Patricia Redlich

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cheating Son

29th November, 2009


I am trying to make sense out of something which is really distressing me. Our 34 year old son was in a relationship with a lovely girl for five years. A few months ago he moved out of their apartment. The still see each other, but he is also seeing another girl, and lying to both.

I cannot condone what he is doing and have talked to him about it. My distress, however, is with my husband's reaction. He will not talk to our son about his behaviour and accuses me of interfering. It appears my husband sees nothing wrong in what is going on, and somehow gets some kind of kick out of what my son is doing. I am aware that all of this has deep roots. And I'm wondering if my son is playing out some role his father played in the past, just to get from him the recognition he always yearned for.

While they were growing up, the children were exposed to a lot of fighting between me and my husband due to my husband's insane jealousy and moodiness. I kept the peace at all costs because the marriage was a dangerous place to be at the time, and with four children to raise there were also practical considerations. Because of his job, my husband was always in the company of young, attractive girls. He still is. And now I can't help wondering if my husband cheated on me, and my son knows?

Some years ago my son said he had no idea how I put up with his father's behaviour, but presumed that there was nothing I could have done, and nowhere I could have gone. I was very taken aback, because I thought I had done a fairly good job at covering it all up. At that time I thought he was talking about his father's bad moods. Now I wonder if he was talking about other women my husband might have had? He is a very loving person, has a terrific career, and I would be devastated to see him mess up his life.

Would it be unfair on my son to ask him if my husband cheated? Or if he saw my husband's involvement with his young female colleagues as a form of cheating? And am I wrong to ask my husband to be responsible and talk to our son? My understanding of parenthood is to always be there.

There are two storey-lines getting entangled here, namely your son's and yours, so let's try to untangle them.

You are absolutely right to let your son know that you don't approve of his behaviour towards the women in his life. He either told you about it, or allowed you to witness it, so it is entirely correct to take a stand. That's not just because you're a parent. You are also his friend. And a good friend does not pretend bad behaviour is acceptable. That said, don't fool yourself into thinking you can change your son. His behaviour is not your responsibility. It's his. Having said your piece, you must then bow out.

I don't think it's appropriate to try pushing your husband into making a similar stand. The danger here is that you're pushing him for the wrong reason. You're testing him. You want to hear what he has to say. You're seeking clarity about where your husband stands in the fidelity stakes, for your own peace of mind. It's alright to want reassurance. Asking him to criticise your son's behaviour is not a good way to go about getting that reassurance.

No, I don't think you should ask your son about his father's fidelity either. Dragging children into their parents' private lives - no matter how old they are - is never a good idea. But there is something fundamentally important that you could do for your son. He has already set the scene, even though it was a few years ago, by telling you he wondered how you had stuck it, how you had put up with his father's behaviour. Talk to him about that. Tell him that there was, indeed, nowhere you could go. Or rather that you judged, on balance, that it was better to stay. How it did not mean you condoned his father's behaviour. Let him know that you worry about the role model his father may have been for him. Tell him you're concerned that perhaps, in staying, you left him with the unconscious, but powerful, message, that it's somehow alright to be less than nice to women.

Please understand that I am not attempting to lay a guilt trip on you. I know you love your son and I'm just trying to help you express that love. The bottom line is that we're not responsible for the legacy anyone else leaves our children. What your husband has done, or failed to do, is not down to you. The only behaviour we can legitimately explain is our own. Nor am I for one moment criticising your decision to stay and put up with your husband. All I'm saying is that it might be very wonderful, and indeed necessary, for your son to hear you talk about it. And don't you see? Having that talk is your very best shot at weakening your husband as a role model, somebody your son might want to please by behaving badly, which is what you're really worried about.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design