My Father Cheats On My Mother
Much of your love-life thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are learned. Your most important teachers are members of your own family of origin. You learn mostly by observing what members of your family experience in their love-lives.
The good news is, if you’ve learned something about love that is complicating your love-life, you can unlearn it and learn something better. This is one of the greatest things about being a human being.
Growing up in a family where your father cheats on your mother, you are bound to learn a lot dysfunctional things about ‘commitment’ from your parents. For example, if your mother stays with your father knowing (but not knowing) that he is cheating on her, she is teaching her children that cheating is a tolerable marital offense. Meaning it’s not bad enough to leave your spouse over.
Under the right conditions you may reenact this lesson in your own love-life. You might marry a man or woman who cheats on you and you end up tolerating it just like your mother tolerated your father’s cheating.
Another lesson learned in this kind of love-life situation is, under the right conditions you can cheat on your spouse and get away with it. One of those ‘right’ conditions is to pick a spouse with the kind of personality that will adapt to this lack of commitment. Most likely, a man or woman whose self-esteem is low enough not to challenge you if and when when she or he catches you because he or she has conflicts about directly confronting someone she loves.
Remember, if you grew up with a father who cheated on a tolerating mother, you learned both of these love-life lessons simultaneously. Which lesson ends up being enacted depends upon the personality of your spouse and the conditions established in your relationship. It is very common for the offspring of such a family situation to either cheat or be cheated upon in their love relationships. Sometimes both alternately in the course of a relationship. The hard part is, most of this will be beyond your awareness.
In my practice I have encountered people who never change this reenactment of their family history. For the course of their love-lives they remain negatively influenced by the love-life commitment problems of their fathers and mothers. This tragic consequence is very common. Another group of people change this seemingly inevitable consequence only ‘after’ they have suffered an experience of separation and divorce. They reenact this love-life problem, suffer its consequences, then make the required changes in themselves and their love-lives in later love relationships.
And of course there are those individuals, fewer in number to be sure, who change themselves and their love-lives after they’ve become aware of what they have learned about love and ‘before’ enacting it in a marriage. Fortunately, this latter group gets to avoid much of the suffering this kind of love-life problem can cause.
If your father cheated (or cheats) on your mother, the first step in unplugging his commitment problem from your love-life is to understand and admit to yourself that he, your beloved father, has a big commitment problem. You have to take all the false glory and rationalizations out of it. You have to debunk all the excuses and reasons that were given to explain why it happened.
You have to see this for what it is, a tragically limited, disrespectful, abusive way of dealing with personal problems that reflects a sorry absence of courage and love. Only then will you be able to begin challenging cheating as a probable learned solution to your love-life difficulties.
From there you have to accept the fact that you simply don’t know anything better at this point in time. If you’ve been able to witness something better in other family of origin love relationships, you’re lucky. Make those family relationships a conscious reference for how men and women should love and work in a marriage. If you can’t find a healthier reference than your parents’ love-life together, expect to start from scratch.
What this means is, you have to accept the fact that a big chunk of what you’ve learned about love doesn’t work. You know that by simply checking the limitations of your parents’ relationship. You now realize you have to re-invent your own love-life. Do it like you’d do some project around the house. Put some time into it. Research and learn from people who know what healthy love is, either in person or through reading.
Outgrowing your father’s cheating and your mother’s tolerance of it will feel like a liberation in time. For all your trouble and effort, your reward is a better love-life for you, that you can pass onto your kids if you have some.
Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan