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.

Advertisements

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.

The incomparable attraction to a lover or a mistress

I follow some blogs written by “the other woman” or by people who are in affairs outside of their marriages and there is one common chord which almost always underlies the writing.  Loneliness.  It’s rarely the topic of discussion – unless it’s a holiday or other special event and the lovers aren’t together – but it is a constant feeling that something is missing from their world.

A quick history if you haven’t followed my blog – my husband started cheating on me about a year into our marriage, he is a sex addict. I reached out to an ex boyfriend who I had dated for over a decade for friendship and familiarity.  My ex and I eventually became physical/romantic.  My husband and I were concurrently cheating.  We both came clean and our relationship is now filled with love, honesty, compassion and I am completely grateful and satisfied.

When I was in the midst of my affair I spent my days longing to be with my ex.  I woke up thinking of him, went to bed missing him.  We would text how much we missed one another – how we needed to be together – how ridiculous it was that we weren’t.  We were constantly planning our next rendezvous (though in actuality they were very rare).  But now that I have stepped away from the fire and look back on that time, I see that that the relationship was actually just a fantasy to distract myself from the incredible pain of being in a marriage which lacked honesty and passion.  It wasn’t that I actually wanted to be with my ex – it was that I couldn’t bear to admit that there was nothing better in my future than a marriage to someone who could cheat and lie as my husband had.  I imagined that the ex would give me something else, something better, something to look forward to.  Of course he wouldn’t have.  I know that now.

I read words from women who are married but keeping a boyfriend – or single women who have fallen for a married man – and I remember those feelings so clearly.  The longing, the passion, the desire, missing him all day and all night, heart racing when you get a text or an email, relief when you are finally in his arms, tears when you say good bye.  It’s like a hollywood movie with all of it’s emotion and drama.  But for me, all of those feelings were simply a romanticized distraction to protect me from looking at my real life.  If I did look at my life then I WOULD HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT.  The relationship was a fantasy which helped me get through the day and ignore my reality.  The truest feelings during my affair were actually guilt, sadness, disappointment, fear, fear, more fear and loneliness.  I wasn’t physically with my lover and I wasn’t emotionally with my husband.  I was nowhere.

The remarkable thing about an affair is that both sides are so good at playing their roles in it…and when they do, love is actually never exchanged.  I didn’t REALLY expect my ex to give into his feelings because I knew he felt it would always be better if he remained alone, a hope that justified his inability to actually take me away.  And I could in return profess my love for him knowing he would never ask me to prove it. 

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries…oh, and consequences

I was reading some posts from one of my followers today.  From what she says, it sounds as if her husband is extremely dismissive of her feelings  and doesn’t show her the respect that she deserves.  It makes me sad, because I remember so clearly how that feels.

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 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 takes away an unknown and is a sign of respect to myself to put my needs first in a time of fear or crisis.

This is my list with some explanations:

– Computers at home and work must have internet filters which allow me access to accountability reports.  (we have installed filters and he likes not having the option to look at porn, etc.  we have also disabled safari on his iPhone)

– You must allow me access to check emails, credit card statements, phone records anytime at my request (he has given me all passwords to do this as he says he has nothing to hide anymore)

– No contact of any kind – including emails, texts, phone calls – with any acting out partners without my prior approval (I added ‘without my approval’ as it seems more fair – I can’t imagine a reason why he would need contact with them, but I am reasonable enough to know that it could be necessary in which case I would insist on being a part of the conversation, or cc’d on an email or whatever)

– Must attend an intensive retreat once a year, either solo or couples (this is a good habit for any couple – especially one who has been through the wringer.)

– Take part in yearly disclosure/polygraph for the next 3 years and thereafter when requested by me. (It sounds horrible but I see it as the equivalent of having a drug addict pee in a cup once in a while – just to be sure.  After all, the number one common trait in addicts of any sort is the impressive ability to lie)

– Inform me immediately if any acting out partners attempt to contact you (for obvious reasons)

– No social activities (lunch, drinks, etc) with female friends or colleagues without my prior consent. (My husbands job requires lots of contact with lots of people including very attractive women in his business.  They constantly as for lunch meetings – but that’s breeding ground for flirting & thus, trouble.  He just needs to ask me if it’s OK, we will discuss and make a decision together.  If he needs to see someone for business then I can suggest he bring his assistant along, or they go to a restaurant where we know people so it’s not romantic, etc)

If any of those above things fall by the wayside DUE TO HIS UNWILLINGNESS we will take a therapeutic separation during which time there will be no contact with me and I will decide how to proceed.

– If you ever lie, omit or deceive me about any inner circle activities you must apologize and confess the truth within 24 hours.  I will take a therapeutic separation long enough for me to assess the situation and will decide how to proceed.

– If I find out that you have lied about inner circle activities and didn’t confess within 24 hours we will immediately separate and you will go to rehab.  There will be no contact with me until I decide how to proceed.

–  If you take part in any physical sexual activity behind my back I will divorce you.  This includes sex, erotic massage or other physical activities with both anonymous and known partners.

– If you have any contact whatsoever including email, text, phone, IM or in person meeting with “skank who you cheated on me with” I will immediately file for divorce, even if the contact isn’t sexual.

This list changed a lot from the original version which basically had him walking around with a male chastity belt.  But I realized that we still need to live in the real world.  It’s unrealistic to say  “if you ever lie, even for a second, about anything in the world, I will leave you”.  That’s crazy.  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.

I also find that 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 plan in place.  I have a specific plan in place – where I go for the separation, etc – so in the case of an emergency, I won’t have to worry about where I will go.

I am very lucky that my husband is so tired of living a double life and so very much wants to be “normal”.  He is willing to agree to my boundaries.  We discussed them thoroughly and he had a few minor issues but they were sorted out between he, I and my therapist who specializes in working with partners of sex addicts.  It’s a list all 3 of us can live with.

And by the way, this isn’t a one way street.  His behavior caused me to do my own shameful things.  He is working up his list of boundaries as well and will present it to me when he is done.

I’m sure we will amend and adjust our lists 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.