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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6 Responses 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.

  2. Chrisy says:

    Hi Kaye
    Although your son advised you forgive him, forgiving him is only one part, you need to forgive yourself because somewhere inside of you, you think your to blame. You never caused any of it, your husband of his own freewill made the choice. Your husband needs to be made accountable and take responsibility for his own actions. If he is not making any changes, as in being truthful with you or even seeing how much pain he has caused you, I suggest you kick him out and begin divorce procedures. I understand how you felt in regards to yr son, but to be blunt, he pulled on yr emotions, not intentionally but emotions will move you to make bad decisions. This is yr marriage and not yr sons, you need to start making decisions for what’s best for you. I understand it’s not going to be easy as you have invested yr life in this marriage, neither do I advocate divorce but a crisis is revealing something is wrong, the something is wrong is yr husband, he needs a knee jerk reaction from you. If you don’t make a stand and say I don’t want this, nothing will change, stop appeasing your son and husband, I might sound like I am being contradictory because of the forgiveness, forgiveness doesn’t mean your saying what he did was right or you need to lie down and suck this all up, no forgiveness is loosing you from bitterness taking root in you. Your husband is not worthy of you, I am not saying you are better than him, he’s just not worthy of you, I would say the same thing to a man who was cheated on by his wife. You might find this hard to believe but I have never commented on this website or even felt I wanted to.

  3. Don says:

    I have 3 children. They don’t know about their mother’s betrayal of our family, but they know something is wrong. They know we are always tired/upset/angry and they say they think we don’t love them.

    Is it wrong for me to believe it is less damaging to their develping views of morality and marriage for them to believe that rather than to believe that their mother would cheat on me? Is -still- cheating (emotionally) with the OP because I revealed that as her direct supervisor he was violating corporate policy by not disclosing the affair… and got him fired (which she is insanely angry about over 16 months later) so he doesn’t have access to his private office where they set my marriage and reality aflame.

    I have employed iPhone GPS apps to verify her physical location for the last 17 months and am reasonably certain that she has not had any more physical encounters, but her direct messages in Instagram and Whatsapp as well as traditional text messages show thst she is looking for the replacement for the OP since that “in love” feeling has faded now that -he- has mostly started focusing on -his- wife and family. So far, just disgusting text messages [sexting] and pics. She doesn’t know that I know about more than just her boss, and she doesn’t know about the GPS tracking or that I guessed her passcode was the OP’s birthday. 🤬

  4. M.A. says:

    My husband and I have been married for 15 years. We have 4 children together. 14,9,6 and 1. I found out 2 years ago that my husband had been having an affair for 1 year with our 14yo son’s friend’s mom, Wendy (who is 10 years older than my husband). My husband told me he loved me but wasn’t in love with me and he was leaving me. I made him tell our son. I deeply regretted making him tell our son and we ended up deciding to work it out. Over the last 2 years I caught him still talking to her twice. He promised to stop and said he only kept seeing her because I couldn’t move on past it. I work 3rd shift every weekend and last Sunday my 14yo son called me and said his dad was in the room moaning with someone and Wendy’s car was outside. I left work but she had left just before me. I confronted my husband and he said that he was in love with her but he was falling back in love with me. He said he hadn’t cut it off with her because our sex was lacking and not adventurous like it was with her. He said he had found someone exactly like me but great in bed. I told him he would have to leave and I had given him more than one chance. There is no way for me to ever trust him again. He has been having the woman in my bed with my 4 children at home.
    This isn’t my husband’s first time cheating. This is the first long term affair. We have been to a 4 day intensive previously which really helped but we didn’t continue with the counseling and fell back into old patterns.
    The issues I am struggling with.. I love him. He really has always been a good husband apart from infidelity. I know who he is and what he believes deep down, but that’s not who he is being now. How do I deal with this with my 14yo? He caught them. I’ve been honest with him as far as what’s going on but I don’t want to tell him too much. I don’t want to use him to dump my feelings on.
    At the moment my husband says he will get a hotel starting today through the weekend and look for a place to live. He is still seeing Wendy. I’m at a loss. Help!

  5. Don says:

    She knows about the GPS tracking. She claims to believe that is a worse betrayal than her affair, which caused the tracking. She feels justified now and intends to rack up marital debt and then file for divorce.

    Moral of the story… Dont reveal any knowledge gained by tracking or snooping until you are ready to file for divorce. It doesn’t help. It won’t shock her into honesty or fidelity, and she will bludgeon you with your betrayal of her privacy.

  6. Julie says:

    My husband had an affair. 3 yrs ago now and it still feels like yesterday.
    However, I have a tracking app on both our phones. He agreed to it. I have access to his phone, emails etc.
    My point here is, you can’t use tracking as an excuse to carry on an affair – it is just an excuse. Someine who really wants to save their marriage will not have an issue with being tracked, for as long as the betrayed spouse feels it necessary. It works both ways. He can also track where I am. If you’re not up to anything wrong it is t an issue… Just my opinion.

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