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.

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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.

How badly we crave what we don’t really have…the allure of our lovers

I am always astonished by my mom’s insightfulness.  We were speaking recently about how desire inevitably ebbs and flows in long term relationships.  During the conversation I mentioned that in my relationship with my ex-boyfriend the physical desire for him never wavered.  In fact, I said, it grew and grew over the years and when we finally broke up it was at it’s height.  I used this personal example to ‘prove’ that the curse of long term relationships to destroy passion wasn’t always the rule.

Once I finished telling her my thoughts she responded with an observation that had never crossed my rose colored mind.  She said “the passion lasted because you never really had him”.  Wow.  That is absolutely true and it took me over 20 years to learn it.

This is the ex I have written of before.  We met when I was 23 and were together off and on for 12 years.  We were serious for long stretches of time, then would break up, and eventually would find our way back to one another.  Sometimes the break up lasted a day, sometimes a few weeks, and once it lasted almost 2 years.  This is also the ex that I had an affair with once I learned of my husbands infidelity.  This “affair” was mostly emotional since he lives in another state but it had it’s physical moments as well.  I finally ended it for good almost 2 years ago.  21 years after I met him.  But my mom was right – I never really had him.  I always knew that he could walk out the door the next day.  I felt insecure in the status of our union and anxious about our future.  I never truly was able to depend on him and when I did he usually let me down.  It was that thrill and that uncertainty that kept the flame alive.

I think this is the case with most affairs as well.  We feel a heightened sense of passion because we know at any time the person is going to be pulled from our grasps.  We desperately cling to the moments we can hold them, touch them, see them.  And we are left longing for him/her in those long lonely nights when they are not with us.

This is a horrible way to live.  Always worrying that it’s the last time you will be together, wondering if the feelings are true, imagining them with their spouse and their families, knowing deep down that if they really wanted to be with us they would be.   We go days without hearing from them and our anxiety builds with each hour -then comes the thrill when they reach out again and this act calms all of our insecurities while setting us up for yet another round of passion followed by loss.  It’s a painful cycle.  We want so badly to believe in the fairy tale ending.  But at some point in our adult lives we need to accept that fairy tales are not true.  We do not have them.

Meetings of Two – rebuilding after an affair.

My husband and I have a weekend ritual when we sit down for a ‘check up’ with one another.  During this time we talk about how we are feeling about our relationship and ourselves.  We tell one another if we have struggled with trust, anger or resentment.  We announce the thing we did during that week that most improved our relationship and on the flip side the one thing we each did that hurt our relationship.  Sometimes the conversations are stimulating and go on forever – other times they are a little lackluster and neither of us have much to talk about.   I never know where these meetings will take us.

We like to go to our favorite coffee shop for these weekly discussions – it makes it feel more like an event or a date.  Since we had brunch plans with friends later this morning we decided to hold this weeks meeting at home, giving us the perfect opportunity to watch Esther Perel’s TED talk entitled “Rethinking Infidelity” about why people cheat.  This talk was such a great catalyst to conversation.  Both my husband and I found so much of what she said to be of interest.  It raised incredibly interesting points and questions and led to another very honest discussion about my husbands addiction-related infidelities as well as my own affair and what the two had in common.   We talked about how we felt during and after our trysts, we talked about the fantasy aspect of our actions, we talked about the power of our disclosures, we talked about anxiety and longing and desire and regret and sex.

Seeking out sources of smart, insightful information is so important when confronted with an issue such as marital infidelity.  I have gotten a lot of help from books and therapists in the past – but somehow, Eshter Perel can cut to the quick in a riveting 20 minute video.  If you haven’t already seen it, and are in a relationship, it’s worth watching.  I highly recommend watching with your spouse and see where the conversation takes you.

A marriage with secrets is doomed to disappoint

I want to follow up on my last post in which I pointed out that after infidelity I think that the offending spouse should be willing to share any and all information that will help his/her mate feel safe.  I want to add a bit to what I had said.

I absolutely believe that if the ‘cheater’ is truly committed to changing then they will have absolutely no hesitation in providing the information and access that is requested.  This is not a violation of privacy.  This is a partnership where there are no secrets…and that is the only kind that seems worthwhile to me.  If your spouse is unwilling to share something like his phone code, then what else is he hiding.  Why does he think that is OK?  Why does he think his actions shouldn’t have consequences.

My husband has GPS on his phone.  He has given me all of his passwords.  He will “share” his computer screen with me at any time with no warning.  He shares his feelings.  He goes to therapy.  He attends SAA meetings.  He never has one on one lunches with female colleagues.  I have every one of his credit card passwords.  He is willing to take yearly lie detector tests.  On paper this sounds overwhelming.  But these are the things I asked for a year ago and which he agreed.  These were some of the boundaries that I set with the help of my therapist.  At the time, I used all of these “powers’ and he was supportive of it.  He never questioned my following up on him.  He just assured me he has nothing to hide.  Time and again it proved to be true.  I have all but stopped looking after him.  Because I understand how sneaking addicts can be, I sometimes spot check things on c/c statements or GPS or email.  But to date, there have been no slips.

I always tell my husband when I feel the need to “check” on him.  It shouldn’t be my burden alone.  He hurt me and ruined my trust and I shouldn’t have to experience the painful moments alone.  He deserves to go on that journey with me, if only as a witness to my pain.  Not for him to feel guilty but to understand me and support me.

If you can’t stop researching and spying on your mate then I think you need to really talk about that and discuss with him reasonable steps that he can take to help your security.  Its not healthy to spy – in fact it is a dishonest act and not the example you want to be.  The other harm with secretly spying is it puts your efforts in the wrong area.  If you have been betrayed you need to work on yourself and care for yourself – you don’t need to spend hours hacking into an email account.  This isn’t beneficial.

Calmly ask your spouse to help you by giving you the safety nets you need so if you are ever freaking out you can use those tools.  They aren’t meant to be abused (though in the beginning they probably will be).  At first I checked my husbands GPS multiple times a day.  Now it’s more like once a week.  That is progress that would not have been possible without the cooperation of my husband.

Another thing to note.  This is a two way street.  I will happily provide my husband with any information about my life that he desires.  I have nothing to hide.  I am married to an amazing man…so why would I want to?

The original 6 emotions

The original six recognized emotions are: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.

After I found out about my husbands infidelities I experience 5 of those 6 emotions on a daily basis for a very, very long time.  But we made it through all of that and I’m happy to report that my emotions are regularly in the happiness orbit most of the time now.

I got through those 5 emotions, but there is a secondary emotion that I’m not sure any relationship can truly rebound from.  It takes disgust and anger and churns it into one big, powerful & gross feeling.  That intense mixture makes you feel like you are better than the person you hold that feeling toward.  It is a feeling so overpowering that it makes you see the other person as so little and useless that it wouldn’t matter to you if they disappeared altogether.  This feeling is contempt.

During all of the pain and suffering I felt over the past 7 year I never went so far as to feel contempt.  There were times I wanted to ACT better, but that is not to be confused to thinking I AM better.  I could get angry and sad but never saw my husband as anything but an equal who is very sick and made a big mistake.

Denial: Is it a necessary component to a relationship?

Faith, trust, belief, confidence.  These are words that regularly show up in discussions about love and relationships.  I am pretty sure that each of those words and their flowery synonyms were spoken multiple times during my own wedding service.

On the day that I married my husband I was in a beautiful dream state about what my future would hold.  My fantasy world hadn’t allowed me to delve into my fiance’s history and how it could affect my life.  He was very upfront about having cheated on his first 2 wives and fully admitted that he was a sex and love addict.  But I wasn’t willing to consider that his history could affect my future.  I believed him when he said it would be different with me.   I had blind faith that our love was stronger than the others.   I was confident that I was not the kind of person he would cheat on.  If you have read any of my other posts, you know that my fantasy life eventually exploded to reveal a hard truth and I was forced at once to become a realist.

Once a wife has been lied to and cheated on, I’m not sure she will ever be able to fully trust her mate again in that area of her life .  I think there is always that very real concern in the back of our minds that the lies and affairs could happen again.  This is especially true when the lying and cheating happens over and over again as it did in my case.  This doesn’t mean I don’t trust him in other areas of our life.  I believe with 100% of my being that he would take a bullet for me.  I know he will be there whenever I ask and do anything it takes to rebuild our marriage.  I have faith that he will not leave me.  But in order to trust him in the area of fidelity, I need to employ some version of denial.  If I don’t go to this place of denial, I will always worry about the unknown.  My husband thinks this sounds pessimistic.  On the contrary I say.  It is sensible and is the very thing that allows us to move forward and to rebuild.   Perhaps it would soften the blow if I were to call it faith rather than denial – but really, in the end, both of these words deal with possibilities too frightening to consider.

I can’t spend my days dwelling over his past wrongdoings.  I know they exist but I am in denial that they could be happening today.  I have set the boundary that if he betrays me again and lies about it then I will leave him.  There will be no 3rd chance. I have a plan of action, and there in lies my self protection and my relief from worrying on it.    I won’t put my head in the sand, nor will I ignore signs that he has strayed.  But until there is proof of further infidelity I will use a version of denial as a coping mechanism.  Until that time, if it ever comes, it does no good to worry about it.  Every day, people on this Earth put blind faith in important areas of life – from our doctors to our Gods – we sometimes have to just believe in order to get past the scary parts.