The Affair: Its Effect on Children and the Co-Parenting Relationship
Shonnie Brown, MFT
The affair--whether physical, emotional or both--has a substantial impact on the entire family unit. Feelings of betrayal are so great when secrecy and deception color a marriage that parents often lose focus on their children's feelings or needs. One's own emotions may pre-empt receiving cues that a child is in trouble. And parental-child boundaries are often violated when a hurting parent confides inappropriately in a child--thus placing that child right in the middle between Mom and Dad.
When an adult discovers a partner's betrayal or just suspects it, it is essential to take some time to respond to the situation rather than react hastily when involving the children. It is way too easy to entangle them with your biased feelings, no matter how appropriate those feelings. Step back until you can place yourself in their shoes. Get support for your adult problem from other adults, then make an age appropriate plan with or without your partner on how and what to tell the kids.
Part One of this article introduces four typical stories of affairs that I hear in my office each week. In Part Two I will address these issues. And in Part Three I'll talk about appropriate interventions with the children.
Sherry: "I knew something was up when my husband of 19 years started buying new clothes and wearing a new after shave. I'd become suspicious of his 'friendship' with a seductive co-worker at the college where he teaches, but whenever I broached the subject, he denied it. Then, after months of feeling I must be crazy, he just blurted it out. 'I'm in love with someone else and I want a divorce.' There were no discussions or attempts to resolve any differences in our relationship. He just wanted to be with someone who is 'fun' and 'not so heavy.' He goes to his own therapy now, but refused to go with me. What's most upsetting is that he's pulled away from our four kids, ages three to fifteen. He's always been so involved as a parent. Now he only wants to see them every other weekend! In just a few short weeks I've become a single parent to four children."
Jennifer: "We were married 14 years and have lived in this area for only two of them. I've always felt alone in the marriage, but shortly after we moved here, for his job, he became restless. He started travelling more for work and I spent more time with the kids. I haven't even made friends in this town and, because he's cut off his work life from me, we have no couple's friends.
"Three weeks ago I read his e-mails and found letters from a woman he's met on a 'business trip.' The e-mails between them are very flirtateous and seductive. I confronted him, but he just got angry and blamed me for 'snooping.' He says he deserves his privacy. I told him to get out, so he got his own apartment. My thirteen year-old, Susie, is so angry with her dad that she refuses to go over there. He only has a studio so there's no space for her or for our eleven year-old twin boys. What was he thinking? Did he expect that I wouldn't tell the kids what their father has done? He says it doesn't count because they haven't had sex. Does he think we'd all keep living together while he has his 'emotional affair' with this woman?"
Amy: "We've been married since high school--17 years--and have three kids. He drinks every day, but I wouldn't call him an alcoholic because he's a good Dad and a good provider. A few years ago we got very involved with another couple and became best friends. Subsequently, I found my husband and my best friend in bed together! I moved out a year ago and took the kids. They've continued to see their dad regularly, though he practically lives with his new girlfriend and her daughter.
"I've been in individual therapy and I thought we were all doing pretty good considering the circumstances. But now I've learned through a friend that my eleven year-old daughter is deeply depressed, talking about her feelings online and has been visiting some pretty scarey websites. She's never told me any of this. I must have missed some cues. Perhaps I was too wrapped up in my own pain. I feel like a horrible mom."
Nancy: "We've been married for 23 years and we're now separated for the second time since I first found out that he was cheating. He's still seeing her, but he's ambivalent about our marriage. I had to resort to spying on him by hacking into his e-mails. There I got the shock of my life! E-mails from four different women. Three of them are long distance, but the new girlfriend is local. He agreed to couples therapy, told the therapist he'd give our marriage a try, but continues to see her! His moving in and out is so confusing to us. My 18 year-old son who is still at home is disgusted with him. Bobby is even angry with me for letting his dad move back in. My daughter, who is away at college, won't speak to her dad. And therefore my husband refuses to call her. Everything is just falling apart!"
The Affair, Part 2
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