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Recovering From Infidelity: Staying Together For The Kids

Author: MA RSW RMFT

Staying Together For The Kids After Infidelity

When infidelity is discovered, and the family is shattered, it is often very difficult to know what to do next. Should there be a reconciliation or a divorce? Should you try to love the cheating partner or hate him or her? This and many other questions create conditions that make long-term decisions very difficult.

Likely, the most difficult decision of all is whether to stay together for the children after infidelity has been discovered and ended. The following are some important facts about how divorce impacts children that should be considered before deciding on reconciliation or divorce.

Divorce is not good for children

Know that divorce and children are not a good mix. Years of research and professional consensus has proven that in most situation, children are not helped when their parents separate (certainly, some exceptions make separation or divorce the only reasonable thing to do).

Research has determined that many children suffer from the divorce process and the new composition of their family. Children who live with divorce are at greater risk for emotional and mental illness, poverty, delinquency, substance abuse, risky and inappropriate sexual behavior, anti-social behavior, and other injurious and maladaptive behaviors.

Children do best when there are two parents. Having two parents teaches children how to adjust to different types of people; they get a double dose of attention, love, and care, and four helpful hands are better than two.

A new family

Post-divorce, one or both parents may form new relationships and build a blended family. Remarriages are often difficult for children.

Frequently, the step-parent does not fully accept his or her non-biological child(ren), and the children do not accept the step-parent. This can lead to enormous stress and conflict for everyone involved. When both sides of the new family include children, it is often not possible to build a harmonious blended family. Even with professional help, the failure rate is high.

Yes, there are exceptions when new and blended families work well, but you can’t count on being one of them when you go down the path to divorce. There are always so many ‘unknowns’ that you cannot accurately predict what will happen in the future. 

Divorce is risky

Certainly, many children do well when their parents divorce. However, predicting this in advance is impossible, and statistics are not in favor of this outcome. 

Here is often what happens when parents divorce:

  • Two households now need to be maintained, which is an enormous increase in overall expenses, often impoverishing one or both parents.
  • The animosity between parents can harm the mental health of children. For example, having to lie to a parent to protect the other parent or delivering unwanted messages between the parents, etc. 
  • Parents must learn to live with reduced contact with their child(ren) since time spent with them is now divided between two individuals. Sometimes the loss is disproportional and difficult to adjust to. This scenario most commonly befalls fathers, who typically have less contact with their child(ren) and court-acknowledged rights than mothers.
  • The trauma of divorce can last for many years. The hurt, emotional wounds, and humiliation—for countless reasons—are so deep; that recovery is not easy or guaranteed. For some, the wounds turn into lifetime scars. 

Reconciling with the cheating partner

When possible, reconciling is best for the children. Staying together for the kids after infidelity is a loud YES. And if this is your decision to remain together after the cheating has stopped, and you have children, you need to know what is best for them and how to help them through this family crisis. Keep reading.

How to help your children endure the infidelity recovery process

No single article or series of articles can adequately address how infidelity can negatively impact children.

Whether toddlers or young adults, the children of a couple dealing with infidelity become unintended victims. Their parent’s emotional ups and downs impact their lives in many negative ways.

Recovering from an affair when there are children becomes more complicated when having to attend to the needs of the injured marriage, oneself, and one’s partner, along with the needs of their scared and alarmed children.

Parents are often well advised to consult a child mental health specialist if they see their child or children are having a difficult time during this recovery process.

Family instability and turmoil caused by infidelity can lead to a child having anxiety, depression, and behavior problems.

Children benefit when their parents tend to the wounds of infidelity and build (sometimes for the first time) a happy, loving, nurturing home. However, the needs of the children, along with the adults, must also be tended to if the infidelity recovery is to be complete. 

Dealing with Infidelity - Talking to Your Children

Staying together for the kids after infidelity is not enough!

When parents are caught up in the emotional whirlwind of infidelity, they sometimes overlook the fact that their child or children are suffering, too. In many instances, the child or children’s bubble of having a wonderful family bursts overnight, leaving kids feeling insecure and fearful.

Reconciliation after the affair has ended is a process. Both partners should be optimistic that, in the end, things will work out well. However, the final result is not known. Because of this, the children are left in limbo, not getting a clear picture of their future.

When children become aware of the family crisis caused by one parent’s betrayal of the other, they worry and wonder about the following:

  • Will my parents divorce?
  • If my parents split up, who will I live with?
  • Will I have to go to a new school and make all new friends?
  • If my parents divorce, and I have to live with one of them, will my brothers or sisters go with me?
  • Am I the cause of my parent’s problems?
  • Will I have to side with one parent over the other?
  • Will I be rejected by my friends if they find out? 
  • If my parents divorce and they get remarried, will I like their new partner and will they love me?
  • What can I do to make sure my parents stay together so I don’t lose my family?

This is just a small sampling of the many questions that children typically harbor within themselves.

When dealing with infidelity, what to say to one’s child about Dad’s or Mom’s affair, has no clear rules. Let your child’s questions guide you as to how much and what to say. You should encourage your son or daughter to ask whatever it is that they need to know. Involving your children in an age-appropriate way to participate in the infidelity recovery process empowers them and helps them feel more secure.

An important barometer of what to say and when to say it is the atmosphere in your home. If it is one where one or both parents are frequently angry, crying, depressed, or openly criticizing the other parent, the children need to understand – at least at the most basic level, why this is happening. For children, not knowing the reason things are the way they are is often very confusing and stressful.

Above all else, when speaking to your children about the infidelity and how it has impacted the family, you must be truthful and answer their questions. When you don’t know the answer to a question, say just that.

Sometimes a family meeting is the best way to address the stress in the family, or for a very shy and sensitive child, a one-on-one heart-to-heart talk would be the best. Don’t tell the child or children more than the basics, and then ask if they have any questions.

As a general guideline regarding how much to say about a parent’s cheating, allow your children to ask questions and let them show you what they need and want to know.

When children do ask questions regarding the affair, parents should acknowledge that the infidelity was wrong and caused the partner who was betrayed pain. The child or children should be told that their parents are working to rebuild their trust and love for one another.

Typically children are most concerned about their immediate future and that of the rest of their family members. Simply tell them the truth in an age-appropriate way. If the plan is to reconcile and stay together, let them know so they do not have to worry that one of their parents will be leaving the family home to pursue separation and divorce.

Get a professional relationship specialist to help with your recovery

Recovering from infidelity is a difficult and complex process. Typically, a couple cannot do it on their own. Healing from infidelity is like healing from a broken bone. As a bone needs an orthopedic surgeon to set it properly, a caring and qualified professional couple and family therapist is required for a successful recovery from infidelity. Without professional help, the couple may find a way to ‘carry on,’ but more times than not the emotional wounds caused by the betrayal will never completely heal. Professional help is highly recommended.

The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

The Canadian Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Get the tools you need to survive infidelity:

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abe kass

Abe has helped thousands of individuals, couples, and families for twenty-five-plus years. When it comes to relationship expertise — Abe is the real deal and can be trusted!

abe kassProfessional Therapist Abe Kass MA RSW RMFT

Abe has helped thousands of individuals, couples, and families for twenty-five-plus years. When it comes to relationship expertise — Abe is the real deal and can be trusted!