When a relationship is rocked by an affair, the betrayed partner is often the focus of attention. This is normal, since the hurt partner is traumatized.
In the immediate aftermath of the affair, addressing this partner’s anger, pain, shock and confusion is of paramount importance.
But if you have children they also feel the effects and need as much help coping with the painful situation as much as – or even more – than your partner needs.
So after your children learn about your affair, what can you do?
Note: The worst possible scenario you could face would be that your child becomes suicidal. At the end of this article are the Warning Signs of Childhood Depression including what actions you would need to take.
Prepare for Their Anger
In the aftermath of your affair, your partner’s anger and pain can surge at any time, day or night. Sometimes it can seem like their emotions flood the home. If you have children, they too will struggle with their emotions. And if you’re unprepared for this you can get overwhelmed.
Your child’s anger is a common reaction, especially if they are old enough to understand what an affair is. It’s also common for your child to immediately mistrust you about everything. And just like your partner, their pain and angry can erupt at any time.
Sometimes children blame the hurt partner for allowing the affair to happen. If this happens try to be patient with your child. Refrain from overreacting if your child lashes out at either of you.
During your affair you probably made excuses to the kids about not being able to spend time with them. Children will often do emotional somersaults in their mind in order to believe a cheating parent’s lies, despite knowing or feeling like they’re being lied to.
Furthermore, they can feel unwanted and what’s worse, blame themselves for the affair. Once the affair is revealed a child can get very angry about having had to deal with these feelings and for wasting the energy trying to believe the lies.
Regardless of what happens between you and your partner, your child will have a difficult time processing their thoughts and feelings. But unlike your partner’s ability to be emotionally open, your child’s anger can be just the “tip of the iceberg.”
In other words there may be much more emotion than they’re willing to or are able to show. The risk with this is that they begin to “stew” about hurt feelings which over time can fester into resentment and contempt.
Remind Your Children that You Still Love Them
Regularly remind your children that while you understand why they would be angry, you still love them. But don’t be surprised if they don’t believe you. An older child may even tell you to your face that you’re a liar.
A child could easily (and truthfully) ask you – “If love me, why did you lie to us? Why did you cheat in the first place?” One way to respond to this is by saying you made a terrible mistake that you’re very sorry for, but your feelings toward them have never changed. And if it’s true, tell them you’re going to do everything you can to understand why you cheated.
Regardless of your response, don’t be surprised or react harshly if your child doesn’t believe you. Accept that it’s going to take time to regain their trust.
Also, despite what’s happened, going forward you will plenty of opportunity to teach them how to accept responsibility and the consequences of your behavior while coping with a crisis.
Allow Open Communication
It’s vital that you do all you can so your child feels heard and understood. One way to do this is to encourage them to approach you as needed and (within appropriate limits) to speak openly freely with you.
Unless you’re doing something urgent at the time, when your child wants to speak with you about the affair stop what you’re doing and give them your undivided attention. If at first they struggle to find their words, offer encouragement. Let them know they won’t be punished for being frank with you. Then just listen. Your job is to validate their thoughts and feelings – not to debate or make excuses.
Naturally, it’s often harder for younger children to say how they’re really feeling. But children can express emotions through art and play.
For example, ask them to draw how they feel inside, or to draw a picture of you and/or of you and your partner.
You can ask them about the drawings but don’t insist on a reply. Even if they don’t respond, the drawings can give them an outlet for their feelings. Finally, asking them if they want you to keep the drawings can convey that you value them and their feelings.
Playing with toys can also help a child to process how they feel. They may allow you to watch them as they play and if so, you can ask about the different toys but don’t insist on a reply.
Age Appropriate Communication
Keep discussions surrounding the affair age-appropriate. Even if they are old enough to understand cheating, they don’t need to hear details of the affair. You’re still the parent and you can set firm communication boundaries about what you reveal.
Be careful what you say to and about your partner when your children are nearby. Avoid making negative comment and respect that your partner is still the parent of your child, if they are. Disrespecting your partner teaches your children that it’s okay for them to do so. It also places the burden of your situation onto your child. And remember that, as mentioned above, your child may already be angry at your partner.
Be Patient and Take Accountability
Overall, one of the best things you can do for your child when trying to help them cope with your affair is to have patience and take responsibility. Again, you will have many teaching opportunities.
Your child can learn that life’s lessons can be hard to accept, but that much can be gained when the problem is understood and worked though, as in this case, by taking responsibility, acknowledging the pain you’ve caused and accepting the consequences.
So, avoid pushing your child for their forgiveness. Quite frankly, they don’t have to. Instead, acknowledge that you made a terrible mistake and admit that your actions have damaged your relationship with them and with your partner.
Now you have to do the work to repair the damage. And that is going to take time.
Getting Help for Recovery and Healing
Affairs damage most relationships, either between adults or between parents and children. Yet, children are particularly vulnerable in the aftermath.
Recognize that you can’t change what happened. However, you can take ownership of your actions and do what you can to support your child going forward. Just realize that repairing the relationships you’ve had with your children will require considerable time, effort and patience.
At a minimum, adults recovering from an affair usually spend several months of hard work in therapy. A child’ therapy can last longer. But seeking help from professional therapists for yourself and for your children can ease the pain and help reduce the time required to repair these relationships.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment please call 949-760-7171 or text 949-244-8572 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warning Signs of Childhood Depression
If your child begins to feel or look or act as sad, it would be normal. They, like your partner, will struggle to absorb the shock and confusion. But it’s vital to your child’s well-being that you stay especially alert for and take appropriate action (See below) if your child shows any signs of depression.
Signs and symptoms of childhood depression include:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns – sleeplessness or excessive sleep
- Continuously feeling sad or hopelessness or worthless or guilty
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and low energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased sensitivity to rejection
- Continuously irritable or anger
- Isolates or is socially withdrawn
- Physical complaints like a stomachache or headache that doesn’t respond to treatment
- Changes in behavior, i.e. becoming physically or verbally aggressive
- Loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities
- Reduced ability to function at home or with friends or in school
- Vocal outbursts or crying
With older children, also be aware of any signs of substance abuse or other high risk behavior.
Again take immediate action if your child says anything whatsoever about suicide or death or does anything that might indicate they are suicide.
Emergency actions include:
- Do no leave your child alone
- Calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255
- Calling 911
- Take your child to the nearest hospital Emergency Room
Longer-term actions include:
- Notifying the child’s Pediatrician
- Consulting with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in treating children