Ask Miri: I Left My Cheating Husband… What Do I Tell Our Son?

Posted on August 24, 2011 by

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mother and child

Dear Miri:

Two years ago, I discovered my husband in bed with another woman when my son was 16 months old. He lied and told me it was nothing.

Three weeks later, I discovered he had been having an affair and treating her as his girlfriend for 8 months. I discovered thousands of emails from him professing his love and hundreds of pictures of them on trips that I did not go on – in bed, naked and fucking. During the affair he spent hundreds of dollars a week on her, drugs and dinners. (this while he was also having sex with me and telling me he loved me many times a day) Still, I tried to salvage our marriage. Needless to say, it didn’t work. He moved out and continued the relationship and to this day will not admit a thing.

Our divorce was finally finalized in May. We are negotiating the world of divorced parenting, as is my now almost four-year-old son. Even though my ex-husband moved out when he was only 18 months old, he innately longs for us to ‘all live together’. It is heart-breaking to me when he says he wants da to live with us. He has asked why da doesn’t and if we lived together when we were married. I am moving forward with my life as a single mother but I do things with my ex occasionally for our son, like all go out for dinner. We are the only divorced family we know. I wonder sometimes if spending time together as a family makes the separation more difficult for our son because it gives him the sense that something is there when it isn’t. Truthfully, I can do dinner occasionally, but the betrayal and deceit that my ex bestowed upon me is way too great for me to actually want to be in the same room as him, but like I said I do it occasionally for our son and we get along fine.

What do you think? and do you have any helpful words for talking about all this with my son?

–Meghan

Yuck. Can we start there? So sorry you had to weather a shit storm like that on top of post baby hormones. Just how you discovered pics and emails and how he went on trips that you had no idea about are hard to fathom. But, marriage can be a complex and ugly faced beast.  

I wrote two answers trying to get my response into something more Dear- Abby- succinct but failed. What you have instead is a long-winded response by a rusty therapist…

Nearly four-year old children don’t figure things out. Well, some things. like how to use computers better than adults. But other than that, they look to their parents for cues and then it SEEMS like they’ve figured something out. But their parents have actually molded them. Parenting of young children is a fascist, but mostly benign dictatorship. 

You need to figure out why you are not living with da. I know, that sounds a little pushy but I’ve got only so many words I can use — so, I’ve got to cut to the chase. 

Once you’re totally clear about you and da and why you are not living with him, than your boy will be able to stop asking. 

What, huh? You’re shaking your head. She wasn’t helpful at all, that Miri- chick on Femamom.

Bear with me. You have listed atrocious behavior by da and you have said you were hurt and now you are divorced. But you endure meals and you are the only divorced family you know? (the other families will catch up, you’re just cutting edge). When we do the post divorce family-charade we must ask, who we are performing for? Is there a fantasy you are playing out, you and da, of nuclear family? If so, stop it now. Your son is confused. You are confused. Da sounded plenty confused before any pretend family game. His head must be spinning. 

As for why you and da don’t live together and your son wanting you to? Clarity is your friend; find a script and repeat. Four year old children need things repeated over and over. So do teenagers.  

You: “Da and mommy don’t live together because da and mommy decided not to.”

Four Year old: “Why?”

You: “Because for our family it is best that da and mommy live in two separate places.”  

Four year old: “Why?”

You:  “Some families stay in one house all together and some families live in separate houses.” 

Four year old: “Why?”

You: “Everyone’s family is different.” 

There, now you have a script. Scripts are good for a while.  A script will buy you some time. Children are not comforted when they sense we are unsure. And they can sense our unsureness. They can feel us teeter and that makes them wobble and wonder and look for solid ground. So the script will only get you so far.

You must be clear about your choices and believe that your family is whole. No matter its configuration. And that your family, in its configuration, is best for you to mother from. Once you believe that, feel it in your mother -bones, you won’t be enduring dinners with your ex. 

How, you might ask does one find their mother bones? It’s a process of sorting and cleaning and deciding to believe one thing over another –only you can throw out worry and guilt re. your son and his questions. That takes vigilant self re-direction. Rigor must be applied to change a belief we have clutched or a guilt we have eaten. Re-direct thyself when doubts bubble to the surface. Do jumping jacks or keegels when you start going down that road of guilt and worry. Once you have banished any lingering, why’s and what if’s, your mother-bones will settle.  You won’t need that Miri-know-it -all-on Femamom.

Trust me, you have your own answers, they are waiting for you to find them. 

Miri is a licensed social worker and family therapist. If you have a question for her, email her here. Your Q&A will be published on our site. If you don’t want Miri to use your name, please let her know.

(Image: Big Grey Mare)

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