Before you read this, I want to be really clear about a couple things:
- I am NOT a therapist, counselor or in any other way in a position to give you advice on how/what you should do regarding this tender subject
- Based on my limited exposure to affairs and their aftermath, one thing I can say with absolute certainty is THERE IS NO ONE WAY to go through this shitty experience that is THE RIGHT WAY. It is deeply personal, completely different based on so many factors no computer could even calculate the variables. I am in NO WAY trying to say that you should do what I did, or how I did, or when I did.
Ok. That being said, here is what happened regarding my husband’s double life, and our children.
There was never a question in my mind if we should tell our children. Not if. But how. How much. When. Where. Who. Those things took some thought, advice and decisions. Our kids ranged in age from 18 to 26. Three boys, one girl. Our daughter’s boyfriend had called us on 4/2/2014 to ask for our blessing when he asked her to marry him…a beautiful moment that I thought was intimately shared between HUSBAND and me as we huddled together on the phone with SIL to be. A mere 10 days later, that intimate moment began to shatter when I received the anonymous email, and by early June, I knew that indeed there had been multiple affairs along with a little one nighter.
If HUSBAND had engaged in one affair, I don’t know how I would have felt. Perhaps it would have been different, and I would have either moved toward healing me and potentially believing there was a way to heal us and would have done this without letting the kids know.
But HUSBAND’s revelations meant that throughout our entire marriage, there had been lies and deceit and women. As the truth unfolded between us, and he began to realize how much the lies, and then lies to protect the lies, and then lies because he couldn’t remember if he’d lied had affected him even in periods when he wasn’t actively engaging in an affair, we both saw the destruction it had quietly waged.
INSERT FROM PAST for INSIGHT:
Years before, I had attended a parenting session in our neighborhood in which a local (well-known) family psychologist had presented on alcohol, drugs and kids including thoughts on how to minimize the risk of abuse and addiction in your home. I did not want to ask a question in front of the group, but afterward went up to speak to him. “Doctor,” I started. “What is detaching with love? What does that mean?”
DR: Well…if your husband came home and the kids were in bed and he was really drunk…so drunk that he threw up on the kitchen floor and then passed out right there, what would you do?
ME: Well…I’d drag him to the bedroom, clean him up, clean up the floor, and probably be telling him the whole time what a jerk he was, how could he do this to himself and to us…
DR: Right, so in the morning, where does he wake up?
ME: In his bed.
DR: Right. Not smelling, in clean sheets, with all consequences removed, other than your, what appears to be, displaced anger.
ME: So…what should I do?
DR: You should leave him, on the kitchen floor, in his vomit. Allow him to experience the result of his actions.
ME: But!!! The Children!!! I was panicked.
DR: (Stares me in the eye) You Think They Don’t Know?
Why was I so convicted and convinced that telling our precious, vulnerable children was, not only ok, but necessary? Why would anyone shatter the image their beloved children had of their father? Their father, HUSBAND, was terrific in many ways. He is funny, he is resourceful. He knows how to go camping and forget the forks and create forks out of palm fronds. He can grow peppers and figure out why the water heater isn’t working. He helped them learn how to ride two-wheelers and to fish and to say please and thank you.
But he taught them some other things. Like how to manipulate in a cunning way that is so dreadfully skilled no one knows they’ve been played until much later. He taught them how to lie magnificently and to believe their own lies. He taught them fear of being found out, and to cover that fear with jovial moments and surface conversations.
He did not teach them about abiding relationships. Or loyalty. Or truth. Or integrity. Or respect. Yet he lauded himself as so downright honest, trustworthy and thoughtful that even I thought I was the bad egg in the relationship and he was the one who could never do anything wrong, at least on purpose.
So was this about retribution? About setting the record straight and having our children turn on their dad?
NOT IN ANY WAY. It was because deep in their souls, I knew that they knew something was off-kilter. I knew that they knew but just could not quite put their finger on the discord between what they heard and what WAS. That they needed truth and healing as much as I did, and no matter what happened to our relationship, they deserved to know why there was always a funky off-ness deep inside even though the outside of our lives and our family looked so pretty and shiny and whole.
More than anything, I wanted to make sure that our kids could see THEMSELVES in honest light. That they could know that their normal wasn’t really as normal as we all thought/pretended/intended/meant it was, and that they would have some chance to CHOOSE to be different than their childhood’s had predestined them to be.
That all made sense, at least to my muddled brain, and HUSBAND was right alongside. But the hard task was still to come. Telling them.