How Being A Child Of Infidelity Affects You As An Adult
I’ve been quite open about having a dad who had lots of affairs. I did plenty of hard time in therapy to try and minimize the damage that would do to my psyche, and to my future relationships. Unfortunately, I think there are some experiences you can never totally rid your subconscious of. There are some experiences—some traumas—that are so rare, like surviving a plane crash or a shark attack, that there is merit in the idea that you never need to worry about that happening again. But infidelity? Well, that does happen all of the time. That’s not just some freak accident that comes around every 100 years. You probably know several people dabbling in infidelity if not having full-blown affairs right now.
Even though my therapists worked with me to get rid of some of the destructive and unhealthy patterns my dad’s infidelity had caused in me, it’s not like they could responsibly tell me that infidelity will never happen again. They knew that I would go out into the world and witness infidelity many, many times—and possibly be the victim of it. Or even the perpetrator. Though, I truly couldn’t live with myself if I did that to somebody. What I’m saying is that, if infidelity broke up your family, no matter how much therapy you go through and how much personal work you complete, it will always stick with you a little bit. Being a child of infidelity changes the way you look at things. It can make you more cautious, more nervous, and a bit more judgmental than those who didn’t have their families torn apart by affairs. I’ve recently had to come to terms with the fact that, I’m not entirely free of what my dad did. It does still affect my psyche. Here is how being a child of infidelity can affect you as an adult.
You don’t want unfaithful friends
I loop almost anyone who partakes in any sort of infidelity with my dad. I see them as part of the same group—the group without values, without empathy, and even without humanity. If I learn of a friend cheating on her partner, I can turn my back on her. And have.
Or even unfaithful work contacts
I remember, in college, almost quitting a job because I learned that one of my bosses was cheating on his wife. I didn’t work very closely with him, and I let the storm blow over. But in my mid twenties, I did quit my job as a personal assistant for a woman who was the mistress to a married man. I wanted nothing to do with anyone like that.
You have strict boundaries
Some people may have looser boundaries than I do when it comes to what counts as cheating. If a man I work with or am friends with so much as insinuates that he could be interested in me sexually, I tell him he’ll need to refrain from saying anything like that again if this relationship is going to continue. And I expect my partner to shut down correspondence from other women the same way.
You do fear, “Once a cheater, always a…”
When I was single and dating, if I learned that a guy I went out with once cheated on somebody else—even if he showed great remorse and detailed all the ways he’d learned and changed—I just couldn’t continue seeing him. It’s hard for me to believe that cheaters change. I almost think it’s a gene they carry—they’re either cheaters, or they aren’t.
You detect mistress situations
When I’m out and about, I’m acutely aware of mistress situations, affairs, and things like that. I just know the signs. When I’m sitting near a couple who is clearly not a real couple, but rather cheating on their significant others, I can sniff it out. And I give them the nastiest looks.
Commitment makes you nervous
I thought I’d gotten over my own fears of being cheated on, until recently when my partner and I bought a condo together, and then, just after that, my partner’s ex reached out to him about a possible work collaboration. And I felt the floor fall out from beneath me. Uh oh. I realized that, I’d put my heart and my future more in this man’s hands by buying a home with him and there are things out there that could threaten our bond.
Random moments of panic
Sometimes, I’ll just be going about my regular activities, and this strange sensation will come over me. I’ll look at my life from outside my body—like I’m watching the movie of my life—and think, “What if my partner, who I assumed was over there just texting his colleague, was texting his side piece all along, for months, without me knowing it?!” I see myself, for a moment, as this idiot, happily living life, oblivious to what’s going on.
You’d prefer an experienced man
When I was single, it was also important to me that the men I dated had dated other women. I didn’t want some serial monogamist who had just had one girlfriend since high school, and was now freshly single. I know those guys are going to be itching to play the field. I wanted a guy who was done playing the field.
You like men with low libidos
My partner isn’t that into sex and I sort of love that. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Look, we still have sex about once a week. But he’s not someone who is going to drop what he’s doing because I walk by in lingerie. I guess I take some comfort in the fact that sex doesn’t have this control over him.
A deep personal connection is important
Developing a personal connection with a man before sleeping with him has been important to me. I needed to know that the thing a man liked about me—the thing that drew him to me—was something just I had. In other words, it couldn’t just be about sex. Because plenty of women can offer that.
You keep up your appearance out of fear
Sometimes I wear makeup and put together an outfit I like and get a great haircut because it makes me feel good. Sometimes, I find myself thinking, “I need to look good so that my partner still finds me attractive and doesn’t leave me for somebody else.”
Then resent doing that
When I find myself working on my appearance out of fear, I become resentful of it all. I suddenly don’t want to put any effort into my appearance, almost as some protest to these terrible fears. But then, I also don’t want to look like crap—for myself. I hate that, in general, these neurosis create this weird relationship between me and my appearance.
You sometimes think you’re doomed
Even after all of the personal work I’ve done and all of the therapy I’ve been to, sometimes, I just can’t help but feel that I’m doomed to the same fate my mother was—a cheating husband. I can’t help but wonder if that luck just runs in our blood or something, even though I trust my partner completely.
But that mindset pushes your partner away
When I am feeling doomed—and like infidelity is part of my future—I become distant towards my partner. I can start to act a little paranoid. But of course, these behaviors on my end push my partner away, and make me feel even more afraid he’d want to leave me.
You don’t know how people forgive
When I learn of people who were cheated on and somehow learned to trust and love again—and are in loving relationships—I don’t get it. I can’t imagine being cheated on and ever recovering. But, I think having your parent cheat just cuts you deep in a way that’s different than anything else.