While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On dealing with one parent who cheats on the other:
I’m a divorced woman whose husband cheated. I have six children. While cheating is certainly not an admirable thing to do, and often the catalyst for divorce, it is not a reason for a child to choose to sever a relationship with the parent.
A father’s* relationships with his wife and his lover are not really a statement of his love for his children. Wrecking the home, humiliating the mother are tough, and do affect the children, no doubt, but it’s not about them. Painful as the situation is for everyone, it does not negate what might be some wonderful qualities he may have as a parent. He might be a great dad, lousy husband.
If the children were babies and he was abandoning them, leaving them destitute, sure . . . a bum, write him off. But I tried very hard to not involve my children in the pain of my divorce, or malign my ex. (Let me tell you, it’s not easy to do.) Nine years out, I can honestly say that the effort was worth it, my children love and admire both of us, we work well as a family when [stuff] hits the fan and even in happier times. Life goes on.
*The original letter on this involved a father, thus the genders assigned here. — CH
My father’s affair came out when I was in college, more than [mumble]-teen years ago. The separation and divorce were public and devastating.
Now, I am in my 30s, and over the past several years Lying Dad and I have developed a closer relationship. Some of that had to do with his getting healthier, some with my willingness to point out to him (repeatedly, and directly) that I knew he was lying and his lies made it more difficult for us to be close. Surprisingly, now I can truly say what I thought I’d never be able to say: My [lying, cheating] father does love me.
It’s just that he also has no idea how to behave, and is learning slowly in his late 60s.
I am not suggesting that kids should put up with abuse or any kind of belittling behavior, or that liars are just misunderstood victims, or any [poop] like that. But what I’d want the me of years ago to know is this: It’s not about you, and you will survive this no matter what your father does in the coming years. Also that life is long, and whatever is going on today will pass, eventually.
Friends and support groups and therapy all helped me to see that, while my father was untrustworthy, that didn’t mean the rest of the world was. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.
On staying together despite a radical difference in sex drives:
A very helpful thing is to offer a massage — or massage each other — with the understanding that there is no expectation of sex. I know that seems counterproductive . . . but it’s about giving. A massage, even if it doesn’t lead to sex, bridges the chasm of non-touch between you.