Should You Tell Your Children Your Spouse Cheated? Tips and insight from someone who cheated on his wife – the founder of affairrecovery.com.I’ve never approached this topic before in any of the Oakland County Moms health sections. In fact, I had never really thought about it until I was approached by the website affairrecovery.com regarding content on the subject of cheating and healing after an affair in a marriage.
Lack of personal experience aside, I am very familiar with people trying to sort through the aftermath of a spouse cheating because of certain immediate family situations.
The following article is from the founder of affairrecovery.com and provides some interesting insight on whether or not to approach your children if you and/or your spouse has been cheating in your marriage. While I won’t say I agree or disagree with his personal method, I think the article is interesting and definitely provides “food for thought” on the Should You Tell Your Children Your Spouse Cheated? subject.
Should You Tell Your Children Your Spouse Cheated?
After The Affair: Telling Your Children – Should You Tell Your Children Your Spouse Cheated?
By Rick Reynolds, LCSW
President and Founder of AffairRecovery.com
For my wife, Stephanie, and me, telling our children about my affair seemed like a no-brainer. Because of my profession, my story was becoming more public as I used it in my testimony of the transformation that infidelity had brought to our marriage and the hope that is available. We wanted them to understand the legacy and hopefully, to learn from our mistakes. For us, the question wasn’t if we would tell them, rather it was how and when we would tell them.
This was too big of a secret to ask one child to keep from their siblings. For that reason, we chose to tell all three children about the affair at the same time. This presented another consideration since we wanted the youngest to be at a maturity level of understanding. At that time our children were 15, 18, and 21. Our oldest was 21 and engaged to be married; we had discussed for a few years that we wanted to share this with her before she made that commitment. We believed it would be a life lesson for her and her fiancé that we wished we had been taught. And our youngest, at 15, was now emotionally mature enough to understand the situation and to appreciate its nature of privacy.
I’m not sure anyone should emulate our method of informing our children, but I can say it was one of the best things we’ve done. Trusting our children with the information of our life opened up the door for them to trust us with what was going on in their lives. That’s one of the simple lessons I learned in my own recovery. You can’t gain trust until you first give trust. My kids are far from perfect, but I believe it was our honesty that prevented the disconnection that so often happens between parents and their teens. For that, Stephanie and I are both grateful we took that trip to the beach.
Should You Tell Children if Your Spouse Has Had an Affair? If you are considering sharing your story with your kids after the affair, here are a few suggestions.
Should You Tell Your Children Your Spouse Cheated? WHEN should you tell your children your spouse cheated?
Telling your children about an affair in real time: In the midst of recovery – (this is the exception)
To think that infidelity doesn’t have a profound impact on both children and adult children is naïve. If you’re reading this and you’re in the midst of recovering from an affair, here’s some simple advice about talking to your children. The younger the children are, the more important it is to protect them. The last thing a child needs is to have to carry the burden of your mistakes. If the children have heard things and are asking questions, then you may need to be more open. Secrecy and pretending can be even worse.
When talking to children, I suggest that the unfaithful person consider saying something like this: “I didn’t love (treat) your father (or mother) the way that married people should love (treat) each other.” That’s truthful. It’s not denying the presence of a third party, but it doesn’t rock their world by bringing an unknown third party into it. Eventually, when age appropriate, they should be given the story, not in a way that gets them involved in marriage, but so they can learn from your mistakes.
Older children, if they know what’s going on in the crisis, need to be told the truth, but they don’t need to be involved in what’s going on.
Telling your children about an affair in retrospect – To share life experiences with them.
Another instance for telling your children would be for the sake of the family. Stephanie and I wanted to model openness and honesty to our older children and to help them learn from our mistakes.
WHAT should you tell your children about an affair?
The information you give your children needs to be age appropriate. Telling a six-year-old that your mommy brought another man into our house and took off all her clothes and let him touch her privates is abusive. As mentioned above, for the six-year-old it would have been far more appropriate to say, “I didn’t love (treat) your father (or mother) the way that married people should love (treat) each other.”
WHY should you tell your children about an affair?
Real Time – You would only tell your children in the midst of the struggle, if they have overheard things and are asking questions, or if they are at risk of finding out from someone else.
Should You Tell Your Children Your Spouse Cheated? BENEFITS of telling your children about an affair
- Authenticity – It teaches your children what an authentic relationship looks like and helps prepare them for a real marriage.
- Modeling – Portraying the perfect marriage when you are really far from perfect creates a standard of behavior that we ourselves can’t even meet. Why would we want to create an unrealistic standard for our children? One that teaches that acceptability is based on perfection rather than grace? I think we all want to be loved “okay, as is, good enough,” just as we are, warts and all. Modeling how love is able to forgive and change provides an example for them when they encounter the failures of life.
- Honesty – It allows for honesty in your relationship with your children. I believe our honesty with our children helped us maintain a meaningful connection with them as they went through their struggles.
- Legacy – It’s a part of their legacy and how you responded that will ultimately reveal your greatest strengths.
- Preparedness – We don’t want to leave our children ill-equipped. Life is hard, especially after an affair, and you do them a disservice if you pretend otherwise. Sharing your story with your mature children allows them to both understand and to learn from your mistakes. More importantly, you want to set the example of how to respond when things are hard.
- Normalcy – We don’t want to pretend normal. Stephanie and I both hope our children are way ahead of where we were when we were their age. We want to model how to live life on life’s terms. We want them to have mature, loving, and intimate relationships. That won’t happen if all we do is teach them how to pretend normal.
- Sanity – Finally, don’t let them think they were crazy. At least let them know they were spot-on when they once asked, “What’s wrong?”
About Affair Recovery
Affair Recovery specializes in helping people heal after infidelity. After recovering from his own affair 25 years ago and helping 2,000+ other couples do the same, founder Rick Reynolds and his team have developed research-validated, groundbreaking online and in-person programs for redeeming the losses created by infidelity, betrayal, and sexual addiction. To learn more, visit http://www.affairrecovery.com/.
Should You Tell Children Your Spouse Cheated? originally posted in Oakland County Moms in 2012.