did. I now know as his second wife what really happened. His mother had an affair with his father’s best friend 37 years ago and took off to England with him for 6 months leaving his father with 4 children aged 6 to 18. But when I met my husband 17 and 1/2 years ago I was told a bit of a different story and the focus was put on Andrew s dad not having time for his own children as a school principal and that when he did remarry years later he got his first marriage enalled by the catholic church. Attention was
      Diverted. His mother did a lot of damage to those children when she came back and married the best friend. Something was not right in my marriage my ex was not able to ferl empathy or emotional pain for me when I lost my own parents. He just didn’t get it. My children and I now pay for this as he moved straight in eith a woman from affair and bought a house with her within 6 months

      Reply
  2. Hi,
    I am a 30-year old woman and consider myself a “victim” of my mother’s cheating from years ago. She cheated on my Dad, denied it, lied about, ignored Dad’s pleas and efforts to make things work, and eventually left. She was basically brainwashed by the other man into thinking there was a great life in store for her. That was a lie too. He dumped her in less than a year but my parents just couldn’t get back together, it was too late. I was devastated and never really recovered. Sure, I went on with my life but ever since there there have been hundreds if not thousands of reminders of my Mom’s betrayal. It kills me to think about it. I’ve seen countless therapists but it doesn’t help. The thoughts just keep coming back, constantly reinforced by some event or holiday where I get to decide which parent participates and which doesn’t.
    So I wrote the “pledge” below, in a way to work through what I experienced but I’m sharing it now for any kid – maybe age 14 or more – who knows there is bad stuff going on in their home and don’t know what to do. I wish I’d had something like this at the time. I’m strongly suggesting you use the pledge to make sure your mom/dad knows the “cost” of going ahead with their affair and thinking about leaving. Maybe if you make the cost seem high enough, your cheating parent will give reconciliation another try.
    For you sake, I hope so, because the alternative is truly a horrible life.
    Janey J

    Christian Children of Broken Homes – Pledge to the Cheating Mom

    Mom,
    I don’t know if you are a “cheating Mom” or not. I don’t know if you have had or are having an affair behind Dad’s back. This is about how I feel about the real possibility that you are. You tell me that I’m “too young to understand” and I know you avoid answering my questions or telling me much of anything. But I’m not stupid and I can google things myself, which I have, and the way you act toward Dad and the way you talk to me and the way you refuse to try to make it better makes it a real possibility that you are cheating. If so, are you crazy? Don’t you know cheating is wrong? Completely, horribly, wrong? It isn’t right under any set of circumstances that you might dream up. Has everything you ever taught me about right and wrong another lie? How much are you lying to yourself or believing the lies of some other person?

    I’m sure there are a lot of problems that go way back in your marriage, before I was born even. I’m sure that some of those problems are Dad’s fault and some are your fault. But what do you do with that? Do you decide that Dad is more at fault than you are so it is justified in some warped way to “get back” at Dad for the imbalance and cheat on him, leave him, make him suffer just because you have suffered? That must be it because the other option – forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation – sure isn’t happening. You aren’t trying one bit. Cheating, infidelity, adultery, whatever you want to call it, is way worse than any other set of problems. There is no comparison of infidelity to other problems and there is no possible justification for it.

    That makes me very sad and very angry to think that you could be doing that right now, to Dad, to me, to our family. If that is true, STOP IT! – right now and find a way to fix your marriage, whatever it takes! You talk so much about how much I mean to you and how much you love me. Well, its time to put your money where your mouth is – try to fix your marriage for no other reason than because I am worth it and continue trying for as long as I am worth trying for. Otherwise, I need you to look me in the eye and say this: “Janey, I’m not going to try again because you aren’t worth it, my selfish needs are more important than anything else, and my family just isn’t worth keeping together.”

    I’m really angry at you Mom. This is my pledge, my promise, to you if it ever turns out that you are cheating on Dad. Adults love to say “Oh, it will be better for the kids in the long run” but that is complete bull crap because that is not what I’ve heard from people who have been through it. If you are having an affair, you are probably spending a lot of time convincing yourself it is ok. Lying to yourself, basically. Well, even a kid knows it is not. It is a sin. A horrible, devastating sin. If so, STOP lying to yourself and realize what you are doing. Get away from it long enough to get your head clear enough to see what you’re doing.

    Why am I signing this pledge? Because I can see how much pain you cause Dad and how much tension you bring into my life. Every day I can see it and feel it. I see you not trying to make things better at the same time I hear you blaming Dad for all your problems. I see how hard Dad is trying to improve things and it doesn’t make the slightest difference to you. Its obvious that you don’t try, not even a little bit, to make things better and try to repair the problems. It seems you actually are working at not trying! You won’t even try? For me? Guess what, that makes me very very angry, at you.

    This is how I feel about thinking that you have betrayed your marriage vows to Dad and to God. This is how I feel about you inflicting on Dad some of the worst possible pain one human can inflict on another and being self-righteous and unrepentant about it. Mom, if that is the case, it is really disgusting. You have to stop thinking that it is anything else but plain, downright, disgusting.

    If you are not doing anything like this, please explain to me why you aren’t trying to fix your marriage and explain to me why Dad seems to think that you are having an affair and explain to me all the other suspicious, unanswered things going on.

    If you are having an affair and you really, honestly admit it, completely stop it, completely separate yourself from that asshole, repent, seek forgiveness, and start trying to fix it, I will be the first to run into your arms and say “thank you!”

    Mom, here is my pledge to you, if it ever turns out that you are cheating on Dad and you separate or divorce:

    1) I will refuse to live with you. Ever. I don’t care what some court says. I won’t do it. If the court forces me, I will run away.
    2) I will not participate in anything where “some other person” is present. I don’t ever want to see you together with someone else and I never want to see or hear about “someone else.”
    3) In the future, when one of the many many conflicts that you have caused comes up, Dad get’s first choice, you get second. Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Graduations, Weddings, Babies, all of it. Dad first, you second. Why should Dad be punished, forever, for what you have done?
    4) If anyone in our family talks to me about “its all worked out better this way or “its all better in the long run” or some crap like that, I will tell them they are dead wrong and I will tell them everything I know now and everything I might find out in the future. Cheating is sin and sin hates the light and I’m going to shine light on it.

    Best choice, Mom, is to make your marriage with Dad work.

    Signed

    _____________________________________________ On _______________________________

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  3. Janey,

    My heart aches for you. As a mom I am so very sorry for what your mother has put you through, you deserved so much better than to be caused so much unbearable and unnecessary pain due to her pure selfishness. You make so many excellent points in your letter, I think that it should be posted far and wide, especially where it might be read by cheating mothers and fathers, to let them see the damage they are doing to their children’s psyche. Often these parents claim that they love their children more than life itself, yet they engage in despicable affairs that bestow nothing but pain and heartache upon those that they claim to love. Your father is so very lucky to have you in his corner. I can tell that you are a wonderful, caring daughter, that any parent would be proud of!

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  4. I came across this page as I determined to face my own deeply kept feelings and get clean with them in order to heal. I got a damage when I was 9 as I witnessed a family’s friend trying to take advantage of my mom, when my father wasn’t around, I thought of my mom as a the one cheating by then as she underestimated my ability to understand what was going on, years later I saw that man again with sexual gestures to my mom when everyone was distracted at that moment but me. Now I’m a medical student about to become a doctor soon, but I like to heal my unresolved issues first. I wrote my mother a love letter, which has my feelings of anger, sadness, regret, fear and love to her, all detailed. As I ended my letter with my love to her, I decided to forgive her if she has any part on what happened. However, that man is still close to the family and seeing him makes it hard to keep myself on my loving center. I’m not sure though how to go on from here in order to heal completely and make peace with myself and with my parents, should start by reading my letter to my mother, confront her in a nice way or just leave the issue as is with my feelings rightly directed as in the letter. I’d appreciate your help with my mother and also what to do in order to not held my father accountable for what happened in his household without his knowledge?

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  5. If you are an adult whose childhood was affected by infidelity, feel free to join the discussion at the “Adult Children of Infidelity Support Group” on Facebook.

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  6. What about the children who were born of infidelity? Whose parents got together and left their other spouses? Where is our representation? Where are our resources? The studies that speak to the pain of being not only a product of infidelity, but the perceived villain? The one who, although innocent, is treated like dogshit by the ex-wife/ex-husband and their children?

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    • I am a product of an affair between my mother and a married man. I have zero knowledge of who my father is. I belive he went no contact for his marriage and my mother has kept his identity a secret from everyone in the world my entire life. At times I have wondered if my mother knows who my father is because over the course of my life I have witnessed my mother be unfaithful atleast 2 dozen times to my step fathers (2 marriages after my birth) and she was married prior to my birth as well., i am 34. I was out casted with in my own siblings 3 older brothers to the first marriages and a younger sister. My siblings often would let me know they were loved more or they knew who they were etc. I was casted as a “villian, or garbage” , gossiped about, people felt they could talk about it like I was not human or less then them because of what I originated from, how they knew I have no idea. No one shielded me from any of that, I was tortured in our small town and our small school by students and even staff, it started in kindergarten on the bus when an older boy insulted me and said my mom was a whore and I was her whore baby. Anyway I would like to know something about him, I have a curiosity unlike so many people’s about my identity which close people find odd at times, and I have always felt I certain sense of “not complete” for a long time. I have begged for information from my mother she will not give me any, my youngest son was diagnosed with rare serious medical conditions as an infant and it was hereditary and she still would not help, and said I was being manipulative. Now present day, I am currently facing recent discoveries of my husband’s infidelities. It’s been very hard to cope with, searching for the right help and information to proceed for my two young sons and my marriage. We are getting great help with the marriage. But as a bi-product of an affair I am deeply troubled with my history and it touches parts of my soul that I can’t ignore and concerns for the immediate and longterm affects of my children. I have done so much work in my life to be a healthy stable adult, to have to admit to no fault of my own my children will be carrying burdens I so desperately worked hard to protect them from is devastating on levels I do not believe I’ve ever encountered anyone to come close to understand. When I say I’m a bi-product of an affair and I have struggled to find inner peace as to who I am and find a way to trust ANYONE, so the infidelities have shaken parts I can’t describe they say “I’m sorry or I understand or I get it” , I say to myself “how? And don’t give me pity, I don’t want pity, I want understanding and there never seems to be”. I feel like a pink elephant always have. Recently again, I feel like on days that I must be a defective set of tissue all composed into a body on accident and that’s just insane. There’s got to be someone that can relate so I don’t feel so alone, strange, different. It’s a lonely world. I have not found any thing geared toward what I have going on, it would be beneficial I believe to find support and similar people in the world.

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    • Candice Callender Lewis

      Hi I am also the child of an adulterous relationship. I am currently doing my Masters thesis on the topic. For years I have felt that our feelings have never been considered…we were always “secrets” or disgraces even though it was never our fault.
      If you would like to be part of my study, to share your experiences as the “love child” and what it was like for you growing up I would love to hear your thoughts.
      It has been such a challenge for me throughout my life that I felt I owed it to my younger self to tell my story…our story 😉

      Feel free to contact me.

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      • Hi Candice, I’m reluctant to reply but I don’t think I have anything to lose. I came across this site, as a result of research, because I’m too writing a book…telling my story.

        I’m “wowed” at the stories I’ve read here and on other similar sites…btw, I’ve never done this before; reached out to anyone or commented on a blog. I’m an observer (if you will), but I felt compelled to reply to your comments.

        I hope we can dialogue, as it has taken me decades to get the strength to write about my pain of being born out of an adulterous relationship, but I’m fastly approaching 50 and I know it’s long over-due. I believe I’d be open to helping you with your study.

        dk

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      • My history is complicated and probably a bit different then mosts. My father was cheating on my mom for years and with someone i was very close to as a child. This affected me profoundly. There is so much to this story,but need more space to write it all. I would love to be in your study. The consequences of his actions are still affecting me today profoundly.☹

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  7. As an ex wife I find your comments about what the mother should do quite unbelievable and you lack any knowledge of the distress or betrayal that an ex wife can feel whilst glibly suggesting she think only of others.. her children who should continue a lovely happy relationship with their father and no doubt the new step mother.
    Where does the mothers rights or pain or betrayal or hurt or lies come into it? No one gives a crap about us. We should just be good, keep quiet for the sake of every other bugger in the family. Let’s kick us all a bit more shall we? Oh and by the way, while you are trying not to think suicidal thoughts you are supposed to be happy around your children who regularly betray you when you have let them go because you were trying to do what’s best by them.
    Really you know nothing. You are either an ex mistress and clearly don’t care or have no idea of the pain.

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  8. Not only do I agree with Alison, I will add that not only should all states allow penalties but support “the best interests” of the children by not FORCING visitation to spend with cheating/lying spouse and allow the child(ren) to stay with the stable parent. It’s called protecting and not aliening!

    Joint custody is simply wording to allow the cheating lying spouse to feel good! If you walk away from your family, you should lose all rights. Child(ren) grow with stability and not Disney parenting.

    Stop compromising – being taught that lying and cheating is okay has only produced the present day problems. Being a partner in destroying a family should be prosecuted just like criminals!

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  9. Paula – Totally agree.

    Paula – I agree with you.
    No advice I’ve ever read has said “teach children to lie” and kids, especially older kids, are privy to “ACTIONS speak louder than words” what words/lies are in any way acceptable to cover up the actions of infidelity when it breaks up the family? How is one to teach children the importance of morals – Tell the truth. Live the truth…, no matter what – oh, but not when infidelity is involved. What do we teach our late teenage or early 20’s daughters if a friend of decides to sleep with the daughter’s boyfriend by saying “Oh, human frailties! Press forward!” What do we teach our sons when father’s ACTIONS speak louder than words and we “lie” to cover it all up! Infidelity involves a level of narcissistic behaviour that in NO way puts the needs of any children first. I have met many a young lady who is healthy and happy by simply not having a narcissistic father in her life. Same for sons and as always, these types of articles demand a level of “perfection” from the cheated on partner, but not the cheater. Talk about compromise. What a bunch of bunk.

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  10. Alison, DC, and Paula,

    I couldn’t agree more. As currently being in a situation where my ex spouse cheated, he has demonstrated time and again that his wants and needs come first to anyone and everything. He has devastated our children, ages 11 and 9. They want absolutely nothing to do with him, yet I have to encourage them to have a relationship with him…the person that betrayed their mother and them, lied to them relentlessly and refuses to show any remorse. How is a relationship with a father that is capable of this type of damaging behavior expected? I would never ever, want my children growing up thinking this type of behavior is acceptable and that it’s ok because my dad did it. I never want my children to do to anyone what their father has done to us, nor do I want my children to grow up thinking it’s ok to marry someone like their father. This is an awful situation to be in. I never imagined this for my children. The only thing I can do is encourage them to voice their feelings and never accept behavior such as the behavior their father has demonstrated. To teach them that their father’s action do not define who they are, that they are honest and morally capable human beings. I aim to show them that selfishness is never acceptable, that my children’s safety, security, and well being are of upmost importance to me.

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