Cope if Your Parent Is Cheating
Edited by Kathy McGraw
No matter what age you are, discovering that one of your parents has been unfaithful to the other is devastating news to hear, and unfortunately, it is all too common, with about 25 percent of men and 10 to 15 percent of women admitting to being unfaithful to their partners during their marriage. It forces your emotions into a tumult and sometimes makes you face aspects of life before you are ready. When confronted with a parent's infidelity, you will likely feel lost and out of control. In this article, we'll give you some ways that you can cope with this issue.
Understanding Why People Cheat: Facts About Infidelity
In dealing with your parent's infidelity, it may be helpful to learn the reasons behind most incidents of cheating. However, please understand that human behavior is as complex and varied as humans are themselves, and the general concepts we discuss here may not always reflect the nature of your parent's individual situation.
- 1The most common one is the opportunistic type, which we will be discussing in detail, and second and least common type is the serial cheater. The opportunistic cheater falls into a situation that encourages them to cheat, while the serial cheater has a compulsion to cheat or somehow feels entitled to have their cake and eat it, too. Your parent is most likely the opportunistic type.There are two types of cheaters.Advertisement
- 2By virtue of the number of surviving offspring, evolution favored ancestors who had multiple partners rather than a single one. This does not mean that cheating is inevitable in every relationship or that humans can't be faithful to one spouse, it just means that humans have an atavistic predisposition to spread their genes around.Monogamy is hard for humans.Advertisement
- 3Take comfort in the fact that your parent probably didn't plan on having an affair. Affairs happen when there is a confluence of opportunity, sexual desire, and unmet need.Most people don't plan to be unfaithful.
- Cheating rarely happens without an opportunity. Opportunities for cheating present themselves when the risk of getting caught is absent or very slight.Examples of such opportunities include trips away from home and frequently spending time alone with someone other than your spouse.
- There has to be a level of sexual attraction there. If it is a mutual attraction, then the risk for cheating is greater, and in fact, being around someone who finds them sexually attractive may spark a reciprocal attraction since it feels good to be desired by someone else.
- An unmet need is anything that the cheater believes they are not getting our of their relationship. Common unmet needs include a desire for closeness, the need for sex, a need for understanding and appreciation. Unmet needs usually occur where there is a breakdown in communication in the relationship and the person doesn't feel like they can talk to their partner about them.
- 4In the presence of the perfect storm of the opportunity to cheat, sexual desire, and unmet need, willpower won't stop a person from cheating. At heart, emotions drive human behavior, not logic. Does this mean that the cheating partner can't be held to account for their behavior? No, it means only that cheating behavior is situationally driven.Will power, and self-control has very little effect.
Dealing with Your Emotions
When you find out that one of your parents is cheating on the other, it can feel like your whole world is crumbling. Common emotions during such a time include anger, feeling betrayed, disappointment, confusion, guilt, and shame. Here are some ways to cope with the emotional unrest:
- 1Your parent's infidelity has nothing to do with you, and you did nothing to cause it. Your parent's bad behavior has to do with their own emotional state and the state of their relationship with the other parent.Realize that it's not your fault.Advertisement
- 2You may feel like you want to hide from everyone because you think that the world knows about the affair.That's not true, by the way, but even if everyone you know is aware of it, it doesn't matter. Remember that you have done nothing wrong. Your parent's mistake does not involve you in any way, and you have nothing to be ashamed of.Don't let your parents' shame affect you.
- 3They behaved badly, and their infidelity affected everyone in the family. It's only natural to feel anger; however, don't let your anger fester and grow into resentment. Holding on to anger for a long period of time is not healthy.It's okay to be angry at the parent who cheated.
- 4Writing down your thoughts in a journal can be a cathartic way to express your emotions in private. Find a quiet spot and take 20 minutes out of your day to write whatever you feel like writing about. Don't worry about proper grammar or spelling, and don't censor yourself: just write whatever feels right.Start a journal.
- 5Whether or not you actually send it to them doesn't matter. The important part is expressing to them how their cheating affected you in a non-threatening and non-confrontational medium.Write a letter to the cheating parent.
- 6It's best to talk to someone outside of your family, such as your best friend. They will listen to you talk about your feelings without judgment. Just having someone listen to you can be beneficial in sorting out your feelings.Talk to a trusted friend.
- 7A marriage and family counselor has specific experience in dealing with families affected by infidelity. They offer a safe and non-judgmental place in which to explore your feelings about your parent's affair and its effects on you as well as offer a fresh perspective on matters.Get counseling.
- 8Regardless of what happens with your parents' marriage, let your life go on. Continue with your studies, keep moving forward your career plans and don't stop doing the things you enjoy,Don't stop living your life.
- 9Don't let your parents' broken trust keep you from trusting other people. Yes, affairs happen, and they are common, but the fact remains that the majority of people do not cheat.Don't allow your parent's mistake define who you are.
Dealing with your Relationship with Your Parents
To be sure, your relationship with the parent who cheated will suffer after their infidelity has been revealed. How you treat them going forward depends in large part what kind of relationship you had with them prior to their infidelity. Remember, although it may feel like they've betrayed you as well as your other parent, the only relationship that they have betrayed is their marital one.
- 1Although it is hard not to, avoid picking sides. There may be other factors about which you are not aware, and it is not your place to act as the mediator between your parents. Let them sort out their marital issues themselves.Remain neutral.Advertisement
- Don't tell the other parent about the cheating. They may already know, and even if they don't, it is not up to you to reveal the other parent's secrets.
- Don't allow your parents to use you against each other. Don't involve yourself in he said/she said arguments or cover for one parent with the other.
- Don't allow either parent to confide in you. You should never be asked to take on their emotional burdens. You are their child, and they should be protecting you, not asking you to carry additional emotional baggage for them.
- 2It can be hard when you feel angry at the parent who cheated but remember that while their betrayal affected you, they did not betray you; they betrayed the vows they took to remain faithful to their spouse. Try to treat both of your parents the same.Treat both of your parents with love and respect.
- 3Their infidelity doesn't change the basic nature of your relationship with them. They are still the parent who tucked you into bed at night, who read you stories, taught you how to ride a bike, and stayed up with you when you were sick. On the other hand, if they were a poor parent to you and have never been there for you, then nothing they have done changes any of that history, either.Remember the kind of parent they've been to you.
- 4You can tell the cheating parent that you don't approve of what they did, but spell it out to both of them that you are a neutral party and want no part in their marital issues. Say that you love them both and that you hope they will resolve matters between them in a way that makes the most sense for them.Make your position clear to both parents.
- 5It's true that you probably won't look at your parent the same way again. In a way, it's part of growing up to discover that your parents aren't the infallible beings you once thought they were when you were a child. Allow yourself to forgive them and move forward into a new, adult relationship with them.Forgive the cheating parent.Advertisement
If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please post in the comments section below.
Categories : Relationships