QUESTION: My partner had an affair
that went on for nearly a year. We have three daughters -- two in
their teens and one younger. They know something is up but I haven't
told them any details. Should we tell our kids?
ANSWER: Your children are no doubt aware
that their parents have been experiencing emotional strain in their
relationship. This stress could cause them to feel insecure and should
be addressed. Telling them details about a marital affair, however,
may bring your children into the heart of your marital discord, rather
than keep them out of the middle of your conflict.
While you do not want to ignore reality or cause strain
in the family by keeping secrets, it is not wise to involve them in
your conflicts. It is possible that this could be treated as an issue
of privacy, if your children are not aware or do not want to deal
with this information at this time. Putting it "in their faces", if
they are not ready or cognizant could be detrimental.
If your children bring up the affair, you should certainly
address it. However, be cautious that you protect your daughters from
feeling that they must "take sides" in the marriage. They need both
of you. Refrain from turning to them for comfort or support involving
It is likely that at some point, if your children
are aware of the affair, they will let you know. A comment about infidelity,
coached in vague terms should be questioned rather than ignored. Talk
with your partner about how this would be handled. If your spouse
knows he (or she) made a critical mistake and can say so, it can help
your children learn the consequences of undermining trust in a relationship.
If you are able to reinforce the message by expressing the lesson
learned in the relationship, such as..."Your father (or mother) and
I have not been dealing with our problems as we should, but we feel
we are on the right track now", or "It was wrong what your father
(or mother) did, but we believe we are able to communicate better
and are working on solving our problems without involving others romantically"
, they will discover that their parents are not perfect people but
they are learning from their mistakes.
If the children do broach the subject, refrain from
involving them in any details about the affair. Keep the discussion
centered on how they are feeling. It is natural for children to feel
betrayed and angry. Being able to express these feelings will help
soothe them. They will also want to be reassured that they are loved,
despite the betrayal. They will want to know you have dealt with the
problem and are dealing with the consequences. Children are often
relieved to hear that mom and dad are working things out with a marriage
counselor. It makes it less likely that they will feel responsible
for making things better in your marriage.
As teenagers, or young adult women, your daughters
will be wondering about their own fate in future relationships. Do
not shy away from discussing their feelings as they arise. They will
need to understand what a healthy relationship is, what their needs
are and how to best meet them. Discussion of the affair with respect
to its impact on relationship may be an appropriate learning tool
in the years ahead.
A marital affair strains your marriage. Children may
experience this stress as a fracture in your relationship. Because
your marriage is the foundation of your family, your daughters will
likely feel some insecurity as a result. Look for signs of insecurity
which may be expressed as irritability, a decreased ability to handle
frustration (with homework, friendships or challenging situations)
or a generalized increase in demands made of you.
Give your children extra support and attention through
this trying period in the family, but realize, most importantly, that
their equilibrium will be reinstated by the healing that occurs between
you and your partner.
If the affair represents an ongoing pattern of coping,
ask your partner to seek help. But do not stop there. Work on understanding
the emotional meaning of the affair in your relationship and rebuilding
trust in your marriage.