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Impact of a Parent's Affair on Teenagers/Adult Kids
by Peggy Vaughan

A parent's affair often presents some special problems for teenagers and/or adult children:

1. They may hold idealistic standards that have been shattered.
They may hold parents to a higher standard - so may be even more affected due to the disparity between who they "thought" the parent was and who they now see them to be.

2. They may be especially harsh in their judgment.
Since they may have always counted on the parent, they may now feel they can't count on them. And they may have even more difficulty with trust/forgiveness because of the anxiety they may experience due to feeling they can no longer count on "anybody" or "anything."

3. They may feel fiercely protective of the hurt parent.
They may do a "role reversal," becoming intensely protective of the hurt parent - just as the parent was protective of them when they were children.

4. They may feel disloyal to the hurt parent if they forgive the other parent.
They may be unable to let go of the intense emotions surrounding this experience, perhaps requiring "genuine" encouragement from the hurt parent in order to be able to do this.

5. They may take it very personally.
They may feel somehow that this was done to them - not understanding that the parent did it for themselves, not to the spouse or the kids.

What can the parent who had an affair do to help teens/adult kids?

Since this is too big an issue to ignore - or to hope the kids will just "get over," it's important to be available to respond to their comments and to their feelings in a non-defensive way. It may feel awkward to have the "tables turned" so to speak (in that the kids may be chastising the parent in a way that parents often chastise their kids) - but the kids' reactions are understandable, especially in light of the potential impact on their lives as listed above. It's simply a fact that there are unpleasant consequences (for everybody) in dealing with this issue, so everybody must do their best to "step up to the plate" and do everything possible to recover and rebuild the relationships that have been damaged.

What can the hurt parent do to help teens/adult kids?

Since the adult kids' feelings about the situation may be affected more by what the hurt parent does than what they say - it's important for the hurt parent to be able to show that they are not defeated, but will grow stronger and more independent as a result of dealing with this problem. This means the parent first needs to take care of themselves - instead of directly trying to take care of the adult kids. They need to set an example that the kids can follow in effectively working to understand and heal from the pain of this situation.

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