Children: Unintended Victims
Years before the affair, Mark’s two oldest children returned from grade school one afternoon and asked their mom and dad a question that was obviously worrying them.
"Will you ever get a divorce?"
"Why do you ask?" they wondered. They had never expressed this concern before.
Their daughter answered, "Because Chrissa just told me her mom and dad are getting a divorce. Her dad's not living at her house anymore. Will you ever do that?"
Mark and Anne’s children wanted assurance in the security of their family. They wanted to believe things would never change for them.
The couple took them into the family room and they sat together on the couch. Mark and Anne knelt in front of them and Mark said, "Look at me. Every family has problems. Moms and dads sometimes argue. Even your mom and dad sometimes get angry with each other, but we always forgive. I promise you that no matter what happens in this family, your mother and I will never get divorced. You don't have to worry about that."
Mark still wince at the thought of that broken promise. It hurts more than the breaking of his marriage vows. When he said "I do" to Anne, she was an adult; at least some part of her understood that well-intended promises are sometimes broken. But the trust of his children was pure, untouched by betrayal. They grasped hold of their dad’s words as if they were a magical guarantee, and never asked the question again.
Perhaps it was an impulsive promise, given out of a sincere desire to guarantee his children. At the time it was spoken, he had no doubt that it was true. He was absolutely certain that nothing would break their marriage apart. That promise still haunts Mark.
When his affair started, he gave little thought to its effect on his children because he never expected them to know about it. Even before his children knew, however, they were affected. They saw less of their dad. When he was with them, he was often distracted. He was pouring most of his emotional energy into Linda and his family got whatever was left.
Mark understands that his affair was not directed at his children. He did not intend to harm them, but the news of his affair was like a bomb, sending shrapnel into their hearts and minds. Subsequent conflicts between him and Anne continued to inflict wounds.
Children are unintended victims.