infidelity

Posted on April 28, 2013

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In the midst of all the lies which surround affairs, parents easily lie to themselves about their children. They are too young to understand what is happening. They cannot see what is going on. It doesn’t concern them, or affect them.
In fact, children and young people are likely to be keenly aware of what their parents are up to. They sense a parent’s emotional absence even if they are with them physically in the house. Sometimes they discover an infidelity before the other parent because of their superior technological wizardry with laptops and mobiles. And on the rare occasions when young people are actually asked about how they feel about a parent’s philandering, they often express feelings of profound sadness and anger at the way they feel they have been betrayed too. Sometimes that resentment and sense of estrangement, particularly if the affair breaks up the relationship can last into adulthood, and affect their ability to trust when it comes to forming their own loving relationships.
There are two major strands to our roles as ‘good enough’ parents. There’s all the hands on stuff which we deliberate over endlessly – good food, lots of love and loving care to their health and welfare, education, fun and intellectual challenge. What’s equally important but far less tangible is the type of loving relationship we model for them. Our children watch us and know us better than anyone. They are always on the lookout for worrying signs of change or instability because they depend upon us so entirely. Consequently our relationship is the one they know most intimately. They watch how we argue, how we reconcile our differences and they learn from our behaviour.
I have spent three years writing a book about infidelity and OUR CHEATING HEARTS has just been published. The subject is taboo and consequently there are numerous myths about affairs which distort our understanding of why they happen and how best to recover from them. When I was writing the book, a common question was ‘Interesting. Are you for infidelity or against it?’ as if there was a simple answer to a very complicated issue. That confused ignorance continues even around publication of the book. Last Friday, This Morning on ITV used the book as a peg for a discussion (without me there to shed any light on the subject) to discuss whether an affair is ever justified with Anne Atkins and a woman who is a mistress to 4 married men. I watched in despair. How are we ever to develop a more sophisticated understanding of a common and heartbreaking trauma for relationships without delving into the heart of why it happens?
Children and young people are surrounded by romantic views of love and marriage. The new ethos is ‘one strike and you’re out’, where the cheating villain always bears the blame for the betrayal. But that ‘villain’ also happens to be a parent a child loves. We know as grown ups that loving relationships are always more complicated, tortured and difficult than the current sanctimony around any infidelity suggests.
So I think we owe it to our children to model a more realistic understanding of relationship by being more inclusive when we have difficulties, explaining that these are normal, that we are doing our best to work things out and that it isn’t their fault.
My book looks at the numerous reasons why people have affairs (which usually has little to do with sex), the way that estrangement can develop within a couple and how that usually takes two people, trying to muddle through and not just one parent who is entirely to blame.
With greater understanding of the psycho-sexual dynamics in long relationships, we also fathom greater tolerance of each others’ frailties and are more likely to develop a more honest conversation which will help love last. That’s how we can hand onto our children one of the most valuable things we have to offer – the ability to trust someone they love and show respect for each others autonomy within a loving partnership.

Posted in: infidelity