It’s hard to get over an affair but what if your husband cheated and had a child?
A Reader Writes…
It seems like you’ll never be able to put things behind you because there’s a permanent reminder of his infidelity.
My husband’s mistress had a baby 4 months ago and I am struggling to cope with this as well as the knowledge that the affair had been going on since 2004. We are trying to stay together but I don’t know how to cope with there being a baby. He sees her once a week but the affair is over (so he says). I am trying not to nag but I feel very angry a lot of the time and want to say nasty things to punish him and there always seems to be an atmosphere at the weekend when the visit is due. I don’t know what to do to try and cope with the situation and move forward – help!
When I did my training, the advice we were given for dealing with a child being born from an affair was straightforward. The husband should either have no contact (just the basic legal and financial commitments) or the wife is fully involved and the baby is integrated into the family (just like a child from a previous marriage).
Unfortunately, they didn’t tell us that both options are incredibly difficult and fraught with pitfalls. Fortunately, I’ve counselled several couples in this position, I can explain the pluses and negatives of each option and if you know what’s likely to go wrong, you won’t feel such a failure when it inevitably happens and forewarned is always forearmed.
At first sight if you’re in the ‘my husband cheated and had a child’ dilemma, this looks perfect. There’s a clean break and that’s got to be best for your marriage. It also concrete proof that you’re his number one priority. However, there are five key pitfalls.
- Your husband will be full of shame and guilt for ‘letting down his baby’ and this will be played on by the mistress. I know he should also be feeling shame and guilt for letting you down but, in his mind, by staying with you he’s doing the right thing.
- Your husband wants to save your marriage and will agree to anything. At the time, he will say ‘no contact’ and mean it but he’s got all this guilt and shame and now he’s had time to reflect he’s wondering if the second option would be better. He doesn’t dare to say anything in case there’s more tears and anger, so that bring me to point three.
- Your husband is likely to lie. This is not because he’s a bad man but because lying is the only way to keep two people happy (his mistress and you) and he’s spent months and possibly years doing just that. He’s in the habit of solving an immediate crisis by promising the moon and stars (to both of you) but that just puts of the evil moment until you discover the secret texts, new email account, following her on twitter, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
- Your husband needs to mourn. Perhaps he’s already met the baby and bonded or perhaps he needs to mourn the idea of being involved in the baby’s life. Unfortunately, mourning involves a lot of thinking about the baby and many men mistake that for a sign that he ‘should’ be involved with the child. In a weak moment, it’s easy to assuage the guilt by sending a text to enquire about the baby’s health (and not feel such a monster – at least until you find out about it).
- You will get angry and threaten to end the relationship. A couple of days later, you will feel sorry and take back everything – you were tired or it was in the aftermath of finding another text. Unfortunately, it reinforces his doubts about whether it’s possible to save the marriage and encourages him to keep his options open (and check out her facebook page).
Integrated into the family
If you’re in the ‘my husband cheated and had a child’ dilemma, this option has compassion for the child who is ‘innocent’ and if you’re truly involved – and seeing all the emails etcetera – you know he’s not going behind your back and you can begin to rebuild trust. However, there are five key pitfalls:
- His mistress had a baby to ‘win’ your husband. In her mind, full of magical thinking, if he holds his baby in his hands the ‘scales will fall from his eyes’ and he will ‘know’ that he should be with her. In other words, she’s not just looking for a father for her child but a husband too.
- He can’t have a relationship with the baby without a relationship with the mother. With an older child, you can phone them and check when you should pick them up at the weekend (and they can ask their mum if that suits). With a small baby, access will always involve seeing the mother and she is extremely unlikely to pass the baby over to the father and let him take it out of her sight. She is even less likely to let his wife be part of this access – because mistresses see the wife as a witch (or how can else can they seek to destroy her marriage.)
- The mistress needs to be mature and put the interests of the baby first. I would like to think this is going to happen but sadly true adults don’t put all their faith in magical thinking. It’s also easy to imagine the best interest of the baby are the same as her best interests. So the mistress tells herself it would be best for her baby to have a full-time father (because that’s what she wants) so helping you save your marriage by co-operating over access is highly unlikely.
- Your husband is still going to lie. He wants to keep everybody sweet so he tells white lies – like he’s only going to call into the 1st birthday party for half an hour – but has already agreed to be help clear up afterwards.
- Everybody needs to be a great communicator to make it work. Sadly your husband is a people pleaser (and says what will keep other people happy). That’s why he didn’t speak up about his unhappiness or that he didn’t agree about something (to keep the peace) and ended up being tempted by an affair. You’re angry, hurt and resentful and that doesn’t make for good communication either. Finally, the mistress probably has an unspoken agenda and will say one thing but do another.
Five tips for solving this dilemma
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re full of despair but it is possible to find a way forward – if only slowly and with lots of good communication. Here’s my five best tips (from the coal face of trying to make ‘my husband cheated and had a child’ work in the real world).
- It is natural to get angry. So please don’t beat yourself up if your good intentions slip. It’s fine to report your anger – ‘I’m angry with you because…’ but not to say ‘nasty things to punish him’, or generally take it out on your husband. I know I’m asking a lot but that’s why you need to seek personal counselling to help you recover from the shock and mourn the loss of the ‘great’ husband that you though you had and accept the ‘doing his best under difficult circumstances’ husband.
- Don’t indulge in magical thinking. It’s easy to think ‘if he stops contacting her’ everything will be fine or to believe ‘if he truly loved me, he wouldn’t….’ In reality, he might be slowly but surely giving up on contacting her or slipped up with another white lie – because it takes time to break bad habits. In addition, it is possible to love you and want to know how the baby is doing. I would also counsel against the magical thinking that ‘divorce will make me feel better.’ Of course divorce is an option – and one some people choose – but don’t expect it to make everything better. Your husband will still be torn between two families and all the poor communication and lies will still be there (but you’ll have less influence over him). You’ll probably still be angry but for different reasons.
- Don’t set arbitrary tests. The most common one is ‘any contact behind my back and that’s the end’. However, contact does not have to be a setback. I was counselling a couple where he did meet-up with the mistress for a drink. She was angry, of course, but she was calm – and more resigned than anything. It helped that he told her about it (although a few weeks afterwards). Under these circumstances, they were able to talk properly (because he didn’t get defensive) and see the situation for what it really was a set back rather than the end of the world. Ultimately, it made the man start to think ‘what did I see about her in the first place.’
- Break the future into manageable chunks. If you focus on getting through the next few months that seems possible, if you start thinking about forever that’s when it gets too much and you’ll both start to catastrophise. In addition, there will probably need to be different solutions when the child is different ages. The mistress will probably have given up her fantasy of a full-time father (and might have married someone else) and you will feel differently too. So any solution, at this point, is going to be a temporary one.
- Keep talking. Although it seems like you’re staring into a black abyss, if you keep talking you will find chinks of light. It helps if you don’t let every argument become about the baby, especially if it’s really about leaving the top off the orange juice and it spilling all over the kitchen floor. In addition, talking (and listening) will help you improve your communication skills and that’s an asset whatever happens.
Please post your comments below, especially if you have experience with this dilemma and something that might benefit someone else going through this journey.