For a minute, I’d like you to imagine with me that you are a minor or an adult child who just found out that one of your parents has been sexually unfaithful to the other. You may have found out by being told by one of your parents while they were expressing their hurt or anger, you may have been told by the offender, or you may have even caught them yourself. No matter when, how, or at what age you found out, the pain is real and what you believed about your parents is no longer true.
For many children, whether a minor living at home or a grown adult, this is not hypothetical. This is all too real. First, know you are not alone, and there is help. You may have many questions, which is good; however, some questions are wiser than others. Some questions will only hurt you more than help you.
Is everything I thought to be true a lie!?
The answer may be yes….and no. The marriage and love you thought your parents had with and for each other probably was not totally honest, therefore a lie. However, their love for you was not a lie. It may have been very real and genuine.
How long did they keep this a secret from me and why?
One or both or your parents may have kept this a secret from you in an effort to “protect” you. This may not have been right or wrong. Many parents choose to keep this a secret out of their own shame and hurt. They do not want to burden their children with such information – no matter what your age.
Who was it? Is it still going on? Does my father love this other woman? Was the sex better than with my mother? How did this happen?
These are all typical questions. Questions about who, when and where are not right or wrong to ask or to answer. However, it will depend on a child’s age, personality and the appropriateness based on parental discretion regarding what is wise or foolish to share. Generally, I discourage comparison or better than questions, as it is foolish to answer them. Answering comparison questions is never helpful.
What does it have to do with me?
You may prefer the other side of the spectrum and really not care. This can also be a defense mechanism. You may be healthy enough to know that your parent’s relationship is not about you. You may understand that your parents do love you regardless of the health of their relationship with one another. You know they will have to work this out for themselves, and it does not involve you.
How do I help my parents?
You may feel responsible to help your parents and want to become involved in seeking help. No matter what your age, your parents will always be your parents. You are not responsible for their poor choices. Encourage them to seek professional help. Love them, and do your best not to take sides or get in the middle of the situation.
How do I help my siblings?
If you have siblings, each of you are going to react very differently, and this is normal. Birth order will have a great deal to do how each of you reacts. The oldest will want to take charge. The middle will want to make peace and want everyone to get along. The youngest might make it about themselves, disengage and possibly distance themselves as far as they can. Another may not take it seriously, and still another may become very codependent. The age of your siblings will determine greatly how much or little you can or cannot help them.
How do I help myself?
During this crisis, seek help for yourself. Take care of yourself by eating, sleeping, exercising and drinking plenty of water. Seek out close friends, a counselor, pastor or religious leader. If you are the parent, make sure you get help your children need regardless of their age. They need a safe place to process outside of their relationship with you and your spouse.
How do I deal with the stages of grief?
Shock, denial, betrayal, anger, bargaining, and acceptance are all the stages of grief. Part of taking care of yourself is knowing that you may need to through the listed stages of grief which can take weeks or even months. This is appropriate and normal. Do not isolate yourself. Find a support group or counselor who can listen and support you.
My childhood makes a lot more sense now.
After you get through these stages, depending upon your age, you will begin to see your childhood differently. Behaviors you observed from your parents will begin to make more sense. In a family system, there are no secrets at the subconscious level. Subconsciously, as a child, you may have always known what you did not know consciously. Initially, you may be very angry, as your parent’s problems may have been projected on you. You may have become the scapegoat by being falsely blamed, criticized and the “identified patient” in family counseling sessions.
My life makes more sense now.
After some time, you will experience a great deal of peace, knowing now you were never the problem. It may make more sense that you may struggle with anxiety, depression, issues with honesty or your own sexual temptations and addictions. You may have been victimized, however, you do not need to stay a victim. You do not have to repeat your family history, and you can choose a different journey for yourself and your own family.
The journey of healing is not going to be easy; however, your future and your own children are worth it. Get started today.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.