How to Deal With My Mom Cheating on My Dad?

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Reader’s Question

I’m quite sure my mother is cheating on my father with a male friend. I have very confused feelings about this. When I first found out, I was surprised at how little it seemed to affect me. I felt horrible for my father, but at the same time I felt almost happy that my mother was getting the affection she wanted. My parents argue a lot and usually speak in nasty tones to each other. I know I can’t be objective about their marriage, but over the last 20 years I don’t remember many occasions where I felt convinced my parents even liked each other.

Seven months after I first became aware of the cheating, I think my feelings have slowly built up to the point where I automatically feel opposed to my mother. I don’t think I trust her as much, and I have become nearly obsessed with this situation. I feel like I am constantly watching my mom for signs and further proof of what she is doing. I don’t want to confront her because I don’t want my parents to divorce. I don’t think I can talk to her about it because it would change our relationship. The worst part is I don’t fully blame my mother, and part of me clearly sees where she is coming from. But then I think of my dad and my family and I feel guilty and sad. Having to take a side is tearing me apart. I’m the only one of three children who knows about this and think it’s best not to tell the others to spare them from the pain I have.

What can I do? I’m not looking to fix the problem because I feel the only way this can resolve is if my mother ends her affair. But then still I can’t help but think I will still have feelings of betrayal and resentment toward her. The longer this goes on the angrier I feel. How can I deal with this without suppressing my feelings even more?

Psychologist’s Reply

Relationship experts and family counselors have long known that infidelity affects not only the married couple but also the children. And the impact varies, depending on the character of the marital relationship and the nature and frequency of the cheating going on (some cheating is almost “accidental” and unplanned, whereas some cheaters are “serial cheaters”) and the reasons prompting the cheating. Still, for children, a major issue is, as you so aptly stated, a betrayal of trust.

You indicate that you fear a change in your relationship with your mother if you confront her about your fears, concerns, and feelings. But from what you describe, it’s clear that the circumstances have already impacted the nature of your relationship. You also indicate that you feel not only resentment and betrayal but also guilt. This is not uncommon, but the guilt is unwarranted. Your parents are adults, and each is responsible for their behavior. They are responsible for the ways that they have communicated with one another as well as how they have nurtured or failed to nurture trust, intimacy, and fidelity within their relationship. My best suggestion: be up front and candid with your mother about your feelings and concerns. You cannot help what you feel. And you can’t be responsible for anyone else’s actions or reactions. Parent-child relationships are important and need care to blossom in a healthy manner. And you might need to solicit the support and assistance of a counselor or therapist in your endeavor.

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