You Cheated On Me, Too!

It’s not just divorce that hurts kids. Infidelity brings a whole world of pain.

Martha Manning, Ph.D.
5 min readOct 7, 2021


Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash

Let me get this out on the table.

First, as a clinical psychologist, I helped a number of couples negotiate the decision and the process of ending a marriage. I worked with the children to try to help them find ways to dealing with one of the major punches in the gut of growing up. I believe that there are situations in which dissolution of a marriage is the best thing.

I had a rule, however, that the partners disengage or suspend any infidelities while we worked. I always conceptualized the family and me as in a fragile boat in rough seas, and saw the infidel as a heavy anchor that compromised our work.

Second: My 43-year marriage ended with one sentence several years ago. My husband betrayed me. He devastated me and crushed our daughter in ways that still make me shake when I think of them.

There is a body of evidence that while infidelity and divorce go together frequently, it looks like kids are influenced by infidelity apart from divorce.

From small children to young adults, infidelity is the gift that keeps on giving.

  • Small Children may be able to pick up vibes that something is different. It may still be easy to be with the offending parent. In several instances, children are used as pawns, in that they are included in activities with the parent and the “other” adult. It is only when they get older that they realize they’ve been duped.
  • Children a few years older may pick up on an infidelity, while not knowing what it is. But Dad seems distracted and has less emotional investment in them. Mom may seem secretive and unlike herself. Children can sniff out secrets, even when they don’t understand them. They may internalize these changes as having something to do with them.
  • One of the cruelest aspects of infidelity is when the parent invites or demands that the children collude in disinformation. Mom was “just out 'with her sister.” Dad was “just working late.” “Don’t say anything to Mom/Dad.” With this collusion comes a sense of specialness to the offending parent, on the…



Martha Manning, Ph.D.

Dr. Martha Manning is a writer and clinical psychologist, author of Undercurrents and Chasing Grace. Depression sufferer. Mother. Growing older under protest.