After cheating (with or without sexual addiction) is uncovered in your relationship, if you have kids, you and your partner are probably wondering what you should (and should not) tell them. For many parents, the initial thinking is to keep the situation under wraps, that what the kids don’t know won’t hurt them. For others, in particular rightfully angry betrayed spouses, the opposite reaction might occur, with the betrayed spouse wanting the kids to be as disappointed and angry with the cheating spouse as they are.
Neither of these responses is recommended.
When something is not right in your relationship, your kids will sense it. They may not know what’s up, but they know that something is amiss. And because children, especially younger children, are naturally self-centric, they are likely to assume that the problem is somehow their fault. So as parents, you need to let them know that yes, something is going on that’s creating stress for mommy and daddy, and they’re not in any way to blame. Then you can assure them that the adults are working through it, and that you both love them the same as always.
So letting your kids know at least a little bit about what’s happening is not optional; it’s a necessity of good parenting. The question isn’t whether you should tell them, it’s how to best go about that.
What To Say
First and foremost, you need to remember that anything you say to your kids cannot be unsaid. If you say something angry or vindictive in the heat of the moment, your kids will carry that statement with them for the rest of their lives. Knowing this, it’s wise for you and your partner to sit down and plan, in advance, what you are going to say, and how you will say it. Of course, that’s easier said than done when your relationship is on thin ice, as it nearly always is after cheating is discovered. If the two of you are struggling to have this conversation, a therapist can help you.
You also need to remember to keep things general. Your kids, regardless of their age, don’t need (or want) to know specifics about your sex life. Most of the time, a general statement letting them know that one of you crossed a relationship boundary and the other is upset about it is more than sufficient. In all cases, you’ll want to convey the following information:
- There is a problem that the two of you are working through.
- They didn’t cause the problem.
- They can’t fix the problem.
- They can’t control the problem.
- They can care for themselves by communicating their feelings, making healthy choices, and celebrating themselves.
These simple talking points can stop your kids from blaming themselves for the dysfunction that is free-floating through your household. This will not, however, stop their feelings or their fears, and that’s OK. The goal of this conversation is to validate their experience and to let them know it’s OK to talk about what’s happening in their lives.
Once again, we suggest that you agree in advance on what you will say to your kids, and how you will say it. We also suggest you stick to that script as closely as possible. If the two of you are struggling to create this script, please seek therapeutic assistance.