Affairs, Separation, Divorce Part 2: What about the kids?

In Part 1, I discussed why most affairs fail. If you have kids, your risk of failure is even greater. If you do decide to separate, divorce, or continue with an affair, Part 2 contains a list of Dos and Don’ts for parents to follow.

  • Do make sure your kids have someone to talk to: a counselor, clergy, or other trusted adult besides their parents.
  • Don’t think that just because they’re not talking about it, they aren’t struggling.
  • Do answer their questions honestly, but with restraint.
  • Don’t burden children with information they don’t need to know and won’t be able to forget. Remember: They are counting on you to make them feel safe in the world.
  • Do treat your spouse with respect. Your kids need two parents who can disagree, be angry, even fall out of love, but never be disrespectful of one another.
  • Don’t talk negatively about your ex or their affair partner to your kids, or within earshot of them, or in texts. It hurts them and makes you look heartless, cruel, or petty.
  • Always always communicate directly with your ex about changes in plans, requests, complaints.
  • Don’t put your kids in the middle. For example, Don’t pressure them take sides or ask them to “get your mom to say yes.”
  • Don’t pump kids for ‘dish’ on ex’s affair partner
  • It’s okay to share your sadness with children in general terms about what’s happening.
  • Do not over-share. For example, don’t discuss a spouse’s abusive behavior, unless the child has witnessed or overheard it, or you have concerns about the child’s safety with the other parent: chemical use, violence, extreme volatility.
  • Don’t use a child as your confidante. This is damagaing to teenagers as well as children.
  • Don’t expect them or guilt them into taking care of you.
  • Do assure them you are getting outside support (and get it!)
  • Do comply with agreements between you and your ex.
  • Don’t bribe kids with things the other parent can’t or won’t get them.
  • Don’t ever ask them to keep secrets from their mom or dad.

Above all, remember: Nothing you do as a parent is more important than keeping them healthy, mentally and physically during this difficult time for your family.

photo courtesy of Unsplash

Affairs Part 1 — Can they work out? What about the kids?

Do affairs ever work out for people? What you should know before you end your marriage.

In over 30 years as a marriage counselor, I’ve seen hundreds of couples. I’d say half are dealing with infidelity of one kind or another. Most of the men and women having affairs are good people who weren’t looking for trouble. More often than not, they started out as co-workers or Facebook friends, and ended up having an affair that threatens or ends their marriage.

“Most relationships that start as affairs don’t work out long term—unless both partners are young, childless, close in age, and relatively unencumbered.”

The reason they fail isn’t for lack of genuine feeling, but rather because the fall-out caused by infidelity is so horrendous, and so far-reaching.

Before you decide to end your marriage, make sure your new relationship can survive the fall-out.

Prepare yourself:

  • If both of you have kids, get ready for a rocky ride. As happy as the two of you are, it’s unlikely that your kids will be celebrating your good fortune. Unless your kids have witnessed repeated acts of physical or emotional abuse, they will want their parents to stay together.
  • Kids need stability. They shouldn’t have to worry about a devastated, angry mom or dad, or know that one parent is having a great time while their other parent is suffering.
  • You can’t control your spouse. She (or he) may be so angry, so hurt, so destroyed by your betrayal, that she may not be willing or able to hide her pain from your kids.
  • If your kids hear from their mom that their dad is a “liar,” a “cheater,” or a person who “cares more about his girlfriend than he does about us,” your kids will suffer, and your relationship with them may be damaged forever. (This may sound dramatic, but trust me. Unless all the adults involved exercise great care and excellent boundaries, you may never regain your kids’ trust.)
  • Kid Logic makes children—especially young children—see things as either good or bad, black or white. They see themselves at the center of everything. Because of this, it’s easy for them to believe that you must not love them enough if you left them to be with someone else.
  • Older kids may turn their backs on you, either to protect themselves, avoid public shame, or affirm their loyalty to the parent who was betrayed.
  • Your family may not accept or approve of your new partner. This includes: parents, siblings, and extended family as well as your wife’s parents, siblings, and extended family, and your lover’s parents, siblings, and most importantly, their children.

If, after considering all of these possibilities, you decide end your marriage and pursue your new relationship, proceed with caution.

Watch for Part 2: A list of Dos and Don’ts for parents who are separated or divorced

My biological clock is ticking

Dear Betsy,

I’m 27 and my biological clock is ticking. I just started dating a guy. I don’t want to rush things, but I also don’t want to wait too long and miss my chance to have a family.  Any advice for how to proceed?

My advice: Relaaaax.

Why not enjoy this phase and give yourself plenty of time to get to know each other? Let yourself discover who this man really is by seeing him under a variety of conditions, with a variety of people (friends, co-workers, family).  If you’re thinking seriously about this guy, you need to get a feel for who he is off-stage as well as on.  Take your time. Enjoy the excitement and newness of it all.  And don’t put pressure on yourself to know how it’s all going to turn out, before you know who the guy really is.

Speaking as a family therapist–and as a mother–who you have kids with is the most impactful decision you’ll ever make.

So don’t rush. Your biological clock is ticking, but you still have time. Make good use of it by doing basic research. Ask yourself these questions.  They’re the questions I wish everyone would ask before they take the ultimate plunge with someone.  If you don’t like the answers to the following questions, don’t waste your time with this person.

So here’s my list:

  1. Is this man a friend to your excitement, or is does he act threatened, bored, or judgmental when you talk about what you love?
  2. Does he regularly ask you questions that show he’s really interested in who you are and what you think–as opposed to taking up 90% of the airspace talking on and on about himself?
  3. Does he bring out the best qualities in you, or do you feel bad or “less than” in his presence?
  4. Is his masculinity fully-developed or does he still act like a grown-up teenager?
  5. Does he make you laugh?
  6. Does he find you amusing?
  7. Does he want kids?
  8. Do you trust him?
  9. Does he keep his promises?
  10. Does your family love him (and vice versa)?
  11. How does he treat his own family members and friends?
  12. How does he treat the people he’s had conflicts with?
  13. Does he have a drug or alcohol problem he’s not dealing with?
  14. Is he generous with his time, money, talents?
  15. Does he ever scare or threaten you? Do not stay–or leave your kids with someone who scares you.
  16. How does he treat you when he’s angry, upset, or not getting his needs met?
  17. Can he apologize when he hurts someone, or is it always someone else’s fault?

The answers to these questions will tell you a lot about who this man really is, and whether he’s someone you want to build a life with.

I hope I haven’t scared you off.  With the right person, love is grand.  So enjoy. But go slow. Pay attention to your needs, feelings, hunches, and observations, and don’t ignore or find reasons to justify actions or behaviors you don’t like. If over time everything feels right, then take the next step. But until you have the answers to these questions, proceed with caution. Better to take your time now than to find out too late that you let your itchy DNA decide your future.

Tricky Tuesday: How to say “I Love You” in a more meaningful way.

No matter how many times you tell your kids, parents, partner, or friends you love them, nothing beats hearing a detailed description of exactly what it is you love about them.

So why don’t we do this more often? Why do we wait until someone dies to describe all the things we loved about them? Continue reading “Tricky Tuesday: How to say “I Love You” in a more meaningful way.”