Mike: As far as the research of the environment that the children grow up in and how they develop themselves later in life, the research shows that if parents are dishonest and they have affairs, then that tends to be kind of an evil cycle where the children tend to behave that way as well.
Is there some way to try and break that cycle or perhaps even get across to the parents, or to children to saying “This is not acceptable behaviour, this is not the way you want to be, this is not the way you want your children to grow up,” and you say to the children, “What you’re seeing here is not the way people should act.”
Kristine: And one of the fears of staying together is that it will show to the children that it’s okay and there’s no consequences.
But really the message can be to stay away from the blame, and if it’s been kept mostly consistent throughout the process that there isn’t blame, then like I said earlier, if your child has that relationship with you and has trust in it and doesn’t see you blaming, then they will be much more likely to translate that into relationship with adults, if they see and know that there can be a relationships that not only overcome things, but between them and you that there are relationships that exist without deceit and blame.
So it’s not really teaching your children that an affair is okay. They’ll be impacted enough to know that it’s a huge huge challenge, and there’s no way to avoid that.
Like you said earlier, they pick up on things. But the message that we can send about that challenge is “I will survive. Number one. You will survive.
If something happens like this, we can survive,” and also obstacles are conquerable, and giving up or just sticking with the blame and holding onto that forever, that’s the real pain.
So whether you stay together or separate, the message that the real pain is in staying with the blame, it’s important. And then feeling that talking about your feelings is okay.
That’s something that a lot of children miss, and to be honest, it’s something that really leads up to a lot of affairs in families is because there isn’t appropriate communication, open communication.
There isn’t a distinction between feeling upset and okay and however you behave when you’re upset–not all of that is okay.
So kind of coming back around and creating a space where it is okay to have your feelings to where you’ll survive and blame isn’t a healthy option, even if it’s late, that’s important because creating that space, that’s what will hopefully translate to your child, and they will hopefully bring that peace into their other adult relationships later on.
Mike: I’d like to strike at least a slightly optimistic tone here. I get the impression from speaking to you that you feel like relationships, if they can’t totally be salvaged and marriages go on happily, at least that there is the hope that if people are willing to make good faith efforts, that an affair need not be something that totally shatters a family and ruins the lives of everyone involved.
Kristine: I’ve seen it happen that there can be healing and it is a process and I don’t envy anyone who has to experience that pain, but I’ve seen how the blame and the hatred causes so much more pain.
And that’s where we go sometimes when we feel deceived and betrayed like that. It’s totally understandable.
But freeing yourself in both parties cases from the hatred and the blame leaves space to heal the relationship, to have a relationship that’s even more close and intimate in some ways than before the affair occurred. I wouldn’t choose that as the best way to get there, but it definitely happens.
Mike: I guess that really the depression and then sense of failure is pervasive, probably with everybody involved, because the parents–obviously at some point will probably feel that they have failed by being involved with it, both the cheater and the other spouse, and it can happen to the children as well.
And really, I would think that that’s something that’s so important for a therapist to dig away at and say, “Look, this is not a failure that makes you a bad person.
This is something that happens to a lot of people, and you’re not alone.” And I would think that’s the phrase–“You’re not alone”–I would think it carries its own power.
Kristine: It’s that they’re not alone in that, and that’s one of the reasons that group therapy can be helpful like you said and also a huge part of the way that I work is separating person from the problem.
Essentially, that you are more than this one specific problem, and that there are other parts of you that you may be kind of on the back burner right now, but those parts can come in and kind of help you out if you have problems, and that you’re more than this mistake, and a lot of the language that people use is very blaming, even without meaning to be.
As far as I’ve done that, I’m sure you’ve done that, and opening up space to be confused and have a lot more variety in the experience can help them to see in other parts of themselves that maybe need a little bit more attention, maybe other parts of their relationships that need more attention that can really come in and rescue the situation.
And that helps the person become really empowered to conquer the problem if it’s not they themselves that are the problem.
Mike: One thing I’m curious about, too, is that a parent can get so wrapped up in their own situation that they miss some cues that might tell them that their child is really having some difficulties.
Because children are not going to want, in a lot of cases, to add to their parents’ burden. They know their parents are hurting, and I’m sure that in a lot of cases, they try to cover up their own problems.
Are there subtle signs that the parents need to look for and say, “I’ve got to get some help here, because this is not good”?
Kristine: Like I mentioned earlier, it really depends on the child’s personality.
If they start behaving very outwardly, as in angry, or in things that are more passive like grades slipping or being more withdrawn, especially with teens, it’s fairly normal to see them acting out with behavior when the family system is disrupted, but if normal and reasonable consequences don’t help that behavior to dissipate–basically if you use consistent consequences for those things, don’t reduce that behaviour–then that might be a sign of a problem, or if you don’t see the child starting to address underlying feelings with you or at least with friends or another trusted adult, if they don’t address what they’re really feeling, then it’s just likely bottling up.
And if for a period of time that doesn’t get addressed, it might be really helpful to have a child see a therapist in that case, to find a sort of way to move forward, or just because a therapist can be someone sort of on the outside who can help create that space that I mentioned where a child can sort out his or her feelings and make decisions that are helpful for themselves rather than destructive because when the family system’s been disrupted, it can be chaotic, and in order to feel a little more in control, children can start developing behaviors of controlling others or being bossy or kind of withdrawing or retreating in extreme cases like in self-harming behaviours because they feel that everything is out of control and they don’t want to feel that way and they don’t want to burden other people with it or they don’t know how to talk about it.
So if it’s kind of pervasive over behavior at school and at home, it’s things like acting out behaviour or withdrawn behaviour last for more than a normal period of time–which, depending on the child may be a couple of days to a couple of weeks–maybe even months, could be normal, but I would definitely get some help if those destructive behaviors last.
And then for young children, especially because they don’t really have words for how they’re feeling, sometimes elementary school or even preschool children might see things like it’s inconsolable crying or developing separation anxiety with one or both of the parents, or violent outbursts on other children at preschool or at school or even regressions in development, like regressions to toilet training like if they’re wetting the bed.
So if those kind of things persist after you say, “It’s okay,” and try to normalize it, if they persist, then it would be important to get outside help.
Mike: Now if a parent is in a situation where they feel like they need help, but perhaps one on one counselling is not in the picture for them for whatever reason, are there books available out there that you can recommend?
Kristine: Yes, I have quite a list. Let me give you a few. I have some books that are specifically for dealing with affairs, and then I also have some really wonderful divorce books that are for both parents and children.
So for dealing with affairs, there’s a book called After The Affair, the author is Janice Abrams-Spring, another one is Forgiving The Unforgivable by Beverly Flanigan, there’s one called Don’t Call It Love by Patrick Carnis, and The Divorce Remedy by Michelle Weiner-David. And then divorce books.
There’s a great one for kids called Mom’s House Dad’s House, and a book called The Truth About Children and Divorce is really great. The author is Robert Emily.
Mike: In addition to books, the internet can be a mixed blessing at times, but I’m sure there have got to be some places on the internet–parenting websites that might be of some help or at least possibly good places to start looking for help.
Are there any in particular that you know of?
Kristine: Like you said, it can be really mixed because a lot of information may not be really credible. I would encourage people to look at articles on websites like psychologytoday or goodtherapy.org because those authors are likely people who have worked with children, they’d be licensed therapists or someone who specialises or even just someone who has had a lot of experience themselves with the issue.
Mike: Do you have your own website? Can people reach you through that and learn a little bit more about you?
Kristine: Yes, my website kind of describes a little bit more about what I do to help individuals and families. There’s a lot of information there. It’s www.kristinemft.com.
Mike: Our time has flown by, and I’ve enjoyed the conversation and I hope that our listeners have perhaps gained some insight and if we haven’t solved their problems for them–I’m sure we haven’t–but I’m sure that I would certainly hope that perhaps we’ve given them reassurance that there is help available and that however deep the hole may seem there are people out there ready with additional shovels to help you dig out of it.
Kristine: Yes, thank you.
Mike: This is Mike Hennessey, and on behalf of the team at Relationship Advice Cafe, I’d like to thank Kristine Gottesman for joining us and we thank you for listening and wish you the very best in your relationships.
For more free tips an insights on relationship advice from hundreds of experts and authors, please visit our website at www.relationshipadvicecafe.com.
About the author
Kristine Gottesman is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern who offers psychotherapy to individuals, adolescents, families, and couples.
She specializes in working with parenting issues, transitions of adolescence and young adulthood, anxiety, stress and depression. Her private practice office is located in Sherman Oaks, CA.
Kristine is under the supervision of Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT, and offers a sliding fee scale. Please visit her website: www.kristinemft.com
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