Working with sex addiction clients who are parents inevitably brings up the question, “How and what do we tell the children?”
The answer to this question varies from family to family and with the children’s ages and developmental level. Regardless of whether the children are young or adults, parents always want to do the best that they can to help their children through this process.
Children of any age in any family where addiction is present can present a unique challenge. Questions arise as to what, if and how much to tell children about the addiction. Another question that arises is how much the children have been affected by the sexual addiction.
Talking to children about a partner’s sex addiction can be an especially daunting task for a parent. Thoughtful consideration needs to be given as to how to present the information in an appropriate manner. Often, “sweeping problems under the rug” has been an issue in the sex addict’s family or that of their partner’s family of origin, and secrets and lies have played a role in the addictive cycle for the adults involved. So communicating effectively in a way that benefits the children can be an important step toward breaking this negative cycle.
Parents’ behaviors and the way they relate with each other affect children deeply and profoundly. When parents are in crisis, there can be times where a parent does not communicate well with their child, or exhibits depression and anxiety that the child senses. Poor relational skills on a parent’s part can be a source of upset and hurt for children, and can result in the child internalizing negative messages about relationships that follow them into their adult life.
As much as parents wish to shield children from their own mistakes, keeping secrets does not accomplish this.
Prior to disclosing information to children, it is very helpful to speak with a skilled therapist and give careful consideration to what is going to be said. It may be the best choice not to share information regarding the sex addict’s acting-out behaviors; the important thing is to engage in an honest dialogue for a child’s feelings to be heard and voiced.
Older or adult children may need to be told more information, so that their perception of what has occurred is validated, and they can build the coping strategies to manage their feelings surrounding what has happened in the family system.
Regardless, it is very important that parents model addressing problems directly, rather than covertly to propagate healthy strategies for dealing with life issues. A solid relationship with a skilled therapist trained in love and sex addiction can help guide parents through this process.