How to Respond to Your Children when Your Marriage is Rocked by Infidelity, Fear, Threats of Divorce or an Emotional Crisis

It is prudent and wise to think about your children when your marriage suffers.

Because children know.

They may not know the facts (and you try not to ‘tell’) but they know something is wrong, terribly wrong.

The feel it.

They sense it.

There is a change in the family ‘atmosphere’ and they pick up on it.

A toddler picks up on it.

An infant picks up on it, as much as you want to think,”they are too young.”

Growing up we eventually learn to tune out the unpleasantness of our family atmosphere, but a child who is aware and emotionally healthy, knows.

So when you experience the dread, the fear and the terror of your marital crisis, that fear is passed to the next generation – who must learn to respond to it.

Sidebar: I’m not lambasting parents, excusing a child’s behavior or saying that “bad” parents create “bad” children – a hangover from Freudian days and genetic determinism.

A family is a system in which all are interconnected – like it or not.

It’s nature’s way.

It’s how we are wired.

Often the crapola hits the fan with an early adolescent.


This adolescent knows and, in one way or another, will tell you they don’t like it.

Pay attention! This child is offering you a gift!

Here’s a recent Case Study which illustrates the above.

Steve has generously offered to share his story and I offer my response.

Good morning Bob,
You and I did some ‘one on one’ coaching for a few months earlier this year – I just wanted to drop you a note and say thank you. While it didn’t save my marriage it most certainly put me on a path to recovery. I feel 1000 times better than when we first started working together. I have stopped feeling any and all negative thoughts about her affair and our relationship – there is literally no more anger in my heart towards her or her affair partner and I really believe it was your coaching (along with all your other material) that helped me get there so much more quickly than I could ever have gotten on my own (if ever).

I did want to ask a question of you if you don’t mind. You may not remember our situation as you deal with thousands of them but in a nutshell, her affair continues to this day and while she says she wants a divorce, as of today she still hasn’t actually filed or given me any indication of when she might. Our home is pretty low stress as I don’t engage in relationship topics at all and it is basically like a stranger lives in my house. It is really not bothering me at all but my kids are starting to exhibit some behavior that concerns me that makes me feel they could use some help in coping with what has to look like a very strange relationship to them. In early June my wife and I sat them down and acknowledged we were having some issues in our relationship and while there were no immediate plans to divorce, that this was a distinct possibility. I also subsequently learned that my 13 year old daughter was in fact aware that my wife was having an affair. So my question is – do you have anyone in (my) area that you could comfortably recommend as a resource for my kids? Wanted to get them into some kind of family therapy where they could get some help working through whatever issues they are feeling without having to try and address them with their mom and dad (if they either don’t feel comfortable and/or we wouldn’t do a great job with it).

Thanks for any guidance you can provide and thanks again for helping me through an incredibly difficult time.

Hi Steve,

Good hearing from you. And, yes I do remember you and your situation.

I personally don’t know of any good family therapists in your area. I recommend you talk to people and see if anyone would refer a therapist. Or, if not that, I recommend you start with a therapist who is member of AAMFT. A good family therapist will want you and your wife in a session as well. Set up an appointment and see if you are comfortable with that therapist. If not, move on to the next one.

But, here’s what I want to bring up…

I surmise that your children are feeling (at an unconscious level) the tension (unresolved) between you and your wife- most likely the unresolved situation and tension your wife is experiencing. (She seems stuck, and your children fear for her…and the marriage. And a 13 year old is highly vulnerable to the actions of the parent of the same sex.)

It seems to be a relational law that when parents can’t resolve the tension (anxiety, fear, etc.) it can and usually does move to the next generation.

It may be best to confront your wife with this issue. (I know, she will probably do with you what she has always done, but it might be a beginning point for you to put closure on the tension. (I truly hate to say this, but the D word probably needs to be brought front and center.)

I hope this is helpful.

The best,

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One Response to How to Respond to Your Children when Your Marriage is Rocked by Infidelity, Fear, Threats of Divorce or an Emotional Crisis

  1. Kaye says:

    Hello, in 2009 my husband had an affair with a mutual friend of many, many years. This happened shortly after her estranged husband died suddenly. We were the very supportive friends of this woman while she was going through her time of grief. Well, within a couple of months my husband was spending boatloads of time with this woman. Months later I checked the cell phone records and there were at least 10-20 calls a day, not including texts between them. I had a funny feeling that there was something wrong but I never thought that my husband would be involved with an affair (HAH). During this time I was busy with going out of state to care for my mother with dementia. Well, by the time late summer rolled around I confronted my husband and he told me the usual “I Love You but I’m Not in Love With You” BS. I told him he had to start personal therapy to figure out why he needed to do this to me and our family. He did start therapy and we started marriage counseling but it was for naught. I was out of town for a while and discovered a Thank You in our mailbox when I returned saying that it was great to see him and the OW at her party. Well, at that time I thought all the counseling was bogus. I kicked him out of the house and told him to “figure the f*** out. But, we had to tell our son who was now 27 and living with his wife. Well, he came over and my husband explained the situation to him and that he would be moving out of the family home until he could figure this out. Our son looked at me and said “Ma, you have to forgive him and take him back”. Oh, God, the floor fell out from under my feet. I realized that there was another person involved in this s***show. I sucked it up and said that my husband still had to leave but that we would keep trying through counseling. The sadness that I saw on my son’s face was awful. I cannot say that my husband was a bad father, on the other hand, he is a great dad and grandfather. But, boy, I never even thought how our son would be affected by this so badly. He was a grown man but still that little boy who thought the sun rised and set in us. Oh,what to do now? So, he moved out for four months and we did the counseling which was just so so. My husband does not want to talk about this at all. It’s just supposed to be something I suck up. He has given me no reason to think that he is still involved with this person and I believe him BUT I still cannot forgive this double betrayal. Someone who came to our home and they both knew what they were doing to me, UGH. It’s all so painful. I need to put this behind me. Oh, how I wish I could. Most of the time I do OK but this is the time of year it all started coming down around me and it’s just BAD. But, I guess, my very long comment is that it’s not just babies, toddlers, school age, teenagers, etc that are affected by this but your adult child can be just as vulnerable to this situation. The sadness and tears that our son showed that day were heartbreaking. He’s an only child, achieved after years of losses, I always called him the “ultimate baby”. It was impossible for me to turn my back on his request. It worked, we’re still together. Sadly, I still have the terrible memories.

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