I recently found out my husband has been cheating on me on and off for years and our marriage is hanging by a thread. Is it best for the kids (and for me) for him to continue to live at home while we try to see if our marriage is worth saving?

And if I could be allowed a Part II for next month, I’d like to ask: If and when he does move out, what is the best way to break the news to the kids? I’ve thought about the classic, “We love you, we just don’t love each other any more” speech, but I don’t want them to think we could just stop loving them too. Any advice?

I am sorry to hear you are going through such an incredibly difficult time. There are complicated layers here so let’s take this in steps. I cannot just say there is a simple answer to this question.

For the first question you ask (for this month), the answer could be different for different families. So let me give you some things to consider while making the decision.

Can you keep conversations of the affairs to the therapy room (best) or at least to when the children are not anywhere in or near the house? A child learning of a parent’s infidelity can be devastating, and children overhear parents even when we think we are doing a great job of whispering or being cautious. (Some parents express to me their belief they should tell their children about an affair. I disagree, and will explain why next month when writing about how and what to tell the children if you separate.)

Research has shown one of the worse things for a child is for them to live in the midst of high conflict parents. So one question is: Can you and your husband live together while you try to see if your marriage is worth saving without it being a high conflict situation? This does not mean never having a fight, and normal levels of arguing are not harmful to children, but high conflict is. If you can keep conflict in front of the children to a minimum, then it can be good for the children not to have a physical separation of their parents. Because research has also shown it is important for children to have a strong and positive attachment to both parents. You can accomplish this in two homes; it is just easier in one.

Also, from the child development literature we know stability and consistency in daily routine are good for children, and make them feel safe. It also allows them to focus on their daily lives and being a kid versus worry about their parents. Still, you also must consider your own mental health as well. If living in the same home with him will result in you being more depressed, anxious, etc. than if you had some space, that is really important, because your ability to parent, and your ability to make decisions about your future, are better with your emotions as intact as possible so you can think clearly.

Some people stay in the home together and create space for themselves there via scheduling and dividing up physical space. Examples would be using work schedules or hobby schedules to be home at somewhat different times, one parent moving into the guest room, agreeing to be in the home on alternating weekends or at least part of weekends being away, etc. If you separate while you are working on your marriage as you describe, it is advisable to have the two homes fairly close together for convenience. While convenient for practical purposes for the children, I would also say when you are separated and working toward getting back together, symbolically you want breathing space, but not to be building distance.


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