When I first started writing about trust issues, I thought my audience was people who had been through romantic relationships as bad as mine had been. Then one day a reader told me that my stories about trust resonated with her deeply because of the issues she developed after her father was unfaithful to her mother. Her parent’s infidelity was having an impact on her adult love life!
Curious about my reader’s experience and the issues my own children might one day face, I dove into the research. It turns out that, yes, it is very common to inherit some nasty issues after your family gets hit with infidelity. Even more interesting, you suffer whether you know about the infidelity between your parents or not.
These 7 side effects of a parent’s infidelity can cause trust issues in adult children.
Do any of these sound familiar?
1. You are emotionally distant.
After being exposed to a parent’s infidelity, you may respond by holding back in your romantic relationships. It’s an easy way to avoid becoming overly vulnerable. Even though you may appear cool on the outside, you’re really covering up the fear and sensitivity inside.
2. You are overly suspicious.
In a survey of more than 800 adults whose parents had been unfaithful, 83% said they believe that people regularly lie. You may have seen a parent lie to cover up an affair as long as possible. On top of that, your parents or other family members may have lied to you to hide or minimize the infidelity. Consequently, you’re always on the lookout for signs of betrayal in your personal life. It’s a form of self-protection.
3. You are reluctant to commit.
If you watched your own parents’ marriage fall apart, the happily-ever-after fairytale has already been shattered for you. As an adult, you have a harder time believing that marriage is a solid, lasting foundation for building a life and partnership because of your parent’s infidelity. It’s no wonder why you’re hesitant to jump in.
4. You have difficulty trusting others.
As a child, you learned that even the people you trust the most, aka your parents, can be untrustworthy. In the survey of 800 adults whose parents had been unfaithful, 70% said their ability to trust others had been affected by the experience.
5. You’re confused about love, sex, and marriage.
If your parents stayed married despite an ongoing affair or series of indiscretions, you most definitely received confusing messages about the meaning of love and marriage. What does sex really mean? Is it okay to cheat as long as nobody talks about it? If nobody talks, you’re on your own to form your opinions based on your parent’s infidelity.
6. You have an insecure attachment style.
You saw your own family break apart. Consequently, you’re likely to believe that your adult relationships can end at any time. That makes it next to impossible to form a healthy attachment where you see your partner as a secure base. Instead of moving about confidently and freely, you’re more likely to either keep close tabs on your partner to make up for your lack of security or avoid getting too close so you don’t have to worry about the possibility of getting hurt.
7. You unconsciously replay events from your past.
Even though 96% of the 800 surveyed adults said they believe it is wrong to cheat on your partner, 44% also said they have been unfaithful themselves to their own partner. Why the mismatch in belief and behavior? It may be an unconscious attempt to replay events in order to work out unresolved feelings about what happened between their parents. On the flip side, you may be more likely to get cheated on because of patterns you picked up in childhood that invite betrayal into your life.
If these sound familiar, don’t lose hope. You aren’t doomed to a life of self-sabotaging behaviors that leave you alone or in unhealthy relationships. Now that you see it, you can change it. You’re welcome.