My fifteen year old asked me the other day if my ex had an affair and if that was why we divorced. The answer is yes but after reading everything about divorce, I know it is wrong to share such details. I also know I shouldn’t blame my ex even though he was mainly at fault. But nothing I’ve read tells me what I am supposed to tell my son when he asks “why?” Answering that it is none of his business doesn’t cut it. It is his business. I don’t want to tell him his father had an affair but saying nothing makes no sense and makes him feel like I don’t trust him. What should I say?
Children deserve answers; but the right answers. Try to think of the real reasons your marriage is over and then you can give your child answers that will not only help him understand his situation better but will also teach him lessons about love and marriage.
Outline the mistakes his parents made along the way and perhaps from the very beginning that ultimately led to the painful end of the marriage. Some examples may be:
We didn’t listen to each other enough. We didn’t take the time to hear how the other person was feeling and what was going on in his/her day.
We didn’t learn how to disagree. Sometimes you are so convinced you are right that you don’t even take the time to listen to the other person. You just want to make your point. That’s not a discussion. We didn’t stop and try to understand the other person’s point of view.
We didn’t make private, romantic time for ourselves. We should have spent time alone to quietly look into each other’s eyes and remind ourselves what we love about the other person. (Be careful not to imply this was due to the children’s needs as that would imply guilt.)
We didn’t use each other to better ourselves and broaden our perspective. Having a mate can give you new views of life and the world that you never thought of. But you have to want to grow, listen and experience life and new things through the eyes of your spouse sometimes.
We never discussed money in a healthy way. We should have had meetings where we planned for the next month and year. We could have taken better control of our spending by discussing our purchases. Instead we spent on what we thought was necessary at the time and whenever money was tight we blamed each other.
We stopped doing sweet thoughtful things for each other. We didn’t wake up in the morning and think, “What could I do for my spouse today that would make him/her smile?”
We didn’t keep our private matters private and allowed others like relatives and friends to get in the way of our making decisions together. This was no one else’s fault. It was our fault for not supporting each other and understanding why we needed to keep some things private.
We never learned to create our own unique style of marriage. Usually you expect your marriage to be just like the one you saw when you grew up. You think your husband/wife is going to carry on the same responsibilities that your father/mother did and get upset when it doesn’t work out that way. We needed to find our own type of marriage by listening to what each of us needed from the other instead of quickly judging and being disappointed that the other person wasn’t acting the way we expected.
We didn’t get help early on when things began not feel right. We should have went to a marital counselor, minister, rabbi and allowed someone to help us understand our mistakes and discuss how to fix them.
These are some of the reasons marriages falter. These don’t assess blame to any one individual and each one shows your child how each of you made honest mistakes never intending to hurt one another. It is crucial for him to see that even when people truly love each other they can fall into poor relationship habits that can ultimately distance couples and cause pain. Your son can grow from these types of reasons and begin to understand that happy marriages are hard work and should never be taken for granted. Taking the easy road means missing out on a potentially wonderful relationship.
Affairs, albeit inappropriate and unfair, usually develop from the mistakes detailed above. You don’t want to imply that having an affair is no big deal if the marriage isn’t going well. In fact make a clear comment to your son that affairs are wrong and there are times even in healthy marriages when spouses experience difficulty and must ride it through while helping and loving each other. Nevertheless, explain to him that certain marital issues should always remain private and that the real reasons for the divorce had to do with all of the above. Direct him to his father and ask him to discuss it with him further.
You can teach a great deal to your teen about love and marriage from your own experience. You can also assist your teen by helping him think more sincerely about his own personal relationship style. Ask him general as well as specific questions that help better understand himself. What does he thinks about relationships and marriage? What type of person is he attracted to? What kind of personality does he like in a girlfriend? How does he want to treat her and be treated? These are healthy questions aimed at helping your son think about how to make relationships satisfying and begin to realize problems early on. Help him see how your own marital style has influenced the way he views marriage and love. He will spend the next few years practicing for his future. Help him make these years worthwhile as he learns from some of your mistakes.
About M. Gary Neuman
M. Gary Neuman is a licensed mental health counselor, a Florida Supreme Court-certified family mediator, a rabbi, and the creator of the nationally recognized Sandcastles program for children of divorce. He is the author of Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce The Sandcastles Way.
His work has been featured on National Public Radio, Dateline, Good Morning America, the Today show, and elsewhere. In 1996, his nationally syndicated column, “Changing Families” won a Parenting Publications of America Award of Excellence. He tours the country speaking about marital and family issues. He maintains a private practice in Miami, where he sees adults, children, and families. He lives with his wife and five children in Miami Beach, Florida.