Dealing with Infidelity
There are few relationship difficulties as stressful or as painful as infidelity. One partner is left with intense feelings of hurt, betrayal and difficulty in trusting again. The other partner is left with paralysing guilt and - if the affair is current - hard choices to make.
Both partners need help dealing with infidelity. If there are children involved, they will need help too as children have a way of automatically internalising parental conflict as ‘their fault’.
Don’t let this happen. We can help you and your children. We help heal broken hearts, broken expectations and broken relationships. Or, where separation is inevitable, we can help you leave your relationship in a way that is the least hurtful for all involved and facilitate the best possible chance to move ahead in a healthy way.
Why Do People Have Affairs?
Are you having an affair? Unlike what you, your friends, or family may feel about your situation, you are not a bad person. Very few people wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, I am going to have an affair’. Affairs are the results of unmet needs - and not just sexual needs.
One of the main reasons men cheat is because they are dissatisfied with their relationship. They are often looking for a sense of self-esteem and the affection they long for. The most common reason women cheat is because they feel emotionally deprived. Women need to feel appreciated, desired and special to their partner, and they may see that their partner has ignored attempts to emotionally re-connect or that their partner doesn't listen to them.
Sometimes one partner will have an affair in the hope that it will solve a problem that could not be met in the relationship, looking outside to find the "missing part of the jigsaw" which allows them to function within their relationship.
Emotional dissatisfaction is another common factor, and many will betray their loved one to seek lost admiration, validation, connection and intimacy. This may be why some affairs begin around the birth of the first child or during another major life change. A betrayal can also be an attempt to regain a position of power in a relationship following an unhappy or difficult circumstance.
In some situations, seeking attention, love or sex outside of the primary relationship may be due to deep seeded underlying issues including unresolved past trauma (sexual molestation/abuse, sexual addiction etc).
Social Media or ‘Facebook’ Affairs
Social media has given rise to a whole new breed of affair, which begins as flirtation but can lead to a secret double life. It is easy to get addicted to the thrill and the feeling of being admired without any of the down-to-earth drawbacks of real-life relationships. These ‘emotional affairs’ inevitably take your attention away from your significant relationship with your partner and may lead on to actual physical infidelity.
What makes people vulnerable to social media affairs is that other people are so easily accessible. It’s easy to look at photos and dream. There is also an illusion of secrecy online, which encourages people to believe that there will be no repercussions from their actions. Online, many people lose their inhibitions.
If you or your partner are involved in this kind of online affair it’s useful to ask yourself why? Social media flirtations and affairs point to trouble within your relationship. Something isn’t working. Talking to a counsellor will give you the opportunity to explore what that something might be and to find ways to heal and deepen your relationship with your partner.
Couples Counselling Helps Couples Cope with Infidelity
Not all couples survive the impact of an affair, but the majority do. Professional help through couples counselling or marriage counselling offers a chance for a couple to understand the underlying causes of infidelity and then to make psychologically informed decisions. Reasons for infidelity is never straightforward or simple. Counselling can also help ‘contain’ the shock and distress that follow the discovery of infidelity. In the safe environment which counselling offers, both partners can feel safe to:
- ask and answer questions about the affair, what exactly happened and what was its cause
- work through all the difficult feelings which inevitably surface, including resentment, jealousy, pain and anger
- look at the underlying causes or issues that may have led to the betrayal
- build awareness in order to prevent the same thing happening again in the future
- look at unhealthy patterns of relationship, including co-dependency or emotional abuse
If you having an affair or going through the pain of feeling/being betrayed, talking with one of our relationship counsellors can help. Counsellors won’t make judgements about you or your partner, or tell you what to do. Instead, we can help you work through your feelings and find a place that is less painful than where you are now.
The Impact of Affairs on Children
Modern parents are fully tuned into their children’s needs in so many ways; the importance of good, additive-free food, regular sleep patterns and after-school activities. But what children need most is much more fundamental – a loving and stable relationship between the parents.
When parents have affairs, the emotional fall-out for children is huge. Though parents may convince themselves that the children don’t know about the affair, they are almost certainly deceiving themselves. Children may not know the details of what is happening, but they do know that something is wrong.
A serious affair is not just a betrayal of a partner; it’s also a betrayal of the children and of the trust they put in the family and their parents. When told of adult indiscretions or when they make such discoveries themselves, children fail to comprehend the adult issues, instead becoming confused and feeling that their home base is no longer safe or secure.
Children impacted by an affair may be deeply disturbed, though they may find it impossible to voice what they feel. But the signs are there – in low self-esteem, a poor record at school, or anti-social behaviour. Without professional support and help, the many other possible effects of infidelity on children include:
Loss of trust – after an affair children may lose trust in one or both parents and find it hard to believe that they will not be lied to or rejected again, both now and far off into the future. As they grow older they may feel they are not worthy of receiving monogamous love and find it hard to ever trust or commit to a partner or to form fulfilling adult relationships of their own.
Shame – the child may feel ashamed of their parents, their family or of themselves, believing they are somehow to blame for what has happened. If they have been made to carry secrets these can add an extra burden of guilt for them to carry.
Anger and ambivalence - they may be torn between feelings of anger and yearning for the betraying parent. Or they may split their idea of the unfaithful parent into two, the one who they loved before the affair and the one revealed to them afterwards who they now hate.
Confusion – children may believe that marriage is a sham and love is an illusion, leaving them with a deep-seated confusion about the meaning of love and marriage
Resentment – children may resent one or both parents because they can no longer provide the emotional support and care-giving that the child needs. They may be confused if they are forced to act as adults and give emotional support to their parents. They may also resent one or both parents for not preventing the infidelity and the subsequent destruction of the family unit.
Acting out – since they are not yet equipped to confront and express difficult feelings directly, children may exhibit all kinds of anti-social behaviour both during childhood and later in adolescence. This behaviour may include drug abuse, sexual acting out, and the avoidance of intimacy or addiction to sex as an adult.
Advice for Helping Children to Survive Infidelity
Children should know and be told as little as possible about infidelity. Wherever possible, a child must be protected from exposure to information about adult indiscretions and marital battles.
Bitterness, stress, humiliation or anger must all be unloaded far away from children, however much self-control this demands from the parents. Arguments must never descend into character assassination or aggression in front of the children. A child can understand that adults argue and then make up and can tolerate conflict between parents as long as they see adult conflicts resolved in a satisfactory manner. Unresolved, ongoing parent conflict is extremely destructive to children.
If a couple decide that separation is necessary, they must present a united front to the children. An acrimonious split between parents has the worst effects of all, as children are torn between the parents or forced to take sides. If they are drawn into a loyalty battle, the child's identity, security and self-esteem are conflicted and compromised.
Sometimes parents feel that the child should know the truth about the other parent. However, there is a huge blow to the child's self-esteem when one parent is criticised by the other. Justifications or blaming all take a huge toll on the children. This is even true with adult children – though they may be able to understand infidelity rationally, they are still emotionally unable to really accept the reality of these problems happening within their own family.
Counselling for Children after Infidelity
When an affair is discovered, parents may become so traumatised and angry that they simply don’t have the time or inner resources to give their children adequate attention and support. Yet children actually need more care than ever at this time and may express their needs by being more clingy or demanding than usual.
Counselling provides a place of safety where the sole focus is the children’s needs and feelings. Children often find it extremely difficult to express themselves, since they may not know what they feel, or feel emotions that are contradictory, or feel emotions that they consider to be shameful or wrong. In counselling they will be encouraged to find out what they do feel and to express it, without judgement or recrimination.
Young children may express themselves best through drawing or sand play or games with toys. Or they may prefer to read or invent stories, relating themselves and their circumstances to a character in the story. All these methods help a child work through and make sense of what they feel and give the therapist insight into sources of inner disturbance that need to be given particular therapeutic attention.
Another vital aspect of counselling is that a child traumatised by infidelity is able to develop a trusting relationship with an adult. Since their original belief that the family unit was inviolable has been shattered, it’s important that they learn that trust is still possible. Without this learning, children may have ongoing problems with trust in the future and have difficulty forming healthy close relationships as adults.
This trusting safe relationship outside the family is particularly important for adolescents since they may otherwise turn to peers who are equally wounded, for support during this time. This can lead them into all kinds of risky behaviour, including drug-taking, drinking, sexual experimentation and promiscuity.
Depending on the age of the children, counselling within this context is usually Family Counselling, focusing on helping children understand that whilst Mum or Dad may be having problems, their needs will be known by their parents and that decisions will be made, as much as possible, in the best interest of the children.