In 1984, Rick Reynolds cheated on his wife. The couple's journey to recover from the affair led them to develop AffairRecovery.com, an online service helping couples overcome the consequences of infidelity.
Should you tell the kids?
There is no simple answer. How much you tell them — if you tell them anything — 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."
When children suspect something
Even when children are aware that something's wrong, "It's still not in their best interest to tell them about the infidelity," say Reynolds. "Say, 'I didn't treat your father/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."
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."
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 they don't need details. "If there was a pattern of behavior, tell them about the pattern," says Reynolds. You don't have to share details such as names or how often sexual contact occurred.
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 OK 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.
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."