Imagine this scenario:
Then almost immediately Dad has a new girlfriend and suspicious circumstances point toward the fact that they may have been dating before the marriage was over. Suddenly the simple times of childhood and the traditional family of five are over.
In circumstances like this it can be hard for children, with no control over their parent’s marriage or the dissolution of it, to figure out what their relationship is now with each of those parents. And the circumstances of that break up can play a role in how easy or difficult that process is. If the break up concerns infidelity, how do the children deal with that?
Whichever of these discoveries a child had, in this study it had no significant difference on the future relationship between the child and parent. The author speculates that this may be because the method of discovery characterizes the relationship of the child and parent before the discovery anyway, so their relationship would remain the same, regardless of the discovery method.
Looking at communication between a child and parent after the discovery has occurred, the same author determined in another study that children will privately negotiate rules to deal with the infidelity in a way that will cause least harm to the relationship.
I found the rules about how and when they could talk to the parent about the infidelity most interesting – Thorson calls these access rules. These include context, sex, age, physical environment and code terms.
So here are my take-away points for today: If you’re a parent then remember what effect your infidelity can have on your children as well as your spouse. And if you’re a child, I guess just try to deal with it and maybe use these communication rules if you want to talk about the situation with your parents.
Thorson, A. (2008). The influence of discovery method on relational outcomes: A study of parental infidelity. Conference papers – National Communication Association, 1-32.
Thorson, A. (2009). Adult children’s experiences with their parent’s infidelity: Communicative protection and access rules in the absence of divorce. Communication Studies, 60, 32-48.