Sex addiction can have devastating effects on families, but the lasting impact on the children can be lessened if you keep the kids out of the middle. Important communication between you and your partner should not include the kids. This blog will outline ways to keep kids out of the middle of your partnership affected by sex addiction.
Don’t make the kids choose sides.
Having children choose between you and your partner is ultimately harmful to your children. Ideally, kids will have two supportive parents who are positively involved in their lives. Kids may naturally choose a side on their own, but if they are influenced by the other parent, they often are resentful in the future toward the influencing parent. Hopefully, kids will be able to see strengths in both you and your partner despite addiction, betrayal, and responses to betrayal. That will help them to forgive, heal, and grow.
Don’t have your kids be messengers between you and your partner.
If you are attempting to navigate new boundaries and painful emotions, it may be tempting, and sometimes easier, to have the kids deliver messages between you and your partner. While that may be easier, it is hurtful to your children to be given that adult responsibility and navigate a conflictual partnership that they are not in. If you are unwilling or unable to talk to your partner, find another way of communicating that does not include the kids (for example, setting up communication boundaries through a savvy couples therapist).
Don’t have them be spys or babysitters.
After betrayal, it is common that partners start to display safety-seeking behaviors (e.g., checking addict’s location, phone records, emails, etc.). That is okay as long as the partner is not involving the kids in that process. They should not be expected to report the addict’s behaviors or schedules to the betrayed partner. Kids should also not be expected to supervise or “babysit” the parent with the addiction to keep them from acting out. This is an impossible weight to put on anyone, other than the addict him/herself.
Don’t have the kids deliver things.
Sometimes parents have kids deliver things such as: gifts, mail, written messages, or belongings. This is another thing that may be emotional or even manipulative to the kids. If the addict is giving the betrayed partner things that seem kind or thoughtful it may be confusing to the kids. The kids may even then blame the betrayed partner for conflict between their parents, because on the outside, it looks like the addict is the person trying to make the relationship work. To avoid the manipulation or confusion for the kids, keep them out of the role of deliverer.
Don’t use the kids as your emotional support.
If you are an addict or a partner, you may be needing extra emotional support after discovery of sex addiction or during the recovery process. It is so important that both you and your partner reach out to others for support. Yet it is essential that your support is not coming from your kids. Getting support from your kids puts them in a position of having to be emotionally mature, suppress their emotions, align their emotions with the parent needing support, and cloud their judgement. By reaching out to your children for emotional support, you are putting your emotional needs before theirs and reversing that caregiver role.
Be supportive of the other parent’s role in your kids’ lives.
Even if you are deeply hurt by your children’s other parent, and your relationship with them is damaged, that does not mean the other parent no longer plays a significant role in your kids’ lives. They may even be a great parent, or at least have some good parenting qualities, even if they have not been a good partner to you. Kids are often already feelings loss or betrayal as a result of sex addiction and they don’t need to have the added loss their relationship with their parent if it can be avoided.
These guidelines are the same regardless of the age of your children, even if your children are adults. If you put your kids in the middle of your relationship with your partner, your family may become enmeshed. This can be detrimental to your child’s long-term emotional health, individualization, boundary setting, understanding of their own thoughts, and development of future healthy relationships. Keeping the kids out of the middle of a partnership affected by sex addiction is so important and we wish you the best work towards it!