Parents spend a good amount of time trying to keep their children from making mistakes, then helping them when they do. However, when a parent makes the major mistake of engaging in an extramarital affair, they must recognize their own bad behavior before they can start rebuilding trust.
An affair that is adjacent to a divorce — regardless of whether it’s the direct cause — can be a particularly difficult problem to rectify. While the former spouses have license to let go of the marriage, inevitably they want to rebuild trust with their children to maintain strong relationships for a lifetime.
Securing solid bonds with your children can be difficult when trust has been breached through infidelity. Even though your conscience may be killing you, there are ways you can rebuild your child’s trust and move forward.
1. Rebuilding trust: Deciding whether to tell children about infidelity
Telling your child about an infidelity — if they don’t already know — may seem like a logical first step, but consider a few things first. In the most basic sense, it’s none of their business and you’re under no obligation to tell them. On the other hand, omitting a truth this significant could feel like a continuance of the devastating lying that accompanies infidelity.
You likely don’t want to engage in the conversation at all if your child is too young to even comprehend the concept of monogamy. For kids old enough to understand what happened, an admission could help them find context in an otherwise confusing divorce situation, a major first step toward rebuilding trust.
Whatever you decide, be sure to consider your motivation for telling children about an affair. You should tell them with the intention of being honest and rebuilding trust after infidelity. If you’re the spouse who cheated, don’t tell your children out of a sense of guilt or because you feel the need to confess. If you are the spouse who was the victim of infidelity, don’t tell your children about it to get back at your ex-spouse or because you feel a need to vent.
2. Rebuilding trust: Reaffirm your commitment after infidelity
Even if you reveal infidelity to your children, of course that doesn’t alleviate the mental burden they have experienced as a result of the cheating. The deprivation of time and attention caused by an extramarital affair has a negative effect on children and the process of rebuilding trust must start by reaffirming your commitment to them.
Beyond just telling them, show your children through your actions that they are the priority in your life. Be ready to talk about what happened, including answering questions about intimacy and human sexuality in an appropriate way. Especially for older children, this honesty will reinforce your desire to rebuild a trusting relationship.
Commit to prioritizing your children’s needs and your care for their mental health, understanding that your relationships are likely to be different now. It’s going to take time, but your children will internalize your intention to rebuild trust.
3. Rebuilding trust: Forgive yourself so everyone can move on
Once you express sincere remorse for your deceitful behavior and enact a plan to rebuild trust with your children, it’s time to work on forgiving yourself. Moving on from the experience by forgiving yourself is not a selfish action, but an important step toward rebuilding trust.
Children gain security in knowing their parents are in control, and your ability to believe in yourself helps them believe in you, too. Beating yourself up or ignoring your mental health generates instability and anxiety in your children.
If you can, ask for your ex-spouse’s help in rebuilding trust with your children. The other parent’s support and forgiveness — even if it’s just on the surface — sets a good example for your children and gives you the breathing room you need to rebuild bonds of trust and honesty with the people most important to you.
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