How Much Should You Talk About An Affair?

An affair can tear apart a family, and what you tell your children about it can impact your relationship with them now and in the long run. There is no simple solution, but one expert offers advice on the right way to talk --or not talk -- to kids about infidelity.


In 1984, Rick Reynolds cheated on his wife. The couple's journey to recover from the affair led them to develop, an online service helping couples overcome the consequences of infidelity.

Should you tell the kids?

There is not a simple answer to the question, "Should we tell our children about the affair?" Whether you tell them -- and how much you do share -- depends on the circumstances.

"If the infidelity is a current event and the children don't know about it, then absolutely do not discuss it with them," says Reynolds. "Children don't need to be involved in their parents' marriage."

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When the kids suspect something

"If your young children are aware that something is wrong, it's still not in their best interest to tell them about the infidelity," say Reynolds. "Rather you'd say, 'I didn't treat your father (or mother) the way that married people should treat each other.' That's truthful. It's not denying the presence of a third party, but it doesn't rock their world by bringing that unknown third party into it."

He cheated... Now what? >>

Answering kids' direct questions

"If they are under 10, don't lie," says Reynolds. "Tell them they are asking about an adult problem and it's not something you are going to discuss with them. Just because they ask doesn't mean you need to answer."

You can be more forthcoming with older children, "but keep the answers simple and don't give details about what has happened," adds Reynolds. "Kids need to be told this is an issue that mom and dad are working through on their own."

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What not to tell

Share age-appropriate information. "Telling a 6-year-old that your mommy brought another man into our house and took off all her clothes and let him touch her privates is abusive," says Reynolds.

You can give teens and young adults more information, but even then they don't need details. "If there was a pattern of behavior, tell them about the pattern, not how many times sexual contact occurred," says Reynolds. "Details, such as names, aren't important."

Avoid cheating temptation >>

When there's a separation

"It makes no difference whether or not the parents stay together when it comes to telling the children about infidelity," says Reynolds. What's more important is making sure the kids know that both parents are going to be there for them and that it's okay to maintain a healthy relationship with both parents. "Telling them anything more brings the children into the marital relationship, which is nothing short of emotional abuse," says Reynolds.

Is an "emotional affair" cheating? >>

The bottom line

"Unless the child is at risk of finding out or is aware of what happened, it will almost always be wrong to share about the infidelity," says Reynolds. "Children do not need to be involved in the marriage. They need to have the opportunity to have a healthy relationship with both parents regardless of whether someone has made the mistake of having an affair."

Tell us

Has your family dealt with infidelity? How did you talk to your children -- or did you?

More on how infidelity affects the family

How to forgive and move forward after an affair
6 Divorce success stories
Kids coping with infidelity

Tags: talking to your kids

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Comments on "Talking to your children about infidelity"

Mary Atkins June 01, 2013 | 12:40 PM

I'll try to be brief...haveknown my husband 30 years. we've been married for 23. have 3 kids..17..13..9. Husband -pot smoker approx 40 years. me...drinker. both had our faults. as kids got older...we always claimed with one another...we'll STOP bad kids age. I stopped alcohol, in my 5th years now of sobriety, husband didn't want to stop..pot..couldn't...wife upset...husband did "quit" but only for week--here or soon as his brain cells werre triggered .AGAIN..the roller coaster of behavior started. he knew he was "failing" his wife..but still did not want to give it up..NEXT..pathological lieing started!!!!me..mad about all the lies ..weekly..daily....i couldn't stant it..i was so angry but most hurt-from all the lies, thiis caused me to be didtant to bedrron relations..because i was so hurt.....OH NO..he saw it as ...he's allowed to cheat because I wasn't "putting out" he blames me for everything-every move everything harsh and deeiptful.."I MADE HIM STRAY!!!AND "IT WAS IN OUR CONTRACT!!!"..WhatT???!!!! no..i said our marriage "contract stated no heating, catholic vows ..he believes it is the wifes "DUTY" to give him ...and when i didn't..he wente elsewhere..thats not horrible enough...all employees came to me about his affair. he always made me look crazy if i would say he was...bottom line..he blames me for everything..still. is it better to have him live elsewhere...because at home sends the message that he's not accepting consequences for his actions. already distanced himself from daughter...shes in shock and never wants to talk about it. ive been back and forth about the living arrangements ...BUT???? any suggestion?

ML March 15, 2013 | 7:16 PM

His kids (22 & 20) think we had an affair and ruined their family, when in fact it was his wife who had the affair. How do we discuss that without blaming her, but stop the kids from blaming me? ML (female)

Ron7127 October 16, 2012 | 12:26 PM

Had to struggle with this issue and it is not simple. Willard Harley, who owns the marriagebuilders site is a big advocate of telling without editorializing. He seems to feel that failing to disclose to one's kids is doing them a disservice in a couple ways. I wonder how folks feel about the duty to warn the kids when an affair partner is being brought into their lives. This is a person with poor morals, boundaries and ethics etc. Should not the kids be forewarned?

JK December 01, 2011 | 12:53 PM

what a miserable situation that I wish no child would have to go through.

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