Infidelity can be an incredibly traumatic and painful experience for the betrayed partner(s), many of us know that. What we don’t often consider, however, is how cheating and all the actions that accompany it (withdrawal, lying, omitting, covering) can impact children far into their adult lives.
Here are several ways a parent’s infidelity can impact a child in adulthood
If you watched your own parents’ marriage fall apart, the idea of a happy and safe marriage may have been broken or feel as if it was “debunked.” As an adult, you may have a harder time believing that relationship can have a solid, lasting foundation. You may act in self-preserving ways or struggle to think in a relational way.
Detached, Disconnected, Emotionally Distant
Betrayal against a romantic partner is often also a betrayal against the family. Distancing or disconnecting can be an easy way to avoid being “too vulnerable.” In pushing away partners as a means of hiding pain and fear, one can also make themselves out to seem disinterested or even cold.
You may have seen a parent lie to cover up an affair, otherwise known as lying by omission. In a survey of more than 800 adults whose parents had been unfaithful, 83% said they believe that people regularly lie. Additionally, those around you may have done all they could to hide, justify or minimize the infidelity. As a result, it may feel as if you’re always on the lookout for signs of betrayal in your personal life. You may even be actively doing this as a form of self-defense.
What is Love?
If your parents stayed married despite an ongoing affair or series of indiscretions, you most definitely received confusing messages about the meaning of love and marriage. For example, what does sex really mean? Or, is it okay to cheat if it goes unsaid? If nobody discusses this, you may be alone in forming opinions based on your parent’s infidelity.
In the survey of 800 adults whose parents had been unfaithful, 70% said their ability to trust others had been affected by the experience. When those who you are supposed to trust the most, end up seeming or even being untrustworthy, you may develop core beliefs about the authenticity of others.
Witnessing the unpredictability of your parents’ relationship can also contribute to an insecure attachment and may lead to your own issues with infidelity. For example, one study has shown that infidelity could be a regulatory emotional strategy used by people with an avoidant attachment style. The act of cheating helps them avoid commitment phobia, distances them from their partner, and helps them keep their space and freedom.