Infidelity. It sounds like a mild word compared to its dirty synonym, cheating. In either case, it’s a choice that destroys and divides the perceived comforts of many families. Though it’s very much an adult topic, its miserable threads definitely weave their way through our lives, leaving scars and impacting our choices and beliefs.
Observing the pain of a parent who’s been betrayed raises strong emotions, for sure. We often feel led to take sides when we see how traumatizing this can be. Anger toward a disloyal parent is understandable. Feeling protective of a hurting parent is too. What do we do when someone we love hurts someone else that we love? How are we supposed to deal with the unfaithfulness of one parent toward another?
Adultery by a parent can lead us to lose hope in our own future relationships and the very ideas of “‘til death do us part” and “happily ever after.” We are at a critical age. We’re looking forward, exploring relationships, spreading into independence. A parent’s affair can shake the foundation of potential love, as caution and mistrust creep in to take its place. In our minds, being betrayed is tried and true, inevitable, and suspicion is therefore justified. After all, the results of betrayal are already present in our lives. The lack of trust generated, however, creates many unnecessary problems and troubled partnerships. How can we learn to trust again?
When marriage has dissolved and life has moved on, expecting us to embrace the “other” person can put us on edge. It may be difficult to welcome this new person that was party to the ruination of what family life used to be. Confusion can nag as we feel caught, unsure of how to feel or act. Loyalties between our parents can become strained. How can we develop love toward this “other” person? How can we balance our support of each parent?
Cheating isn’t simply an act against a spouse; it’s against the kids in the family as well. Kids don’t need to understand the workings of family life; they just know it’s dependable. They know what to expect each day. There’s continuity and comfort. When someone cheats and the family separates, the disruption to what was normal is remarkable: one home morphs into two, financial securities become strained and schedules become altered. It’s emotionally and psychologically overwhelming. With all of these pressures and feeling betrayed ourselves, how can we rebuild a relationship with our unfaithful parent?
Though together you are family, always know that you and your parents are separate people who make decisions, make mistakes and react differently to the difficulties that occur in life. Don’t take on the burden of either of your parents’ marital issues. Let it be their dispute. Trust that God is at work and let your parents go through whatever He is allowing.
You may find yourself frustrated and feeling hatred toward either or both of them. Their actions are now affecting your life in a big way. Love each of them anyway. You must love, because hate and anger will destroy you. You’re important, don’t forget that. Their decisions, the choices that led up to any betrayal, the struggles in their marriage, don’t in any way define you. You’re a separate person.
If infidelity has occurred in your parents’ marriage, it has likely caught you by surprise. Know that there was more wrong than you were aware of. Don’t get caught up in judging the things you think you’ve observed. Those things likely just touch the surface. Many couples keep their struggles between them private and sometimes those struggles aren’t even voiced to each other. Outside of verbal disagreements, the deeper issues may not be obvious. Most often, infidelity is an outward result of problems that have long been present. However, when the news catches you by surprise, trust, in many ways, becomes difficult. Again, separate yourself from their problem.
Change is terribly hard, even if it’s good. If you’re dealing with a parent’s infidelity, you may not realize that the biggest issue you’re struggling with is change. When change occurs, whether it be good or bad, you have to adjust. It takes you out of our comfort zone. It disrupts the pattern and lifestyle that’s been normal. That adjustment triggers many emotions and reactions. In an attempt to locate the source of your irritation, it’s often easy to seek to blame. Step back and think on this. Though you don’t know what change will bring to your future, when you trust God, you can have peace about it, even look forward to what it might bring.
You may be in this difficult situation today. Seek a personal connection with God. Focus on Him rather than your circumstances. Get to know Him. Enjoy the unconditional love He has for you. In this space, you’ll find the strength to get through the changes that come from a parent’s affair. You’ll find the ability to let go and let your parents deal with the infidelity themselves. You’ll discover the capacity to care for the “other” person if needed, and rebuild an unconditional relationship with both parents, regardless of either of their mistakes. Keep Christ at the center of your focus. He is the answer you need.