Infidelity can be devastating to the partners of cheaters, and it is one of the leading causes of breakups and divorces. However, cheated-on partners are not always the only victims of infidelity. In relationships with children, infidelity can wreak havoc on parent-child relationships and also cause future problems for children in their own romantic relationships.
The Impact Of Parental Infidelity On Children
Many children, particularly adolescents, feel a strong sense of shame when they discover that one of their parents has had an affair. Adolescents are in the middle of figuring out their own identity, and finding out about parental infidelity can shake their view of the world and where they came from. Some children may feel so ashamed of their parent that they cut ties; Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son Patrick, for example, changed his last name on Twitter when his father’s history of infidelity became public.
Children are also frequently angry when they discover that a parent has cheated. This is especially true of children who are forced into an uncomfortable position as the result of infidelity; some are made the confidant of the parent who cheated, while others are given the job of being the person who comforts the parent who was cheated on. Being forced to take on the weight of a parent’s misconduct and grief can leave a child with long-lasting anger to work through.
Another troubling factor is that some research suggests the children of a cheating parent are more likely to be cheaters themselves. According to psychologist Dr. Ana Nogales, 55 percent of children who experience parental infidelity will go on to cheat on a romantic partner.
Relationships With Both Parents May Suffer
Parental infidelity does not only create problems between children and the parent who cheated, it can also cause a strain between children and the parent who was cheated on. It may not be fair, but the emotional turmoil that children feel when they find out that a parent cheated can cause them to place blame in multiple directions.
Sometimes, children blame the parent who was cheated on for driving the other parent away and causing an affair to happen. They may blame the betrayed parent for failing to protect them from this event, feeling that they have failed both as a spouse and as a parent. Other children may feel embarrassed for their betrayed parents or even ashamed of them for being victimized in this way.
The anger and discomfort directed at the parent who was betrayed may be short-lived; after the initial shock, children are more likely to see the situation rationally and place the blame where it belongs. However, in some situations, it can cause long-term friction in the parent-child relationship.
The Way The Child Finds Out About The Parental Infidelity Can Matter
Conventional wisdom says that the way in which children find out about parental infidelity influences the way that they respond to it. Children who hear about the affair from a cheating parent directly, along with apologies and explanations, are less likely to be angry and upset and more likely to regain a positive relationship with the parent in the future than children who hear about the affair from the betrayed parent or from a third party.
However, a 2010 study from the University of San Francisco suggested that the way in which children learn about infidelity does not have as much impact as we thought. The study, by assistant professor of communications Allison Thorson, found that the way in which children learned about parental infidelity had no bearing on whether the parent child-relationship could be saved. In other words, having an affair has the potential to destroy your relationship with your children no matter what you do or say afterward.
However, it’s still important to be honest and apologetic to your children. They will definitely respect you and be less upset than if they heard it from the betrayed parent or from a third party.
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