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.

privacy in a marriage: what are the rules?

Their are a lot of definitions of privacy.  Freedom from the state of being observed.  Being apart from other people.  Solitude.  The state of being concealed.  Secrecy.  How does this multi-dimensional word fit into a marriage that has lost it’s footing through a series of lies and deceits?  Maybe it doesn’t.

I ate 2 chocolate bars yesterday.  This is my right.  This has no bearing on my husband.  It’s not a great nutritional decision but I don’t have compromised health so it won’t affect my life, nor my husbands.  I find it somewhat embarrassing that I couldn’t control my desires.  I couldn’t stop at one…or bet yet at one half.  I devoured two.  It is no one’s business but my own.  I struggled with an eating disorder in college so I find the fact that I lost control to be rather shameful. Yet, told my husband.

The reason why I told him is simply because we are practicing what it feels like to have complete transparency in our relationship.  It’s not always easy to do, and truth be told it took me 24 hours to tell him what I had done with the chocolate bars.  But I did it – and it felt good.  Of course, chocolate is the easy part.

After our infidelities, both my husband and I needed to come clean to one another about our betrayals of each other.  In the presence of my amazing therapist, we told one another all of our secrets.  This was one of the hardest exercises we have ever done.  My husband went so far as to take a lie detector (his idea) so I could be confident there were no other secrets.  Even one morsel of a lie is a foundation for another.  Once we came clean, we truly don’t want to dirty ourselves again.  It’s like a shiny new car – the first speck of dirt is noticed and examined and wiped away quickly.  But once you let it go, you barely notice when it’s become weeks since it’s been washed.  My husband and I are hyper vigilant to keep that first speck of dirt from landing on our marriage.

Is this the right path for everyone?  Honestly, I don’t know why it’s not.  What is the point of keeping a secret from the person you love most in the world.  How does that honor him/her?  How does that show respect for their ability to be empathetic?  I argue that it doesn’t.  For a relationship to be truly honored, it needs to be free of lies and the pain that comes with them.

There is, of course, a flip side.  There are rules.  1.  Each partner needs to willingly give the other space.  There is no benefit to listening to every call, reading every email and otherwise controlling all of their communication.  Maybe in the immediate aftermath of an affair discovery this would be the case – but that needs to be eliminated or reduced as quickly as possible.  If it’s not, the betrayed will become obsessive and this will hurt them.  2.  If the spouse judges everything that they are told – this is also disrespectful and won’t further the relationship.  This will make the person who is trying to share want to revert back into their shell of secrecy.  If you are being respected with the truth, then you need to be mature enough to handle it.  3.  Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.  This isn’t an exercise for those who aren’t committed to rebuilding a healthy, happy marriage.  It’s not a way to get ammunition to use against them.  4.  This is a two way street.  You can’t expect honesty if you aren’t willing to give it back.  What did you do this week that you didn’t share with your mate?  Did you say something disrespectful about them to someone they know?  Did you act inappropriately in any manner?  Did you eat 2 chocolate bars and hide the wrappers?

Once the one who was hurt by a secret or a lie learns that they have access, when needed, to any information they require – then hopefully they can become less concerned with it.  Once this fight for knowledge is put to rest – a more open, loving, intimate, equal relationship can start to grow again.  More importantly, once they witness their spouse telling them their inner most truths – then, and only then, can trust begin to reemerge.

Intimate sex. Two words I never wanted to see used in the same sentence.

I used to say that I had a healthy sex life before I got married.  But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate.  I certainly had a full sex life – an adventurous one – I could even go so far as to call it liberated.  But ‘healthy’ probably wouldn’t be the first word that one would assign to the sexual experiences I enjoyed from age 15 – 35.

Now that I am married to a man that I adore – who you know is a recovering sex addict – I have been introduced to the true concept of intimacy.  My husband and I have developed an amazingly intimate relationship.  Our vulnerability, our honesty, our amazing support of each other as individuals.  It’s all been life changing.  I have to say that bringing intimacy to our sex life has been the most stubborn part of our relationship.

Neither of us ever learned how to be intimate with a lover.  He, being a sex addict, always disassociated from the people he was having sex with.  I, a victim of early molestation, tended to capture some control through my hyper-sexualized relationships.  Considering our history with infidelity, we know that reverting to our old ways could be triggering for both of us.  So we are faced with the task of abandoning our sexual tendencies in search of something more connected, more honest and (I cringe a little here) more intimate.

It’s not going so well.

Both of us are unsure how to play our new sexual role.  Honestly, it’s easier to just not have sex.  We love each other deeply.  We dote and laugh and respect the hell out of each another.  Our communication is raw and honest and we can find the humor in our faults.  It’s not that we don’t WANT to have sex.  We both would very much enjoy having a semi-regular go at it.  But as soon as we attempt to have sex he starts to worry about my needs – then I get pre-occupied with his concerns  – he gets insecure that his erection on anti-depressants isn’t quite what it used to be so he feels like he is disappointing me – I try to say something hot to turn him on but end up feeling like I am faking it – and on it goes.  Not romantic.  Not sexy.  Not effective.

All that being said, this is probably the first time in our lives that we are truly thinking about the feelings of the person we are sharing our bed with.  Perhaps we are actually too concerned with the other’s experience – the key to good sex is likely being a bit more selfish than we are capable of being with one another right now.  But to be fair we are still healing from infidelities and betrayals that would have done in a less willing couple.  Maybe this is just another step on our roundabout path to getting to our goal of having intimate sex with one another.

We may not be able to have the sex life we want at this point, but being able to express our feelings and have them acknowledged by one another every time we make the attempt is surely getting us one step closer.

Sex Addiction in the movies: Don Jon

Anyone who has been to the theatre lately has likely noticed that sex addiction is the new hot topic for filmmakers.  Considering the increasing prevalence of this addiction in our society due in no small part to internet porn addiction, it’s a natural subject to be considered on the big screen.

Last year I saw “Shame” – a brilliant, uncomfortable, spot on psychological drama by the genius director Steve McQueen.  Shame was so well done, that my words could never do it justice.  Michael Fassbender’s performance is filled with pain, anger, sadness, fear…and of course, shame.  It is the cold, hard truth about the loneliest of addictions.  Just like McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave” it is a masterpiece.

Cut to this years stereotypical, unoriginal, sexist and repetitive “Don Jon”.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is better than this movie.  As is Scarlett Johansson.  Essentially, Joseph plays a sex and porn addict – as a viewer you know he is an addict because there are dozens of identical scenes depicting his addict behavior (this is the repetitive part).  The stereotypes come in the New Jersey box of bad accents, pushy mothers, guido clothes and Catholics  – they should have cast The Situation, he would have been more convincing.   I am all for comedy, even about painful subjects like addiction, but unfortunately there was nothing funny in this film – especially the sexism.  To say that fantasy trumps reality for sex addicts isn’t a surprise – we get that part.  But Don Jon puts the blame for his addiction not on himself or his obvious intimacy disorder, but instead it’s put upon on the women who don’t measure up to the porn standard in the bedroom.  If his real life girlfriends could just be freaky enough in the bedroom he would surely be cured.  Enter Julianne Moore…she is older, damaged and when she sleeps with him his entire world changes.  If only it were that easy.