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My kids learned I had an affair and won't speak to me. What can I do?

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The question

After 30 years of marriage, I ended things with my husband. I wasn't in love and it wasn't fair. He disclosed to our teenage kids (17 and 19) that I had an affair 20 years ago - and now they won't talk to me. I am and continue to be a good mother. What can I do?

The answer

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Going through a divorce in any circumstance can be tremendously difficult. The quality and intensity of emotions that are experienced are shaped by a number of factors, including the reasons for the marriage dissolution and feelings about who is "taking the lead" in the ending the relationship.

Anger, resentment, sadness, bitterness, and loss are all natural feelings that one or both partners may be experiencing. The challenges are particularly amplified when children are involved, as unfortunately all too often children can become pawns in the conflict between two partners.

Your husband's decision to disclose to your children events from your marriage that preceded their birth may have been because he wanted to "get back" at you for pain that he feels you caused him.

Irrespective of your husband's motivations, the best thing you can do is focus on moving forward and repairing the relationship with the kids.

Do not engage in a "he-said, she-said" type of retaliation. You'll likely have the urge to do this (to defend yourself) but this rarely (if ever) turns out well - and will likely only further negatively impact your relationship with your kids.

Have an open conversation with your children, who are likely feeling hurt and betrayed. If they are refusing to speak to you, communicate in another way (i.e., via a letter, card or email). If at all possible, try to encourage them to have one face-to-face conversation with you.

A few key points for you to focus on in your communication:

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  • Underscore that you love them and that your main aim to ensure to close relationship with them.
  • Apologize for your past actions and the impact that this has had on them. (Let them know you weren't proud of your past actions and that you have regret.)
  • Reassure them that decisions you made in your past in no way impact your love for them.
  • Be prepared that they may have a number of questions about your affair: How much you disclose regarding the details is a tricky question, as it may be safe to assume that they have much of the information that your husband already had.
  • Try to keep the discussion focused on ways that you can move forward with them, rather than past details.

Trust that if you have and continue to be a good mother, that ultimately that will prevail. After a number of quite difficult and emotional conversations your relationship will begin to repair over time.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Samra.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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