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My Narcissistic Ex-Husband

Reflections on loving and living with a Narcissist.  Let our experts guide you toward the healing power of moving on and allowing yourself some time in the spotlight.  Get advice on healing from his behavior and finding yourself again.

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I don’t know why people who cheat tend to think their infidelity doesn’t affect anyone else. Even if they admit that it's hurtful to their spouse, they don’t seem to realize it has a negative effect on the kids, too. 

Kids aren’t stupid, and it doesn’t take long for them to figure out what’s going on. You don’t even have to say anything—they overhear arguments, they put clues together, and they figure it out.

You Did What?

My kids didn’t even have to figure it out. For some stupid reason, known only to him, the ex woke my 16-year-old up at 3AM the night I tossed him out. He woke my son up to tell him that he’d cheated on me and made the biggest mistake of his life. He then left the house and proceeded over to my eldest child’s house, where he told her the same thing. By that afternoon, all of the kids knew what had happened because the news was in the “big family grapevine”. I never said a word.

Even more interesting—when he introduced the woman he'd cheated on me with to the kids, he expected them to embrace her into the family. Despite already informing them she was the biggest mistake of his life.

Talk about crazy.

It creeped them out. After the meeting, one of the kids looked at another and rolled his eyes. “If she is such a huge mistake why is he bringing her here?”

Why indeed?

There are a lot of things I learned about how infidelity affects kids, just from talking to mine.

Insecurity about Their Relationship

It didn’t matter how many times I told them their dad loved them, or how many times he told them he loved them—they were skeptical. It seems my kids have this idea that, while I am not perfect, I am beautiful and wonderful. They had heard their father tell me he loved me, and then they had heard him say he was moving in with the woman he’d called the biggest mistake of his life.

If he could lie about being in love with me, his promises of undying loyalty and love towards them were suspect. He hadn’t just cheated on me—he’d cheated on all of us. The only thing I knew to do was continue reassuring them that I wasn’t going anywhere. I also made sure that I was honest with them, and I told them that he loved them, which I think he does in his own way.

Embarrassment

We were very involved with our church, and my ex had been in leadership at various times. Adultery was (obviously) openly preached against, and my ex had even been very no-nonsense in his opinions of other men who had fooled around on their wives. A church can be like a small town, and many times it thrives on gossip, spread in the form of we need to pray for so-and-so, and did you hear what happened?

As the gossip spread, my kids were humiliated that their dad would commit that kind of sin.

There were insensitive comments made by kids, and by adults, too. One of the adult idiots at our church even told one of my kids that he was probably just like his father. Kids don’t want to think about parents having sex, let alone be slapped in the face by something as icky as infidelity!

We talked about it. They shared that it was embarrassing, degrading, and weird for them. I listened and then I admitted I was embarrassed, too. After all, I was the one who was so unappealing her husband went after someone else, right? Talking about our feelings, and realizing we weren't the ones that had to be embarrassed, helped all of us.

Anger

The anger was the hardest thing for me to handle, because it was not only directed at him—it was directed at me, too. After all, if he had strayed, surely it must have been partially my fault? Couldn’t I have worked harder at my marriage? Couldn’t I have been more loving?

Not all of the kids were angry at me, but one in particular was—one afternoon it came to a head. He lashed out at me, unloaded his pain on me for what seemed like hours (but was probably less than 30 minutes). He was too young to understand a lot about what had happened—only that his older siblings had told him that their dad was in love with someone else.

I let him lash out, apologized to him, held him, and that was that. 

Let Them Talk

I know that there are those who dislike how I parent. All I can say in my defense is that I have four children that are successful adults on their own, and four that are still living at home but seem to be following in the footsteps of their successful siblings. What’s my magical mom secret?

I let them talk.

I am less concerned that they sound respectful or say the “right” things than I am with them continuing to feel safe in sharing their feelings with me—whatever direction that takes. I’ve found that, by allowing them to say what they need to say while I just listen, I end up with all of the love, honor, and respect a mom could want. 

That doesn’t mean I don’t correct misconceptions or don’t call them out on exaggerations or pure drama—I do. It’s just that they know they can tell me anything, and I’ll listen, I’ll be fair, and I won’t lecture. I give them the same treatment that I want from others when I need to pour my heart out.

And it works.

Infidelity Affects Everyone

Secrets are rarely a good thing in families, and they rarely are as secret as we think they are. I’ve known people who’ve had their lives torn to shreds when the family secret, whatever it was, was finally exposed. If there is infidelity involved in your divorce, and your kids are older than five, there’s a good chance they know what’s going on at some level. Don’t discuss it with them, but do answer questions as honestly and succinctly as possible.

You aren’t the only one that’s dealt with this, you know. Join First Wives World and talk to others who understand just where you are.

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, User : Amy Humphries

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7 comments

  • Comment Link Marjorie Kanth Monday, 30 October 2017 17:43 posted by Marjorie Kanth

    I'm so thankful for your article and openness. I am
    currently going through a horrific divorce. My husband
    had many extramarital affairs. Sadly , he refuses to acknowledge how they've affected our children. It is so validating to read from others who get it! Thank you for your honesty and educating others to what the rest of the family have to deal with!

  • Comment Link cookiedoll Saturday, 04 March 2017 21:59 posted by cookiedoll

    My ex cheated and defended it to our children by telling them how difficult it was being married to me. They believed him. He twisted facts and as many times as I begged him not to use them, he did. We divorced after 33 years of marriage and he moved on to "follow his own path." After the first woman kicked him out, he is now living with a woman close to our daughter's age and her 9-year-old son.

    My 34-year-old daughter is mad at me, not him. My son doesn't want anything to do with either one of us and he and his wife are expecting their second child.

    Yes, infidelity is toxic. While I kept quiet about it, he chose to vilify me with our children. Yes, they are adults and can make their own choices, but without the whole story (which I will never tell them), I am left without a family. My hope is that someday, they will see their father, not through his filter, but as he really is.

  • Comment Link Commenter Friday, 12 February 2016 00:53 posted by Commenter

    @Author and @TiredofMartyrdom: Hear, hear! Infidelity Affects The Kids! Can we SHOUT that out, to the therapists (who think the wife is "unfair" for not "hearing the terrible shame that underlies his actions") to the courts who do NOT think that a parent who sees nothing wrong with lying, and nothing wrong with infidelity, and nothing wrong with buying the services of prostitutes (even though it's illegal), SHOWS ANY EVIDENCE OF BEING A POOR PARENT, and lastly to the religious community that preaches about how terrible dishonesty and infidelity is, and then tells the children, "Don't blame him/her?"

    No matter how you slice it, the cheater put his/her fling above his/her family and his/her kids. Nobody needs top take the potential new spouse out for a test drive before deciding whether to dump the original - our keep the original (and the kids!) around while test driving and test driving and test driving until a suitable new model is finally located!

    As you say, secrets are rarely as secret as they seem. The person who does this cannot carry on a genuine relationship with the current spouse at the same time. The kids *will* see that. And they'll see that one parent doesn't think the other deserves respect, or honesty, or a real partner. And then the community tells them, "Aw, it's OK. (Because s/he still loves you.)" But the kids figure out the corollary, whether or not the well-meaning community member or therapist does: "But not as much as the new significant other, or the one after that, or the hookers at the strip club..."

    The cheating parent models everything you do NOT want to teach children is OK, up to and including that sexual variety is more important than love, more important than responsibility, more important than working at a relationship, and more important THAN THEM.

  • Comment Link Tommiekaye Sunday, 29 November 2015 08:02 posted by Tommiekaye

    This article is spot on, I couldn't have explained it better if I wrote it myself. So many don't understand even when you try to explain what's going on, so many times people say that the kids are hurt only bc you are, they will get over it as soon as you do. It's not just the spouse that is betrayed but the entire family. It is nice to know I'm not the only one who has dealt with this. My children have experienced all of the above, my son discovered the relationship his father was having with a team mates mother. During an anger episode after his father had left, I was trying to comfort and reassure my son how much his father loved him and he came back at me with "how can you be so sure he loves me when you thought he loved you too?" So many don't understand my children aren't upset that their father has moved on, but it was the manner in which he did it, the lack of care and respectful for those he left behind. So many promises broken, words that didn't match actions, the lost trust, lies on top of lies that surfaced as it all unfolded. And the fact he was furious with my son bc he told me about the relationship he was having outside our marriage adds to it all. Kids are affected so much and it is sad how often their feelings aren't taken seriously. I've been told they will get use to it, or they aren't the first to go through it they just need to get over it but people need to realize their feelings matter. They have a right to express how they feel bc what they feel is real even if they are kids. They need to know someone cares about how they feel. Their feelings should be respected.

  • Comment Link Shirley Ann Petrillo Monday, 08 June 2015 01:25 posted by Shirley Ann Petrillo

    I actually heard a christian say "gossip is a "respectable sin". Let that sink in.
    I have had the experience of horrible, judgmental, non-confirmed attacks against me after what I said in confidence was told, taken out of context & twisted.
    Don't fellowship with the world, right? Sadly, I've
    found self-proclaimed christians to be cruel, so very cruel, untrustworthy & UNsafe - no different than the world - or worse because we trust the church.
    Truth is needed. Love is needed. Both at the same time is the goal, right? Who needs the information?
    Who needs to mind their own business? Kids need truth & love & protection. Let's learn who is & isn't safe, then pass this wisdom on to the children.

  • Comment Link No More Silence Saturday, 25 April 2015 19:17 posted by No More Silence

    "Why should she be burdened with an insistence on silence when it comes to his infidelities and financial abuses?"

    You should not have to be silent. If someone is actively doing wrong against you, speak up. Don't let the person get away with it.

    Sure the kids find it painful to hear the bad, but that's okay. It would be worse if you had to be victimized and be forced to say nothing.

    So speak loudly against what the chump is doing.

    Having said that, if the actions don't directly affect the kids, you might have to leave them out of it. Remember, what is directed at you may not be their business. You have to be sensitive to that if such is the case.

  • Comment Link TiredofMartyrdom Thursday, 16 April 2015 22:29 posted by TiredofMartyrdom

    I tell my children everything. I've been criticized for this many times, but they knew their dad cheated on me since they were six and two. But their father stayed together another dozen years, and he was a primary influence on their lives. They love him. I never said don't love him. I said I was very angry because he "kisses other girls."
    Now that he's left, they know he doesn't pay child support, and I'm fighting him in court. They know he declined to put them on his health insurance. They know he's with another woman... he told them. I didn't know until the other day, though I strongly suspected as much.
    They don't want to live with him. They're old enough to choose now. They see him for a few hours at a time a few times a week if he's not on vacation with his new love interest.
    They do well in school, very well. One goes to college next year. Wants to be a physicist. Since we have this honest relationship, she can tell me that she's bisexual and we talk about it and even joke.
    I don't think they lie to me. Why would they need to?
    I asked them several times to see a therapist just to talk about issues, in case they're upset with me and their dad, and they've declined.
    They have told me that when their father and I badmouth each other, it upsets them. But there's, in my mind, a difference between badmouthing and honest information.
    They have a right to know who their father is and why he's done, don't they? They have a right to make decisions at their ages, 17 and 14, about how they maintain their relationship with this man. They're not babies anymore.
    All this secretiveness seems additional burden to an already very distraught ex-wife. Why should she be burdened with an insistence on silence when it comes to his infidelities and financial abuses?