Should Your Kids Know You've Had an Affair? 4 Tips For Telling Them All About It
This is such an emotional and difficult decision as a couple that you’ll probably ever need to make. As if the fact that one of you has committed an infidelity and has tarnished the sanctity of your marriage is not enough of a bitter pill to swallow, after the initial wave of anger, shock and sadness subsides there remains the issue of your kids. When you and/or your partner has an affair should you divulge that information to your kids? And if the answer, for your family is yes, what is the best way to break the heartbreaking news to them as gently and with as much sensitivity as possible?
According to Rick Reynolds, LCSW President and Founder of AffairRecovery.com which offers personalized online support for those impacted by infidelity, when deciding as a couple if you should tell your kids about an affair committed by one of their parents, the first question a couple should ask themselves is, “Is it in their child's best interest?”
“There are times that people want to use telling the children as a threat to get their mate to do what they want. This is abusive, destructive and certainly not in the children’s best interest,” says Mr. Reynolds. “However, if it’s the two of you telling the children, then you’re presenting a safe, unified front for your children."
Why tell the kids?
Reynolds shares that divulging a spouse’s affair to one's children can be an opportunity for parents to model openness, honesty, teach their children what an authentic relationship looks like and can help prepare them for a real marriage. Sharing their story with their mature children allows kids to both understand the difficulties of marriage and to learn from their parents' mistakes. But Reynolds warns parents to be careful that they do not place their children in a position where they feel they have to choose between one parent or the other. And, of course, parents should never using their children as confidants. Spousification of a child (sharing details and processing information as you would with a spouse) is abusive and creates deep problems for a child.
Four tips to help you tell the kids
If, after taking the proper measures you and your spouse are ready to come clean about an affair to your kids, Reynolds offers these FOUR tips for talking with your children about this issue in the most gentle and sensitive way possible
1. Protect the children: 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 it’s age appropriate, they should be given the story, but not in a way that gets them involved in marriage, but so they can learn from your mistakes.
2. Give the 30,000 foot view: When children are in early adulthood and have questions, you can give more detail, but even then they only need the 30,000 foot view. If there was a pattern of behavior, tell them about the pattern of behavior, not how many times sexual contact occurred. If the pain or pattern hasn’t stopped, take the free Affair Analyzer at AffairRecovery.com and it will give you a personalized assessment of your unique situation.
3. Don’t divulge details: For instance: “I had a series of affairs from 2001 – 2005.” Details, such as names aren’t important. 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. At the same time, share the story and how you are recovering from the affair; tell about forgiveness and those that extended grace. Use your story to speak of the hope which came from your experience.
4. Be supportive: 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. More importantly, you want to set the example of how to respond when things are hard. You want them to know you are not perfect and they don’t need to be either. They will be mad, they will react, but you have to let them know you love them and want them to grow from this and learn.
So, do you agree or disagree? Should you ever tell your kids about a parent's affair?