Infidelity obviously causes lasting damage to the spouse who’s been cheated on. However, it can and does affect the children more than you know.
Aside from love, a relationship such as marriage is founded on trust. When trust is broken, it can be very difficult to repair. The statistics on the survival of marriages after an infidelity is murky at best; however, it is not entirely impossible for couples to move forward despite the adultery. One thing is for sure: it will take hard work and a lot of time for wounds to heal and trust to be restored.
The spouse that’s been cheated on:
Whether the spouse decides to forgive their partners who cheated on them or not, they will continue to be emotionally and mentally tormented by their painful experience. They will react with anger and will often put up a wall in an effort to protect themselves from further pain. People who have been cheated on usually become distrustful and find it hard to place their faith, not just on their spouse, but on anyone else after an infidelity in marriage. After all, if after many years of sharing your life with someone and having your identity defined by your relationship with your partner you find out that all of it has been a lie, wouldn’t you question the logic of trusting someone else with your heart again?
The children suffer too:
Parents may not realize this but children are highly perceptive and can pick up on subtle clues that point to problems within the family. They may feel the tension between their parents and whether the child is old enough to understand infidelity in marriage or not, there is no doubt that it will affect them one way or another. Additionally the same is true whether or not you choose to tell your kids about the unfaithfulness.
In fact, according to Scott Haltzman, M.D., “The unfaithful spouse is mistaken to believe the pain inflicted by the affair happens at the moment the child is told. No, the harm done to the child occurs at the moment that that partner elected to go outside the marriage for an emotional or physical relationship. When an affair happens, it cheats the spouse and the family of the love and commitment of a partner and parent. Telling the child may put an ugly name on why a parent has pulled away from the family, but it is ultimately, naming a truth. And if there is one thing that affairs teach us, it is how devastating lies can be.”
Dr. Ana Nogales, clinical psychologist and author of Parents Who Cheat: How Children and Adults are Affected When Their Parents are Unfaithful, has found in her survey as well as in interactions with her clients that children experience loss of trust, shame, confusion, anger and ambivalence toward the betrayed parent.
Some children can blame themselves for their parent’s problems and try to compensate by behaving really well so as not to drive their parent/s away. On the other hand, some kids may act out and demonstrate behavioral problems in their childhood, or exhibit sexual rebellion during their teenage years. As adults, they may avoid intimacy, be scared to commit to a relationship, or engage in sexual addiction. In fact, many adult children whose parent/s committed adultery also end up being unfaithful.