City Research Online

Exploring the lived experience of parental infidelity

Salih, L. (2019). Exploring the lived experience of parental infidelity. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


A recent survey found that 36% of men and 21% of women have engaged in an extra-marital affair at least once (Trustify, 2018). The impact of infidelity on the partner who has been betrayed has been widely studied. Research has shown that it can precipitate severe anxiety and depression (Cano & O’Leary, 2000) and can cause significant damage to an individual’s self-esteem and confidence (Charny & Parnass, 1995). However, there has been very little exploration of the experience of infidelity, for individuals outside of the relationship dyad, such as their offspring. The endeavour of the current study was to extend our knowledge on this by exploring the lived experience of parental infidelity. Qualitative data were collected from individual, semi-structured interviews with six adult participants who had experienced parental infidelity at least ten years prior to their participation in this research. An interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) methodology was used and a critical-realist epistemological stance was taken. Analyses revealed findings of four master themes elucidating participants’ experiences of parental infidelity: adultification, challenges in romantic relationships, the psychological experience and the pathway to healing. These master themes were sub-categorised into sub-themes as follows: adultification – becoming an emotional carer and awareness of parental sexuality, challenges in romantic relationships – fear of abandonment and relationship breakdown, intergenerational transmission of infidelity and differentiation, the psychological experience – an everlasting pain, the sense of self and loss: detachment and disconnection, the pathway to healing – restoration through destruction, perspective: intellectualisation and understanding and honesty and openness. Findings indicate that parental infidelity is related to various aspects of an adult child’s life. Theoretical, research and clinical implications alongside limitations and ideas for future research are discussed.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
City, University of London (-2022) > School of Arts & Social Sciences
School of Arts & Social Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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