Heartbreak

5 Devastating Things Kids Learn When A Parent Has An Affair

Photo: Dina Ureski / Shutterstock.com 
father holding little daughter on his shoulder, she looks sad

Having an affair is a grown-up thing but, really, the things that you teach your kids when you cheat on your spouse are quite significant and life-changing.

Parents work hard to set a good example for their children. They model kindness and honesty because they want their kids to be healthy and happy.

And then they go and do something that goes against everything they taught them — have an affair.

And, with an affair, the parental modeling changes completely.

RELATED: The 4 Stages Of Emotional Affairs — And Physical Ones, Too

Here are 5 things having an affair teaches your children. 

1. Seek solace elsewhere.

From almost the moment they are born, you try to teach your children to self-soothe. You let them "cry it out" when they're falling asleep.

You teach them how to manage their emotions and work through sadness or disappointment. It’s not an easy thing to teach, especially by adults who struggle to do so themselves.

I have a client who had been miserable in her marriage for years and hadn’t been dealing with it because doing so was difficult. And then she met a co-worker who was in the same space and they were able to share their pain with each other.

Before they knew it, their intimate conversations led to feelings of love and attraction and the affair began.

For the first time in a long time, my client wasn’t miserable. She felt joy and hope for the future — and it was intoxicating.

When she was with him, she felt wonderful and when she wasn’t, she felt desperate. The pain she was dealing with for years came rushing back when she was living her normal life. Not being with her lover became unbearable.

When her affair was discovered, she tried to explain to her kids that she had been unhappy and that’s why the affair happened.

What her kids learned then was that, if you're unhappy, it’s OK to reach out to other things to soothe them, like an affair or alcohol or drugs. Not a good lesson, is it?

2. Relationships are disposable.

Both of my parents had affairs when I was a child.

I remember vividly going to the office with my dad and knowing that he was having an affair with a co-worker. A man we didn't know used to call my mom all the time. She told us that "he was her lawyer."

As a result, from a very young age, I knew that my parent’s relationship wasn’t important to either one of them. They might have pretended that it was but my brother and sister and I all knew it wasn’t.

And, when they got divorced, we were proven exactly right.

When my siblings and I started dating, we were notorious for never being able to stay in a relationship, always looking out for the next shiny thing.

Our parents had not taught us how to have respect for a relationship or how to keep one healthy. So, we just stabbed around in the dark, trying to find a relationship that we might consider committing to.

My brother and my sister and I have all had marriages that ended in divorce. Two of us had affairs. We had all sworn that our marriages would be different from our parents’ and, yet, we had all, unwittingly, learned from their example and followed suit.

So, don’t kid yourself. Your kids are watching and they are learning from you. Don’t teach them that a marriage is not worth fighting for.

3. They can’t trust you.

My father’s first affair happened when I was 7 years old. I was young but I knew, instinctively, that what my father was doing was wrong, that by spending time with another woman he was betraying my mother. And by betraying my mother, he was betraying me.

A child’s relationship with their parents is one based on absolute trust. We need to trust them to learn how to walk, to learn how to interact with others, to learn how to drive a car. They are the foundation of our path to adulthood.

And when that trust is broken, our journey to being an adult can be severely damaged.

After the affair, I could no longer rely on them to tell me the truth. When they went to discipline me, I ignored them, knowing that they had nothing to teach me about right and wrong.

As a result, my young adulthood was plagued with depression, alcohol, and toxic relationships.

That foundational relationship of my life, the one with my parents, one not based on trust, was too weak for me to grow into a healthy adult, one who could be in a healthy relationship with anyone, not even myself.

RELATED: 5 Reasons Cheating On Your Spouse Is A Truly Terrible Idea

4. Marriage is toxic.

Almost without exception, affairs happen when relationships are bad. Affairs happen when the disconnect seems insurmountable and yet leaving seems impossible and that the only solace is reaching for someone else.

And, when kids learn that their parent cheat, they are given a front-row seat to just how toxic marriage can be.

The aftermath of the discovery of an affair is messy. Mommies are crying. Daddies are angry. No one's talking. Everyone is pretending that everything is OK but nothing is. This can go on for months or even years.

A child develops their view of marriage from watching their parents. I know that I wanted to believe that I could live happily ever after in my marriage but, in retrospect, I was pretty sure that I knew we wouldn’t make it in the long run — and I was right.

I truly believe that if I had lived in a family where the marriage was based on mutual respect, honesty, and the ability to communicate, I would have known what a happy marriage looked like and known how to have one of my own.

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But that didn’t happen. And now my kids have two divorced parents. Just like I did.

5. Their family isn’t safe.

I know I keep coming back to this but it’s important to say — the health of a child’s family is the number one indicator of whether they will be healthy adults. And when an affair is discovered, that family is sickened, often beyond repair.

Think about back when you were a kid. Think about family birthdays, holidays, and vacations.

Do you remember how much fun they were? Do you remember how safe you felt when your dad threw you into the water or your mom set down a cake covered with 10 burning candles?

You knew that you could rely on these people, that they would always do the right thing for you.

An affair throws all of that into turmoil and, as a result, children no longer feel safe.

If their father was willing to love someone other than their mother, how do they know that he won’t find some other children to love as well? If their mother has turned away from their father, how can they believe that she will always be there for them when they need her?

And, knowing that they don’t have a family to keep them safe makes them feel insecure about their place in the world and their hopes for the future. And with that insecurity, they venture out into the world, unsure about their place in it, doomed to possible failure.

It's hard to believe that there are things that you teach your kids when you're having an affair.

I mean, they should be separate right? The affair has nothing to do with the kids, after all.

Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. Children watch and they listen and they learn. They don’t miss anything. When something is off, they know.

What they don’t know is what to do if something is off. And, so, they flounder and they act out and they suffer.

So, think carefully about the things that you teach your kids when you cheat on your spouse as you make decisions about what the next steps are for you. After all, they should be the priority, right?

RELATED: 13 Simple Things That Can Trigger An Affair

Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based, certified life and love coach. Let her help you find, and keep, love in this crazy world in which we live. Email her at mitzi@letyourdreamsbegin.com and get started!

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