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 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.

Loving with my heart, not with my head

Try as I might to calm my active mind, I lean toward being an worrier and an over thinker.   I worry about things I have no control of and have a low level of anxiety on a daily basis.  To gain some false sense of control, I have historically thought myself straight out of all of my serious relationships in the past.  I would find a ‘flaw’ that I couldn’t accept and would walk away without another thought.

When I married my husband just 6 months after meeting him I knew the risk I was taking.  I realized that it could all go horribly wrong.  I also knew that if I didn’t marry him right then that I would find a reason not to do it.  I allowed myself to be hasty because something inside of me (inside of my heart) recognized that I had found a soul mate and I needed to commit.  Waiting the socially appropriate amount of time to marry him absolutely would have been the end of us.

I grew up in a family and an environment that didn’t really see divorce as an option.  So when shit hit the fan and my husbands addict wreaked havoc on our relationship, leaving him wasn’t really an immediate option.  The marriage certificate kept me by his side when the easier and more familiar thing to do would have been to leave.  In choosing to stay, I was challenging myself to find a way to forgive and love despite the massive obstacles.  I learned that the solution wasn’t entire up to him.  Marriage is a team effort and I needed to do my fair part.  The result of this has been my incredible growth as a person.  Growth that never would have occurred had I left.  Change is never easy, but it is one of the most vital parts of a rewarding life.

It’s hard to say what would have happened if I had left, but I have a pretty good idea:  1. I would have stayed with my pattern of developing temporary, unfulfilling relationships.  2. My fear of pain and imperfection would paralyze me to move forward.  3. I would be alone by choice.  

In my head I still recognized some very strong arguments why leaving would have been, and still could sound sensible.  But to really experience all that this amazing journey has to offer I willingly take the less obvious path – I push myself to sit with the uncomfortable parts – and I am a better, happier and more fulfilled person for doing so.    I still have many days when my brain wants to overrule my heart but I am finding more balance and more contentment every day.

Totally in love (for today)

I am in one of those wonderfully glorious moods when I am head over heels in love with my husband.  We just spent a relaxing weekend together in the desert with no tv, no phones – just the two of us in a warm and calm environment enjoying each others company. 

I love the feel of being in love.  I really do.  But the weekend is over and it’s Monday now and I know that inevitably the feeling will pass and I will return to just loving my husband – with a little bit less of the “in love” part attached.  

I know why I do this – why I back off.  I don’t want to be hurt.  I live with an underlying fear that the rug will be pulled out from under me again and when it is I don’t want to be entirely in love.  I want to care less so that it hurts less.  This is my pattern.  I build up my resistance to the potential pain by controlling the amount of love I allow myself to feel for him.  It’s so very sad that I do this.  

I can’t change my ways overnight.  I was traumatized by his betrayal and I do need to respect my own pace and allow myself to do what’s needed to feel safe.  But rather than starting to turn off my love today, maybe I will let myself feel it for just an extra hour, day or week.  Maybe I can try to lengthen the time I spend being in love before I need to run to my safe little place where there is less of it.  

I think I will let myself be in love tomorrow too…and I’ll see how that goes.

Reclaiming my safety

When my husbands years of indiscretions and lies came to surface, my trust in him, in life, in marriage, even in myself was obliterated. If you read my blog you will know that I chose to stay married to my husband after the discovery, and our relationship has been surprisingly good – dare I say rewarding – over the past year.  We have both done loads of therapeutic work and have made huge strides in overcoming the obstacles that got us to this place to begin with.  But I would be lying if I didn’t say that rebuilding trust is happening at a staggeringly slow pace.  In fact, the more time goes on, the more that I may be digressing in this area of my recovery.

I have a fear that the more sobriety days my husband has under his belt, the closer we are getting to experiencing a slip.  Addicts can get comfortable in their routine and can get lazy in their diligence to their program work.  They can get overconfident about the risks they can handle.  How often has an alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in a year thought it was ok to go play pool at a bar…not intending to drink…thinking he can handle the temptation…only to end up in the gutter.  All humans love to fool themselves…but add an addict gene in the mix and look out.

I have made a list of boundaries that my husband is happy to respect.  These boundaries are in place to try to make me feel safe and eventually should lead to trusting him again.  However, when I have to implement one of them I feel a multitude of unwelcome emotions.  Take for instance checking his whereabouts on GPS.  Here are the feelings I go through when I push the “find my iPhone” button:

– before pushing the locate button I am triggered and feeling FEAR

– as I push it I feel ANXIOUS about the results I may get (is he really at a lunch meeting…or at a strip club?)

– when the GPS shows he is where he should be I feel ANGRY that I am in a relationship where this kind of behavior is necessary

– then I move onto judging myself as WEAK that I decided to stay with a man who hurt me do deeply

– when I have to tell my husband that I looked at his whereabouts I feel SHAME that I don’t trust him

– It all culminates with a deep sense of RESENTMENT & HUMILIATION

I have not always shared with my husband when I go through this cycle of emotion.  Usually when I look at the GPS (sometimes 10 times a day, sometimes once a week) he is in a safe place and I block the experience from my mind.  But I will start sharing with him when I feel the need to check up on him.  Together we can explore the triggers and emotions that are set forth.  It is his behavior that forced me to put these safety measures in place, so he should be a part of and bear witness to the sad and unfortunate cycle of my experience.

I realize that consistency over time should start to lift some of my fears and hopefully someway, someday I will begin to trust, at least a little bit, once again.