How An Affair Affects the Children
When it comes to the topic of infidelity, people mostly focus on how it affects the couple in the relationship. However, if there are children involved, they can be equally devastated, if not more so, for different reasons.
An affair affects the children emotionally, psychologically and physically. However the impact on the children can get over looked because there are so many things going on and the parents are not in the best frame of mind.
Let’s consider 7 ways an affair affects the children and their lives.
1. Their Family As They Know It Is Shattered
You may not tell children about the affair, especially if they are younger, but they will sense that something is going on in the home. They will sense the emotions between you.
They may react to it at school or home by acting out, becoming clingy, or seeming less self-confident and secure. They might overhear arguments, or worse still, the unfaithful person on the phone with their lover.
If the situation has got to the point of separation and divorce, the whole family dynamic will change. They may feel closer to the guilty parent and blame the innocent one for “driving them away”.
They might also feel the guilty parent doesn’t love them anymore because they have decided to divorce and leave them behind.
The affair affects the children by causing feelings of abandonment that they take with them into their own relationships in the future.
2. Change in their Behaviour
Lots of kids idolize their parents and like to think they have the perfect family. Separation and divorce will destroy what they know as the meaning of “family.” So will finding out about the infidelity, which is cheating, breaking the rules, and hurting the innocent party.
Children will often try to cover up what is happening at home, but it will usually manifest as changed behavior. They will either internalise their feelings or act out on them.
Depending on their age, it can cause feelings of embarrassment and humiliation especially when other people know the details of their family business.
It can cause children to be promiscuous and look for love in the wrong places. It can affect their school grades by their lack of concentration and emotional state.
It can also lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, anger and resentment. All these emotions can lead a child to self-harm and substance abuse.
3. Taking Sides
The children may take sides whether the innocent party wants them to or not. It’s true that some very hurt and angry spouses can say a lot of nasty things about the cheater.
This might make the child take sides, but it can also make them feel torn and divided with their loyalty. Do they have to stop loving Mum or Dad because they did this bad thing?
Custody battles can make this worse. Some kids might not understand what is happening, or not care, and want to go live with the guilty party.
The trouble with this is it would require a lot of organization on the parent’s part, and if they are leaving to be with their lover, chances are the lover is not banking on sharing their new life with a 5 year old who is going to wet the bed because they are so traumatized by the break-up of their family.
On the other hand, if that parent says no, it can lead to feelings of rejection that can last a lifetime.
4. Creates Confusion
Children are expected to follow the rules, so why are parents allowed to break them? What do they mean, they don’t love Mummy or Daddy anymore? Kids in this situation might start to test their boundaries, and not trust other people as a result of this confusion.
Their foundation of life has now been shattered. They don’t know where they fit. In particular when there is shared custody and the children are living 50/50 with each parent. They are effectively living out of a suitcase.
The affair affects the children’s home environment. Where is their comfort zone? Where is their safe place? And will it get taken away again? This confusion leads to physical symptoms of illness. They will start to have sore tummies, feel sick, get headaches and it can also affect their sleep patterns.
Dealing with Anger in the Household
A household with marital issues is usually an angry household. The innocent blames the guilty and the guilty blames the innocent, as if it is their fault the cheater chose to be unfaithful.
The children can be angry at everyone, especially if they lose their home, school, neighbourhood, and friends.
They can get angry when they see a parent feeling hurt. And if the cheater ends up with the person, they had an affair with, and that person has children it can cause anger and jealousy there too.
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The wounded party will often feel very sad and might falsely empower their child by saying, “You will have to be the man or lady of the house now”. This can lead to a child taking on responsibilities they never should and missing out on their own childhood.
This causes a child to feel like they have to be there for their parent and miss out on things they want to do.
They become the protector. They can also become the Counsellor as the parents confide in the children. This is so wrong. Children cannot be privy to all the details, emotions and thought processes of their parents. It’s too much. Way too much for them to handle.
Playing Parents off Against Each Other
It’s surprising how young children can be when they start doing this. They understand there is a war going on. Children can get selfish during this time and you can’t blame them. They will play one parent off against the other to get what they want.
They want the loot and the parents are willing to pay for it. Maybe buying away their guilt or buying the child’s love or simply trying to make the child happy with gifts.
This doesn’t do the children any favours. It damages the relationship that parents have left as they try to out-do each other by upping the anti with the gifts, holidays etc.
It teaches the kids to be manipulative too. So the parents need to behave like parents and no matter what happens with their relationship they have to co-parent and put the children’s needs first.
That means having the same values when it comes to raising the children. No matter if there is another partner on the scene or not.
Losing Their Parents
It’s common that the affair affects the children by losing both parents and gaining “friends instead.”
Out of fear of being the “bad cop” the parents choose to the the “fun parent.” All rules go out the window. And now guess whose in charge? That’s right the children are in charge while the parents are too busy playing Good Cop and being the new BFF.
This is done out of guilt and to make the parent feel better but it’s at the cost of raising a spoilt child who knows no boundaries and has now learnt to detach emotionally from people they care about.
That’s what they’ve seen their parents do to each other right?
If the child is old enough, tell them the truth in a non-judgmental a way. Parents should try to do it together if they can, and answer all questions truthfully.
The main thing is to reassure the children that no matter what happens, you’re still their parents and you love them. Your job is to make sure they feel safe and they know that they’re loved.
Being honest with them and letting them know what’s happening next can give them a direction. The ripple effect of an affair is that the children have to learn to trust your word and your actions.
They didn’t have an issue with it before but they do now. They have been taught “things change” and they change quickly and dramatically.
They’ll be looking for reassurance of your words matching your actions. So be honest without disclosing things they don’t need to know.
If there’s a new partner on the scene be respectful to the children and let them into their lives gradually. You may have chosen someone new in your life but your children didn’t. Their lives are in turmoil so let it settle before shoving someone new in their face.
As the partner in the relationship you need to learn to recover from being cheated on and get back to being the best parent you can be.