Did Ashley Madison ruin your week? What do you do now?

I was going to entitle this “did ashley madison ruin your life”.  But I can’t manage to give this company that degree of power.  That being said, I’m guessing that more than one wife found out recently that their husband had sought an affair.  That’s a tough blow for even the strongest marriage to take.  Overnight there is anger, anxiety, fear, shame, disgust and a million other emotions swirling.

I’ve written about this site before because my husband had signed up for it once a number of years ago.  From the ‘history’ it seemed pretty clear that nothing amounted from it and truth be told I think he found it incredibly boring and he likely never accessed it after his initial ‘sign up’ high.  I’m sure he found the site ‘boring’…but that’s because he spent a few years acting out A LOT sexually – visiting chat sites, frequenting massage parlors, having sex with a couple women he knew – lots of horrible and unacceptable behavior.  I think the ‘vanilla’ nature of A.M. didn’t capture his interest as much as his other activities.

So you’ve just found out that your trusted mate has an Ashley Madison account.  Now What?

I think that most men on that site fall into 3 different categories.

  1.  The most harmless category will be the one that everyone is claiming to belong to.  The “I was just curious what it was but never sought an affair”.  A prurient interest can get the best of anyone and lead them to explore a website like this.  Someone sees a commercial – can’t believe what is being advertised – types in the URL and next thing you know the company is charging a monthly fee and you just wish you had never heard of the thing.  Honestly, I think this is probably true for some people.  I believe it because I am one of those people.  I saw a billboard and thought, what is that? A movie ad? A TV show? I searched the site – was pissed off it existed – and emptied my history.  OK, I never made an ad or paid for the service but men can be pretty dumb about these things and I don’t put it past someone to go that far down the path of fantasy only to realize they have no interest in being there.  So if your husband is claiming that this is his story then maybe it is.  Ask him to share his password – go to the site – see how much activity he has and go from there.
  2. A truly repentant man.  Let’s face it – people screw up.  A man can stray for any number of reasons but it doesn’t always make him a horrible or unloving person.  Marriages get over infidelity (or attempted infidelity) all the time.  Tust gets rebuilt.  Scars heal. Take for instance a man like my husband – a sex addict who has struggled for years with maintaining honest and loyal boundaries with me.  He is fully accepting of his mistakes and seeks every day to be a better man.  He shares his ‘slips’ and takes total responsibility for his actions.  In my situation, I knew long ago that there was an AM account so when this leak happened I just made sure that we cancelled the credit card he used to use for his secret activities so the info doesn’t get into the hands of hackers.  I don’t know if my husband was one of the people leaked, or if his account was even still active (I think we cancelled it but sites like this make that really hard so it may have still been up) but it doesn’t matter as I knew all about it and he has long since been forgiven.  As hard as it is to learn that your mate was seeking sex outside the marriage… if he seems truly remorseful and willing to be truthful and honest then try to remember who he really is as a person before throwing him to the curb.  He might deserve one more chance.
  3. The last group is of course the guys who cheat but have no guilt, no remorse and no interest in changing.  This is the guy who swears it will never happen again only to turn around and do it the next day.  This person may be an addict, or a disrespectful person or no longer in love, or maybe he is just a jerk – but this is the danger area.   He probably blames everything and everyone externally and doesn’t take responsibility for his own actions.  He is the kind of guy who thinks he deserves more than the rest.  You know the type.  Maybe you are married to him.  In this case there are a lot of decisions to make – but it’s important to not delude yourself into believing his words.  If you do, chances are you will just be hurt again and again.  You may decide to stay with this person for your own reasons…children, money, familiarity…but try to protect yourself and understand that another woman/women are just going to be a part of your life.  He may change eventually – but if not, just know your own limits.

All 22 million people (if that is the current number) on that AM site aren’t horrible people.  Some are.  Try to know who you are dealing with before taking the next step.

A reminder to finish your boundaries list – NOW

My friend Lisa started looking through her husbands email the other day while he was out of town.  Her husband has had an affair partner for a while but he swore to Lisa it was over (sound familiar?).  It’s come up 4 times now that he said it was over and she learned it wasn’t.  I wasn’t surprised when she contacted me the other day and sent a screen grab of a graphic email between her husband and this other woman.

Now Lisa is beating herself up for looking at his email in the first place.  For the sake of her son, she hasn’t asked her husband to move out.  Lisa is obviously disappointed, and confused – and she has no idea what to do now.   Should she Divorce? Call the other woman’s husband? Have an affair of her own?  These are all extreme reactions and probably not the best choices but her confusion is made worse because she didn’t prepare herself for this day.

Because of Lisa’s experience I am going to write AGAIN about setting personal boundaries.  I can’t tell you how important it is for anyone who deals with infidelity in marriage to know your limits and have a plan in place BEFORE you find out that he is still lying or cheating or who knows what.  The time to make these decisions is not in the midst of a crisis.  These decisions should be made when you are sane and strong and clear headed.  I live in California and I have an earthquake plan.  I know where the water and first aid and batteries are stored and know where to seek shelter in a major quake.  It’s not a good idea to be figuring these things out while my house is falling down around me.  This same concept can be applied to a marriage that is trying at times.

I can’t stress enough how valuable it is – in any relationship, but especially those with a history of wrongdoing – to have a comprehensive, written list of boundaries and consequences.   It’s not an easy list to create, it takes a bit of time and editing to come up with something that both you and your spouse can abide by, and that at the same time makes you feel protected.

At the time I created my list, I didn’t realize how comforting it would be to pre-plan my reaction if there are any slips on his part in the future.  It is a sign of respect to myself to put my needs first in a time of fear or crisis.  The list is specific enough that there is no grey area for misunderstandings.

Some examples of boundaries are:  Must share all computer/phone passwords, Must install anti-porn software on your computer, Must attend couples counseling, Must tell me within 24 hours if you have communication with any acting out partner, etc.  Your boundaries will include any and everything that you feel needs to be on the list but realize that we still need to live in the real world.  It’s unrealistic for me to say  “if you ever lie, even for a second, about anything in the world, I will leave you”.  That’s crazy.  For my husband, his learned behavior from his crappy childhood is to lie when under pressure.  He has been dealing with this a lot and has made progress but lying is an easy thing to resort to.  That’s why he has 24 hours to come clean.  That gives him time to call brothers from SAA, talk to his sponsor or therapist, etc.   It’s fair.  That’s what marriage is about.

Then their are the consequences.  This does not mean punishment!!  This is what I need to do to feel safe and take care of myself if I am ever in this situation again.  For me, the concept of a therapeutic separation is vital – it gives me time to sort out my feelings and discuss my options with my therapist if something goes awry.  There is no time limit on this separation, but when the shit hits the fan it’s important to have a specific plan in place including which of you is to leave the house, where will you go for the separation, etc –  in the case of an emergency, you don’t want to be worrying about which friends couch you can sleep on.

Boundaries lists can and will change over time, but a starting place is really important.  I urge everyone in a relationship that has been fraught with secrets, lies, affairs, etc to create a list and stick with it.  If your list is fair and your husband won’t agree to it then it might be time to consider further your reasons for being in the relationship.  This is why the consequence portion of this list is so very important.

In a million years I never dreamed my marriage would end up with such a list attached to it.  But that’s life – and in this life us women sometimes need to put our needs first in order to thrive.

I want to remind you of a few other things that I previously wrote about on this subject:

First and foremost – a list of boundaries is not intended to be punishment for your partner/spouse.  It is a list of behaviors that you will not tolerate.   If we don’t define what we think is acceptable behavior it’s pretty shocking the things we will end up accepting.   But if we utilize boundaries to create fences around our relationships, it helps us to stay on track. Once we know where the fence line is we know that we need to stop and reconsider our direction when we get to close to the edge.

Once we clearly state the boundaries in our relationship then there can be no excuses or misunderstandings.   You see, if I never say that I’m not comfortable with my husband going to a strip club – and then he goes one day because it’s convenient and those things happen – he could just say “It was nothing – I didn’t know it would bother you” and I wouldn’t have any legitimate repercussion.  Our partners can’t read our minds so we need to be very specific.   There can be no grey area when it comes to setting boundaries, especially around sexual activities or other addictions.  I say this because if your list is too vague then you might find excuses not to adhere to it when push comes to shove.  If my friend Lisa simply said I will leave you if you ever cheat again – but didn’t define cheating to include emails – then she would still be confused about what to do today.

It’s not intended to be an unreasonable list which turns your mate into a married version of a monk.  The list needs to be reasonable and is best created with an empathetic heart .  It’s essentially a more detailed extension of a wedding vow.  If he was willing to commit in front of God and family that he would be faithful and loyal on your wedding day – then expanding on what exactly that means to you shouldn’t be an issue.  Your boundaries could include details about money, your children, how you communicate – anything that you feel is necessary to make yourself feel safe.  It took me weeks to finalize my list – to make sure that it was inclusive and that it was fair.

Most of all, it’s not about what he does – it’s about the consequences and how you will react in response to him overstepping his boundaries.  I have been in horrible relationships in my life.  I have accepted lying, cheating, drinking, abuse – you name it.  I had very few boundaries and the ones I did have kept getting pushed away as things got worse.  The reason my ‘boundaries’ didn’t work was because I hadn’t determined the consequences if they weren’t adhered to.   You need to state very clearly how you will react if boundaries are violated.   And you have to follow through with any consequence you set – if you don’t follow through then you’ll be telling your partner that your wishes don’t need to be respected.  A boundary without a consequence is just a hope.

None of this is easy but I am lucky enough to have an exceptional therapist who guides me through this process.  Also, my husband is committed to getting & staying sober and is supportive of implementing these tools.   I am so grateful for that.

A blog for both the cheater and the cheated upon.

I certainly don’t claim to be an authority on the subject of marital infidelity, but I do think I offer a unique perspective on the subject.   My understanding arrived first as the unknowing wife who was cheated on – repeatedly – by her sex addict husband.  Second, as the lonely, confused woman who sought comfort in an affair in order to escape the pain of my husbands actions.

Many of those who follow my blog are women who themselves have experienced the unimaginable pain of discovering their husband has been unfaithful.  Another significant group of followers are men who are married but cheating on their spouse.  Interestingly, I also have women following my blog who are the the mistresses of married men.  I appreciate that there are people from all sides of this complicated subject reading my posts.   I have no ill will toward any of these people and I sincerely hope that once in a while something I say resonates with each one of you.

This diverse audience is the reason that I write in equal parts from the viewpoint of both the hurt wife and the cheating spouse.  It’s natural to just want to read the parts that you personally relate to – this selective reading provides support through familiarity but not necessarily any growth.  I encourage everyone to read both sides of my story, perhaps by doing so one can begin to find some empathy or understanding toward the other parties involved.  Trying to understand isn’t the same as condoning lying and betrayal  – but by examining the flip side of the situation I believe we can start to move closer to the goal of healing.

Here are some of the feelings that I have experienced over the past 10 years through my discovery of my husbands addiction, his acting out, his relapse, my affair and our recovery.   If you have felt any of these feelings then I suspect many of my blog posts could be of interest to you – no matter which side of the affair you fell on:

Humiliation, disgrace, embarrassment, denial, apathy, pity, anger, hatred, loathing, rage, contrition, revulsion, guilt, superiority, shame, wrath, resentment, pity, indifference, compulsion, disgust, preoccupation, fixation, anxiety, obsession, passion, longing, craving, desire, loneliness, controlling, fearful, comprehending, powerlessness, forgiving, compassion, understanding, gratitude, empathy, tolerance, trust, love.