Is Infidelity Hereditary?

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Is Infidelity Hereditary?

I ask myself this question a lot. I guess it's more of a fear of mine than a question. In a rational state of mind I can answer this easily: of course not. Infidelity is a choice. No one put a gun to my head and made me cross the line. No one forced me to be unfaithful. And like the source for eye color or skin tone, I don't think there is a "ruin your spouse's life by having an affair" gene.

If you've done much reading or work in the Affair Recovery courses, you have likely heard us wayward spouses refer to being in states of limerence – something similar to being in a fog. "We were out of our minds during our affairs", we say. And while all of that may be true, I greatly fear someday that my own children could be unfaithful because I was. I realize this might sound ridiculous to some and maybe it is. But maybe it's not such a crazy thought.

When I was a little girl, I envisioned that my parents would be together forever. In my idealized world, they were supposed to grow old together. I was supposed to be able to go to my childhood home and take my spouse there one day. We were supposed to have holidays together and my parents were supposed to sit hand in hand at my wedding someday.

I found out about my dad's first affair when I was in middle school. I remember hiding behind their bathroom door while my parents were yelling. I heard my mom go crazy. I heard my dad tell her he no longer loved her and he was moving out.

My dad ended up staying five more years after that night, but he eventually left my mom for a different woman. He continually married or was engaged to several more women throughout his lifetime and was unable to be faithful to any of them until he died.

How did that affect me?

I swore I would never be unfaithful. Ever. I even promised my husband that I knew the pain infidelity caused, so I would be safe. I could never imagine hurting anyone in that way or breaking up a family. I witnessed the shame, pain and rage that his actions caused firsthand. I saw my mom break into a billion pieces. I wondered why she never left him. For years I hated my dad for his selfishness. I hated the other women. I knew my mom wasn't perfect and was pretty codependent, but no one deserved to be abandoned and cheated on like that.

So why do I tell you this?

Because I became the woman I hated. I became what I swore I would never be. All of my pride, my anger, and my insistence that I was better than that got me nowhere. Eleven years into my own marriage, I got entangled in an emotional affair. Three years after that I had another physical affair. Both, ironically, were with men old enough to be my father.

Quite possibly the single greatest lesson I have and continue to learn in my own recovery as an unfaithful wife is humility. How arrogant I was to judge, pretend and never allow my own pain to be transformed.

I thought I was safe. I thought I didn't have to do the work to put boundaries in place with other men. I chose to not fully forgive my dad and sadly, he is now gone from this earth. And by choosing to have two affairs of my own, I transferred every ounce of that shameful legacy onto my husband.

Is infidelity passed down from generations? Has there been divorce and infidelity in your family tree?

I don't know the answer to this. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that nothing can make me safe except radical humility, ruthless honesty, and a ton of hard work. There are some days I don't like accepting the reality that I am a lot like my dad. But then I allow Jesus into the picture. I am reminded that my dad was a broken man, and I too, am extremely broken and need saving. My pride and sufficiency will get me nowhere.

I really hope the legacy of unfaithfulness ends with me. I have come to accept that there are no shortcuts to healing. I am accepting that I will fight this battle the rest of my life. Complacency and "never again" aren't good enough.

I choose to believe that while each of us is unable to change our family trees, we can change our story.

To taking the next step,

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So much truth in this

I am a BS ... my H has had multiple "affairs" of some sort throughout our 15 year marriage ... and I had one of my own somewhere in the middle (Samuel's Vlog this week really REALLY hit home for me).

In my rumination in the past few months I realized that infidelity is a strong theme in my life. My birth dad supposedly left my mom on her wedding night to go sleep with another woman. My mom messed around on my birth dad. My birth dad has a "woman in every port" so to speak when he was driving truck. My mom left my dad to be with the man of her dreams only to have multiple affairs while dating/being engaged/married to him. This man of her dreams had affairs on his first wife and eventually while with my mom (in fact ... after my mom died he ended up back with the woman he cheated on his first wife with).

3 of my 4 serious relationships involved infidelity on my partner's part.

So is it genetic ... or is it just an epidemic? I don't know.

But I do know that the destruction it leaves behind for the parties directly involved (the spouses) and those indirectly (the children) and even those removed (the rest of our friends and families) is horrendous.

Never say never

excellent article Elizabeth.

Changing the legacy

Elizabeth, I believe that issues from my family of origin (FOO) effect my marriage today, no doubt. Neither my husband nor my FOO has a known history of affairs yet my husband I have recently discovered has had more than one affair. I think what we see modeled in our families has an impact but I believe that our culture has changed dramatically in the last 20 years and electronic communication (for affairs) and porn are having a tremendously negative effect on marriage that cannot be minimized. I appreciate your thoughtful columns.

I thought of this also. Only

I thought of this also. Only my situation is different. I am the betrayed spouse. My grandfather betrayed my grandmother multiple times but she stayed with him. I think only out of love for her family and I don’t think she ever felt that she would be able to survive with her children by herself. My mother was betrayed by my father and she became an alcoholic to numb the pain. She never left my father but my father did become a better husband and father. Now I’m the one who is betrayed. Three generations of betrayed women. I pray that my two daughters never find themselves betrayed by their spouses.

Infidelity "runs" in my family, too

My mother had an affair while her and my father were separated. My sister and I were 5 and 6 at the time. I remember the man quite well...he was nice to us, but I did bloody his nose when we were play-boxing. Not sure if it was on-purpose. Anyway, it's something my mother regrets. My father possibly had affairs, but I don't know for sure. Probably never will...we're not close. I ended up having an affair, but I honestly don't see any connection with my mother's infidelity. What I do see a connection with is things I struggle with that my parents struggled with, such as lust and self-control. So, while infidelity may not be hereditary, what causes it can be, if that makes sense.

As a result, with my children, it's something I'll have to try to be a really good example with. My children are very young (2 and 3), and will be unlikely to ever find out about the affair (only my wife, myself, the other woman, and our therapists know about it). So they will (hopefully) never have to deal with the direct consequences of it. My wife and I are doing better than we ever have with our marriage, and are committed and determined to make things work. Hopefully that example will be enough to determine our kids from any hereditary issues that might open the door to infidelity when they grow older. Hope that all makes sense.

Family Affairs

I appreciate reading your thoughts and emotions on this subject. It has constantly run through my mind as to why my UH thought it was acceptable to have an emotional and physical affair (2 different AP's) in our 32 year marriage. His father was a functioning alcoholic. His mother left after approximately 20 years of marriage for another man. It shook him to the core, as he swears he never heard them fight. His mother still defends her choice but it really affected the family. My UH has married twice (his ex cheated on him) and his brother has had two unsuccessful marriages. I have wondered many, many times if infidelity was hereditary. So appreciate your candor and sharing on this subject. Thank you.


Thank you for sharing, I know now I shared (against my will) many things in common with my parents, especially shame. I know shame can give rise to pride, self-righteousness etc, very dangerous! Maybe this is how the sins of the fathers are visited on the children?

Thank you...

To all of you who shared thoughtful responses above...thank you. I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing and I love learning from you. I know this is such a hard topic, but I know as each of us processes how we got here (betrayed or unfaithful), I think looking back can be a necessary part to stop destructive generational patterns.
Best to all of you in your healing journey!

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