Dr. Harley on telling the children:
The same can be said about telling children about an affair. My experience with the positive outcomes of hundreds of families where an affair has been exposed to children has led me to encourage a betrayed spouse not to fear such exposure. In fact, to mislead children, giving other false explanations as to why their parents are not getting along, causes children to be very confused. When they finally discover the truth, it sets an example to children that dishonesty is sometimes acceptable, making them the judge of when that might occur.
An affair is an attack on children as well as the betrayed spouse. And it's true that children are deeply affected by this form of irresponsible behavior. But it's the act of infidelity that causes children to suffer, not the exposure of it. Facts point us toward solutions. Illusion leads us astray. That's true for children as well as adults.
Q: So, you do suggest telling our 10 year old son? Is this more than he can handle? He never saw any real unhappiness as my husband and I had a very low conflict marriage. I have been protecting our son from this truth. He still has hope that his dad is going to come home.
A: As for your son, the truth will come out eventually, even if you get back together again. And your son won't be emotionally crippled if he hears the truth. It's lies and deception that cripple children. He should know that your husband is choosing his lover over his son's mother. It's a fact. He's willing to ruin a family unit all for what.
When I first started recommending openness about an affair, I wasn't sure what would happen. But I did it because I knew it was the right thing to do. Now I know that for most couples it marks the beginning of recovery.
The reason that children should know about an affair is that exposing it to the light of day (letting everyone know), helps give the unfaithful spouse a dose of reality. An affair thrives on illusion, and whatever a betrayed spouse can do to eliminate the illusion is justifiable. Mold doesn't grow well in sunlight.
Q. How honest should I be about the A? (they are 7 and under)
A. Tell your children as much as you can about their father's affair, and how it affects you. There are some counselors and lawyers that strongly disagree with me on this issue, but I have maintained that position for over 35 years without any evidence that children are hurt by it. They're hurt by the affair, not by accurate information regarding the affair. Just make sure that you don't combine accurate information with disrespectful judgments. For example, you can say that the OW has taken their father away from you, but you should not say that she is home-wrecker (or worse).
My basic approach to life is that radical honesty is valuable on many different dimensions. It keeps us out of trouble, it helps others understand us, and it helps others avoid the same mistakes we have made. Letting your children know the details of your husband's affair would help them in all three areas.
The more your children know about your husband's affair, the more careful he will be to avoid them in the future.
The more your children know about his affair, the more they will understand what you are going through in your recovery (by the way, you are doing very well -- keep up the good work!).
Being radically honest about your husband's affair with your children would also help them avoid affairs themselves. How it happened and how could it have been prevented is a great object lesson for children. I learned that I was vulnerable for an affair when I learned about my grandfather's affairs. The extraordinary precautions I've taken were directly related to what I learned about him.
It's the approach I've always taken, and while it's difficult, especially for the WS, there's much more upside to it than downside.