What Are The Long-Term Psychological Effects Of Infidelity On Children?

Infidelity | |
Updated On: February 5, 2024
long term psychological effects of infidelity

Infidelity is a harrowing experience, not only for the betrayed partner but also for the kids that are sadly roped into it. The emotional challenges faced on account of a cheating parent cast long shadows well into adulthood. The long-term psychological effects of infidelity on children are inevitable, even though they may not make themselves apparent immediately. 

Motivational speaker and author Steve Maraboli said, “What we instill in our children will be the foundation upon which they build their future.” Children are young, impressionable, and positive about the world. When infidelity exposes them to dishonesty and unfaithfulness, the foundations of their understanding are completely shaken. 

Their way of viewing the world is marred and they struggle with forming and sustaining connections. But how deep does the damage run? And what can we do to help a child who has witnessed infidelity in the family?

What Does Infidelity Mean?

Infidelity includes cheating, adultery, and being unfaithful to one’s own partner to search for love, companionship, and sex elsewhere. A person can cheat on their better half in many ways; one-night-stands, a no-strings-attached relationship, emotional and/or financial infidelity, in addition to a full-blown extramarital affair. 

There are several reasons that might prompt a person to cheat. They may be unsatisfied in a relationship, in need of some kind of excitement, or might have simply fallen in love with somebody else. Regardless of the reasons, the aftermath of infidelity is quite devastating. In the sphere of dating, it leads to heartbreak and severe grief… but the repercussions carry more weight when one is unfaithful in a marriage.

When a married man or woman cheats, they not only hurt their partner but also their children. Our kids tend to see us as happy couples living in a dreamy little world where nothing can go wrong. When they learn at a tender age that their parents are capable of hurting one another, they are scarred emotionally. The long-term psychological effects of infidelity are powerful influences that determine the course of the child’s life. 

If you’re a parent looking to evaluate your situation better or an adult who is still struggling with the psychological effect of adultery you were exposed to as a child, you’re in the right place. We’re going to understand how a child’s mental space is affected when a parent cheats on the other.

The Long Term Effects Of Infidelity On Children

We have curated a list of 7 effects of infidelity on children. But here’s what’s unique; Bonobology decided to uncover some real-time responses and opinions on the subject. We posted these questions on a Facebook group named, ‘Let’s Discuss Infidelity’: How does infidelity between parents affect the minds of their kids? Are there any practical solutions? 

So many of our readers chipped in with their inputs – some based on experience, others on observation, and yet others on professional insights. These pointers should give you a holistic idea of how an affair affects the family. Children who have seen a cheating parent will most likely go through one or more of these long-term infidelity effects. 

Related Reading: 10 Common Marriage Reconciliation Mistakes To Avoid After Infidelity

1. Kids learn ‘what to not do’

Let’s begin on a relatively positive note. The long-term psychological effects of infidelity cannot be classified into black and white. Our reader, Andy Singh, says, “When children are exposed to adultery at a young age, they might learn ‘what to not do’ in a relationship. Having gone through a significant amount of stress, anxiety, and trauma, they will strive to shield their own children from it.

“Hence, a parent’s infidelity might make them more determined to stay faithful to their partner.” This view suggests that children from broken households or unhappy marriages will avoid the relationship mistakes their parents made. Alternatively, a desire to not let a marriage crumble might lead these adults to clingy and obsessive love. They may struggle to draw boundaries in a bid to keep the relationship intact. 

It is important to remember that there are no standard patterns or uniformity in responses. We can’t predict what will happen when your child finds out you cheated. It is deeply subjective and prone to other factors. But the possibility stated by Andy is indeed a strong contender in this list. 

2. Strained family dynamics – Effects of infidelity on children

Children might construe infidelity as a personal betrayal and hold the parent accountable for breaking up the family. Since they are unable to comprehend the nuances of love and married life, cheating becomes an unforgivable and cruel act in their minds. This will generate a lot of resentment and animosity toward the cheating parent. Simultaneously, the child will develop a lot of sympathy for the parent who has been betrayed. 

The family dynamics will undergo a major change and the strained relationship with the cheating parent might be carried forward into adulthood. Several people report feeling anger or disappointment toward their parents even after years have gone by. In addition to this, adultery compromises the family values that children hold dear. 

Honesty, respect, loyalty, love, and support go for a toss all at once. This makes the child lose any and all sense of direction in their life. Harboring anger or doubt toward an institution like family can prove to be very damaging as an adult. The long-term infidelity effects are very powerful indeed. 

3. Lopsided growth

Aneeta Babu holds a different perspective on the effects of infidelity on children. She says, “I believe in taking a slightly broader view of the situation. Anything that is not harmonious affects a child’s mind. This does not have to be infidelity necessarily. I haven’t met anyone so far who claims to have been traumatized by a cheating parent. (Although, this might have to do with kids not usually discovering an affair.)

“But I have often felt that adults tend to have lopsided growth because of their parents’ bitter relationships. Children are constant observers of their parents’ marriage after all. If tension, unhappiness, and conflict are the norm, then they will catch on quickly.” So, while the act of infidelity itself might not cause damage, the ensuing problems in the household or between the couple can impact a child. 

Children are far more perceptive than we might estimate them to be. The fluctuations in a couple’s marriage are not hidden from them (and this is exactly how an affair affects the family). When every conversation is an argument, it can adversely affect the child’s emotional growth. 

4. Trust issues

Dr. Gaurav Deka, a transpersonal regression therapist, proffers an incisive insight: “Every relationship has its own DNA. And that DNA, like all others, travels from one equation to the other. The child’s faculty of trust is greatly impacted by the infidelity between parents. They grow up, unable to trust others and become ‘anxious avoiders,’ i.e. they have difficulty committing to relationships. 

“These adults impulsively scoot when they get too close to someone. Also, I have seen shame manifest within the children (in their adult lives) as low self-esteem, propelling them to become victims of their own unhealthy coping mechanisms.” The significant trust issues ultimately thwart emotional fulfillment (this is one of the common effects of cheating fathers on sons).

long term psychological effects of infidelity
The long term psychological effects of infidelity on a child are powerful

What are the most common long-term psychological effects of infidelity, you ask? When your child finds out you cheated on the family (for that is how they will see it), they will lose trust in you as a parent. And these unresolved problems with the primary caregiver often translate into rocky romantic relationships as an adult. 

Related Reading: 12 Signs Your Past Relationships Are Affecting Your Present Relationship

5. What are the effects of cheating fathers on daughters? Emotional baggage

The weight of tumultuous familial history is difficult to bear. And the psychological effects of adultery on children entail some serious emotional baggage. While the problem may seem far off in the past, it manifests itself in peculiar ways. The individual might interrogate their partner over little things, or have trouble forming an emotional connection with them. 

Some people opt to not have children at all, while others overcompensate by trying to become perfect parents. Denial masks the real problem at hand and individuals perpetuate unhealthy patterns and tendencies because of childhood trauma. For instance, we use the term ‘daddy issues’, which is actually indicative of the effects of cheating fathers on daughters. The root cause of most adult stumbling blocks can be traced back to infidelity of a parent.

6. Disillusioned by love

Prachi Vaish puts forth an important point by explaining how adultery causes children to lose faith in love. She says, “If children grasp the real reason behind the parents’ fights or conflicts, they might become disillusioned by love and marital relationships. Needless to say, this will affect their emotional security in future romantic bonds. They may grow up to be irrationally possessive or cynical when it comes to love.” Institutions like marriage lose validity in the eyes of children when parents cheat. 

Thus, they might become adults who prefer flings over serious relationships or commitment. A casanova-like attitude, coupled with a deep distaste for long-term connections, can be the result of the long-term effects of being cheated on (by a parent). Another one of our readers, Neha Pathak, concurs with Prachi, “I have no experience in this area but from what I’ve observed, kids end up following the steps of their parents. 

“Not only do they lose respect for the parental figure, but also begin disregarding marriage and relationships as a whole. Seldom do kids emerge strong and trusting from such situations. A good fictional parallel would be Chandler Bing from F.R.I.E.N.D.S who had a difficult childhood. He grew to be afraid of meaningful commitment.” Hmmm, food for thought, right? 

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7. Prone to infidelity – How cheating affects the brain

Novelist and social critic James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Another powerful possibility is children growing up to emulate the same patterns their parents did. One of the long-term psychological effects of infidelity is its normalization in the mind. The child might come to think of cheating as a convenient approach or acceptable.

Of course, this is not something that is bound to happen. It depends on the individual as well. All we’re saying is that the thought must be considered. Cheating can become a generational cycle very easily. Long-term infidelity effects can lead a person to commit the same mistakes that caused them so much hurt, i.e., they might cheat on their partner too.

Now that we’ve examined the 7 consequences of adultery, we will address how to tackle them. Time cannot heal any wounds unless we put in some work from our end as well. And intervention is wise before the situation spirals out of control. Did you know that many people suffer from depression after being cheated on by a parent? Here’s what you can do to navigate these stormy waters…

Related Reading: Online Affairs Reshaping The Idea of Fidelity In Modern Marriage

How To Cope With The Long-Term Psychological Effects Of Infidelity?

If you’re an adult who can see the past exercising control over you, here are a few things you can do to feel better. The effects of infidelity on children are challenging, but not insurmountable. Some persistence and hard work should get you back on the healthy relationship track. 

1. Seek professional help 

The path to recovery is much easier when you have the guidance of a mental health expert. At Bonobology, we offer professional help through our range of licensed therapists and counselors. You can heal from the comfort of your home with their help and resolve childhood trauma. We are here for you.

2. Make amends

Holding on to grudges has never led to anything good. The long-term psychological effects of infidelity can make it difficult to forgive a parent or make amends, but arriving at a place of acceptance and forgiveness will release you from the pain. Your parents can make mistakes too; reach out to them today.

3. Communicate clearly

If you’re in a relationship, keep your partner in the loop. They are the ones being subjected to the manifestations of your trauma. Give them some context and communicate your struggles with honesty.

Related Reading: The 9 Truths About Lifelong Extramarital Affairs

4. Practice mindfulness

Yoga, meditation,or journaling are a few practices you can adopt to step closer to inner peace. They will enable you to reflect on the past without anger or resentment. Moreover, you will gain clarity through introspection.

5. Resist temptation

Work on giving in to your tendencies. If you are prone to hookups or casual dating, try a hand at something more steady (and do it with integrity). Don’t fall into the same patterns that will become a cause for grief later. 

We hope this makes things a tad less complicated for you. There’s no denying the potency of long-term psychological effects of infidelity… but we know you’re just as strong, if not more. If you want to share your story or if there’s something we’ve missed, dropped a comment below. We love hearing from you.


1. How does infidelity affect the family?

Infidelity has the power to completely destroy a family. It makes the children lose faith in their parents and their perceptions about love, marriage, and happiness are completely shaken. They are exposed to dishonesty and betrayal at a tender age and have trouble coping with the same.

2. What are the effects of infidelity?

Infidelity can leave the victim completely broken. It can turn into a self-esteem problem, make them possessive and distrustful in their future relationships, and make them wary of the idea of love. 

3. How do cheating fathers affect daughters?

Daughters might grow up to become afraid and mistrustful of men and relationships if their father has cheated on their mother. A daughter’s father epitomizes an ideal man to her; when he makes a mistake, the daughter is bound to become skeptical of the other men that walk into her life.

4. Can infidelity cause mental illness?

Yes, several people suffer from depression after being cheated on. The betrayal is quite personal and intense. Even children experience anxiety and stress when there’s a case of infidelity between their parents.

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