Talking to your Kids about Infidelity and Divorce by Peter Baker, LCPC
One issue I regularly see kids for is dealing with the emotional aftermath when their parents decide to get a divorce. This already confusing and multifaceted process is further complicated when infidelity is thrown into the mix. I’ve found my work in therapy with these kids to be such a journey, as they are forced to confront issues that they are often ill equipped to manage or understand because of their age and maturity level.
I don’t understand. Why doesn’t my dad love my mom anymore? Because he doesn’t live with us anymore does that mean that he doesn’t love us anymore? Here are some pointers for dads to help repair their relationships with their children during a divorce that involves infidelity.
1. Keep the lines of communication open:
It is imperative that you talk to your children about how they feel about the divorce and/or your infidelity. Ask open ended questions like, “how are you holding up with all of these changes?” or “what are you most worried about happening in the future?” If they don’t want to talk about it, remind them you are always there to talk anytime they are ready and that you will check back with them later. If they aren’t talking to you, make sure they are talking about their feelings with someone. If they aren’t, it’s time to contact a therapist.
2. Show vulnerability to your children:
Apologize and show your kids some real emotion. I know this is tough for a lot of men out there, but I hear so often , “my dad never said he was sorry to me or my mom for what he did”. He didn’t cry or he doesn’t even look like he cares about how much he hurt us.
Show your children that sharing your mistakes and asking forgiveness are cathartic and healthy things to do with the people you’ve hurt and love. Remind them you will always love them and that just because you’re getting divorced doesn’t mean you are any less devoted to them.
3. Take the high road:
Even if your spouse was the one who cheated, don’t bad mouth him or her in front of your children. It doesn’t help anybody and sends the message that holding a grudge is an appropriate way to solve problems. If you were the one who cheated, externalize your infidelity from how you are. In other words, YOU made a horrible mistake, you are not a horrible person.
4. Watch for warning signs and don’t hesitate to get them a therapist:
If you see significant behavior changes or changes in mood such as sadness, anxiety, isolation, or a lot of anger, find a therapist who can supportively guide them thru this process. The therapy office is a place where a lot of conversations are held with my clients and their dad’s. Kids often need a safe place with another supportive adult to broach and work thru painful issues. Sometimes a professional is needed to facilitate the more difficult and emotionally driven topics during a difficult time.
Peter Baker is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with the Northbrook based practice, Affiliates in Counseling. He works with adults, adolescents, and their families, and has experience treating depression, Anxiety, Low Self Esteem, Life Transitions, Trauma and Loss, Interpersonal Relationships, Personal Growth and Psychosis. Learn more or contact: http://affiliatesincounseling.net/our-clinicians/peter-baker/
My wife left me for another man and I think it’s been tough on the kids. They enjoy his company and maybe view him as just another adult in their lives. It’s been three months and she has informed me that she is going to tell them about her relationship around her new boyfriend.
I’ve suggested that we should get the kids in therapy. What would you recommend in going forward with this? What kind of therapy would be good for a 6 and 4 year old?
Also is it a good idea or possible to ask such questions that you noted above to a 6 and 4 year old?
Peter Baker, LCPC
I’m sorry you are going thru this difficult time. My suggestion for getting the kids into therapy is to talk to their Pediatrician and ask for a good referral source. They will send you to someone they trust and believe can be a good fit for them. Most therapy at that age is considered play therapy, where kids are encouraged to get their feelings out via play or art. Think about each child’s developmental level and ask questions you believe they will understand. Weigh out the pros and cons to asking questions you aren’t sure about before asking. I believe that most times following your intuition is your best bet.
Such great advice for such a difficult topic. I’m recently divorced with a 4 year old, just talking it one day at a time, trying hard to be good to my ex. Thank you for your posts.