An affair is revealed. Either the partner who transgressed confesses or he/she got caught. The couple goes into a tailspin as they attempt to make sense of the betrayal and hopefully to begin to heal. Much on the topic of infidelity is focused on the couple and how they can rebuild trust. Rarely, does the literature focus on the children who are caught in the crossfire.
Research findings indicate that children who have experienced a parental affair are more likely to lack trust in their future romantic relationships. Additionally, researchers have found that 52% of children who know about their father’s affair are more likely to have an affair during their adult romantic relationships. Children often experience feelings of guilt, resentment, fear of neglect, and self-blame when learning about a parents affair. These negative emotions interfere with the ability to develop a strong emotional base.
How children are told about the affair can help mitigate the negative repercussions. Children should not be given too many details about the affair. Burdening children with the details robs them from their innocence. Parents should avoid triangulating a child by leaning on the child for support, thereby forcing the child to choose a side. Often, the betrayed partner feels lonely and leans on their child for empathy. In psychology this is termed, parentification. Meaning, the child is pushed into the role of a parent. Again, this forces a child to lose out on the childhood years, which should be free of worry.
Parents sometimes assume that the affair is between the adults in the home and it will not impact the children. At times, it is not so. If a parent suspects that a child might have overheard a conversation about the affair, they should seek out a therapist who can guide them on how to discuss the affair with their child/children.
Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, MHC-LP, CASAC is a psychotherapist in New York City where she practices individual therapy, couples counseling, and sex counseling. You can contact Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more blog posts at www.mwr.nyc
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Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, LMHC