06/27/2011 03:49 am ET Updated Aug 26, 2011

ACOA Should Be for Adult Children of Adulterers as well as Alcoholics

My name is Erica and I am the daughter of an adulterer. I discovered the adulterous streak in my own family when my mother told me my father was having affairs. I was in my thirties at the time and, although I had no idea what was going on when I was a child, it somehow didn't surprise me. My father was one of four brothers, all of whom were womanizers. I married someone who I was sure would be faithful and I was totally blindsided by his affair with a co-worker.

Divorce has many negative effects on kids, but divorce due to infidelity has some unexpected fallout, especially to the sons of adulterers, but to daughters as well. The Kennedy family is the most famous example of womanizing passed down through the generations.

Frank Pittman, one of the best writers ever on the subject of infidelity has some wonderful insights. Here in his book "Private Lies" he talks about what effect parental affairs have on children's adult lives:

"Parental affairs can be the training ground for their children's adult lives. Crises of infidelity disfigure the pretty domestic fantasies about falling in love and living happily ever after. For children these are indelible lessons about what they can expect when they grow up-from men, from women and from marriage."

Children do survive divorce, but they pay a heavy price for their parents' infidelities. Perhaps the most common effect of parental infidelity is the children's subsequent infidelities. For the next generation, I think it would be a good idea if we had self-help groups for Adult Children of Adulterers. The impact and the the problems of people who grew up amid secrets and deceits and constant threats to the marital stability are not greatly different from those faced by children growing up with alcoholic parents. Children are not likely to grow up normally surrounded by dishonesty, disorientation, gender obsessions, or the temporary insanity and fugue states of high romance. But if infidelity and divorce are considered normal, normal children can grow up expecting it and preparing for it.

Adult children of adulterers may have identified with the betrayer of the family....As children see it, adulterers are out having fun, getting the excitement the folks back home are missing. Children of infidelity, especially the sons of philanderers, are very much at risk to become philanderers themselves."

As I can attest, the sons may become adulterers but the daughters marry them. Maria Shriver, the betrayed wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a Kennedy.

Dave Carder, author of "Close Calls: What Adulterers Want You to Know About Protecting Your Marriage" says it can be difficult to find out the family history of adulterers because it's often kept a secret. He says, "Men may have learned to self-medicate through sex, especially if they grew up in a family atmosphere of anger and shame. Chronically conflicted families can predispose individuals to addictive or compulsive behavior, which may be acted out through sex."

Arnold Schwarzenegger certainly grew up in an atmosphere of "anger and shame." In an interview with "Fortune" in 2004, told how he suffered what "would now be called child abuse" at the hands of his father, a member of the Nazi Party, who beat him regularly. Interestingly, his father preferred his stepbrother Meinhard, because he suspected Arnold wasn't his "real" son. In a strange psychological twist, Arnold turned the tables as an adult by fathering a child in an adulterous relationship under the nose of his wife and his "real" children.

If it existed, I'd certainly attend Adult Children of Adulterers. I might meet some famous sons and daughters there.