The other morning on a breakfast radio station they were discussing children of affairs – a listener had asked the question whether she should tell her adult children that they have a half brother from their father’s affair many years ago. This sparked a wave of people from all sides ringing up and sharing stories – many of them about the positive relationships that had been forged with affair children either as children or later as adults.
In the work I do I am privileged to hear many such stories and don’t think it is unusual that good things for all involved can come out of such a painful situation. My choice to rebuild my marriage and include my husband’s child as part of our family has often been questioned by people who believe that they would kick their husband out if they were in the same situation. In fact, research conducted by Peggy Vaughan back in 2002 found that 80% of marriages survive an affair - you probably just didn’t know. I don’t think you ever really know what you would do until you are actually in the situation.
So what do people in this situation generally do about the child?
Of the dozens of stories that have been shared with me I have looked more closely at a sample of 20 that includes couples from Australia, UK, USA and Canada, where the story is far enough along to understand the decisions that have been made about the child. In all 20 cases the husband had an affair with a single woman, (Affair Partner) and she has had a child conceived during the affair. While a statistician may question my sampling methods I share these findings merely for interest.
I found the following:
· 12 couples have rebuilt their marriages; 4 have divorced; 4 are currently separated and still undecided, (at 60% marriage rebuilding, this is lower that Peggy Vaughan’s research but then having an affair child does make things more complex for recovery which also accounts for the 20% undecided).
· In 17 cases, the husband has regular contact with his affair child.
· In 7 of these cases the marriage has been rebuilt and the affair child has been incorporated into the marriage and family– mostly with the care shared half and half between the husband/father and Affair Partner/mother and in one instance the husband and his wife having full custody.
· In 2 of these cases the marriage has been rebuilt and the husband has regular (weekly) contact with his affair child but they have decided to keep the affair and the child a secret.
· In 3 instances the marriage has been rebuilt and there has been a clear decision for no contact – in two of these cases because the Affair Partner’s behaviour has posed a significant risk to the safety of the husband’s family and intervention orders have had to be taken out.
· Of the 4 currently separated cases the wife is willing to incorporate the child into their family if the marriage continues.
· Of the 8 divorced or separated not one of those has resulted in the husband re-partnering with the Affair Partner.
So mostly there is acceptance of the child and in the majority of cases the child is having contact with at least his or her father on a regular basis. Add some time and healing to this and a situation that can seem impossible to navigate when you are going through it can actually be OK in the end.
The enthusiastic response on the radio the other morning showed that this situation is way more common than anyone would think. So if you are feeling overwhelmed by this situation at the moment please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You too will get through it.