How An Affair Can Affect Your Marriage — And Your Kids

Although affairs can be exciting for the involved parties, the effects of them can be absolutely devasting, especially when the cheating person has children. In his book, The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity, Dr. Scott Haltzman, M.D., a psychiatrist, explains how an affair can affect your marriage and how to handle telling your kids — and more importantly, when.

The good news is that some marriages can not only survive, but thrive post-affair, but it truly can depend on the couple and how much they want to invest in the marriage. After all, the stats are sobering: only 25% of marriages survive an affair, and that can be with couples counseling and a truly repentant partner. Dr. Haltzman dives into the reasons why people cheat in the first place, how you might expect to feel if you’re the betrayed spouse, and why your words really matter if/when you decide to tell your children.

Do men and women cheat for different reasons?

Men often cheat for sex and women often cheat for an emotional connection. But seismic sexual and relationship shifts are unfolding in our society. And the roles of men and women are correspondingly changing. As a consequence, the motivations for and frequency of cheating are becoming more similar among men and women.

What can I expect if I suddenly discover that my partner is cheating?

An estimated 90% of partners never find out about the cheating. For those 10% who do, the ramifications can be dramatic. Even for the cheater, their spouse’s discovery of their affair can be the worst moment of their lives. As a betrayed spouse, you may develop a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with flashbacks, nightmares, and dissociation (meaning feeling unreal or out of it). You might experience the signs of clinical depression, such as weight loss, depressed mood, and sleeplessness. You could even have fleeting thoughts of suicide.

You write that even for the best of parents, it’s hard to keep their feelings from their children. Could you explain that?

Betrayed spouses are angry and traumatized. They often seek revenge. They may unconsciously and unknowingly involve their children in seeking revenge. You may feel that the child should know immediately that this was bad behavior and that your spouse is not to be trusted. Perhaps that’s true, but you’ll have a lifetime to speak to them about it. Once you let the cat out of the bag, however, I promise that your children will never forget your words. It’s the norm, I’m sorry to say, for even the best-intended and most altruistic parents to say hurtful things. Be careful.

How long will it take to recover from an affair?

In cases where a spouse having an affair for the first time is contrite, honestly answers all questions, makes a heartfelt and sincere amends, and abandons the affair partner, a speedier resolution is possible. If the aggrieved partner is open to reconciliation and forgiveness after a due diligence period, that’s a good sign. But there is no telling on how long a wronged spouse will take to heal. There is no statute of limitations on their hurt and anger.

Very rarely do cheating partners think of how an affect can affect your marriage, but you should. The aftermath can be disastrous for not just your partnership, but for your entire family, too. So if you’re feeling tempted, try to speak with your spouse about what’s lacking in your marriage before risking it all.

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