You’re not alone.
- Two people recently committed suicide directly related to the Ashley Madison hack.
- Some with little to hide, but nonetheless “on the list” are anxious and hypervigilant about being “found out.”
- People who believed their relationships were based in integrity and honesty have been devastated to find otherwise, and in such a cold way.
- Those who have been casually hooking up and lying about it to their spouses are either in the doghouse or on the way there. Some are worried about losing their jobs and families.
- Divorce lawyers are already talking about an “uptick in business” while most couples are simply trying to get through the day. They’re in need of good counseling rather than some quick, final solution.
The release of 37 million subscribers on the Ashley Madison cheating site is rocking marriages and partnerships worldwide. If you recently discovered that your spouse or partner has been cheating, or if you’ve been caught cheating, you’re probably facing some very difficult questions.
To help you in this journey, Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, internationally renowned therapist, author and expert on digitally driven intimacy disorders, cheating, porn and sex addiction, and Senior Vice President of Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health, answers some of your most pressing questions. You can also find links to valuable resources, including books, self-tests and more, throughout the FAQs and at the bottom of this page.
For those cheated upon:Should I be thinking about divorce?
Not immediately, unless you already had plans to divorce and this event simply tipped the balance. You are probably somewhat in shock and have some thinking to do before making such a big decision. That doesn’t mean that you have to sleep in the same bed or live under the same roof with your spouse while you sort it out. It may help for one of you to leave the house while you sort through your feelings. The important thing is to take the time to get some perspective and perhaps seek outside help to figure out what’s best for you and your family. When you’re feeling very strongly is often not a good time to act. It’s better to let the immediate feelings ease over time, get support and avoid taking any action that can’t be taken back – for now.
If your spouse or partner is hooking up with adults, that doesn’t directly endanger your children. A more likely scenario would be if there is something on the computer such as pornography or sexts that your children could stumble upon. It’s very important not to share with the children what the cheating spouse has done, no matter how tempting. That presents a real danger to their emotional well-being as they grow into adulthood.
Talk to supportive, discreet people who you know are on your side and will listen. Don’t share the information with anyone who is likely to turn it on you as not having been “enough.” If you have been cheated on, it is never your fault. When seeking support, a professional therapist is most likely your best option because he or she will listen and be objective and supportive. Unlike friends and family, a therapist doesn’t have an emotional investment in the decisions you make. Therapists are invested in your health and happiness.
Not right away, not by yourself, not without support, and not in anger. You need to have a plan. Making an accusation and then running away isn’t going to help. Don’t say things in anger that you don’t mean; don’t threaten to leave, for example, and not follow through. The more you lash out without any action behind it, the more you’ll lose your credibility, and your partner won’t take anything you say seriously.
Absolutely, but not as quickly as either spouse might wish. After you begin to sort out the issues in your marriage and communicate to your spouse or partner what you need from them to restore your trust, you can start rebuilding your relationship. Wounded spouses have earned the right to establish reasonable criteria – be home at this time, check in with me this often, let me see your phone daily, etc. You will need such criteria, and your partner will have to meet such criteria, in order for trust to begin to be restored. If you perceive genuine remorse (not “I’m sorry” with flowers and chocolate), there’s hope. The trust that you once had as a couple won’t be the same, but your relationship can be more honest, more intimate and even more vulnerable over time, now that the secrets are on the table.
You don’t! Conventional wisdom would be to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, but it’s reasonable to suspect that this isn’t the first time your partner has cheated. When someone has been found cheating, normal boundaries and privacy standards don’t apply, not if you want to re-establish trust. You may want to go through cell phone records, your spouse’s computer or whatever else you need to do to take care of yourself. Those aren’t big moves; they’re small ones when compared to divorce. And your spouse should be willing to do “whatever it takes” to let you rebuild trust despite their resentment that you are now “going through their stuff.” You have earned the right to know what is and is not true.
Sometimes the person who has been cheated on will think that having sex will magically solve the problem. They think at some level that they caused the cheating (“If I were more attractive/attentive/available this wouldn’t have happened”) and that having sex will put the couple back on track. But having sex is not the answer and won’t solve the underlying issue with the cheating spouse. Bottom line: You don’t trust him/her. Why have sex with someone you don’t trust unless your goal is to reassure each other or to feel close? This isn’t the time for that. This is a time for distance, pain, mistrust and hard work. Sex won’t help.
For those cheating:I’m worried my spouse is going to find out. What should I do?
This is where professional help is really needed. You need to prepare what to say and work through how you’re going to respond to your spouse’s anger. Look for a couples’ therapist who is trained and certified in helping couples work through infidelity issues. Over time, depending on the emotional health of your spouse, you are likely better off finding a way to tell them rather than having them find out later. The pain you cause will be outweighed by the intimacy you gain – over time – when your spouse realizes that you trusted them enough to “get real.” But professional help is needed here.
If you want to preserve your marriage, you need to be non-defensive, own what you did, and do some work around why it happened and how it happened. You will need to listen to your spouse and likely do things with your spouse that you might not have been willing to do previously. This is the cost of having deeply hurt someone. If you want to regain their trust, you will have to let them do what it takes to regain it. If you feel like they do not have the right to intrude upon your privacy, despite what has happened, then you either have more secrets you don’t want uncovered or you want to move on. Both are legitimate, but it is best now for you to get clear on your relationship priorities.
A crisis like the Ashley Madison hack is often the motivator that makes people wake up from their sexual patterns and more fully reflect on what they’ve been doing. Here are a few indications that you may have a problem:
- You’re consistently lying and keeping sexual secrets.
- You live in fear of being “found out” due to this hack.
- Your life goals, values or beliefs are being set aside so you can have more sex or look for it.
- You’re having negative consequences related to your sexual behavior and yet continue sexing.
- You could be more productive to your family, your friends or within your own life/career/education, but all of these take a backseat to sex.
If you’re questioning whether you have a problem, it may be useful to take an anonymous self-test to more objectively view the reality of your situation. Many people struggling with compulsive sexual behavior have also experienced early life trauma/loss/neglect/abuse that is related to their adult sexual acting out. Thus sex becomes a learned way to relieve stress or cope with painful emotions. Sex addiction can be treated with the help of a trained and certified sexual addiction therapist or a sex addiction treatment program.
When your sexual behavior is more in control of your time, decisions, fantasy and impulses than you are, treatment is advisable. Likewise, if loved ones knew the full extent of your secret sexual life and would be shocked or concerned, or if you live in fear of being “discovered,” treatment is advisable. You may also want to consider treatment if you can’t stop having the amount or type of sex that you know could harm your relationships, career, family life and reputation.
General therapists can be helpful in many cases, but for issues of sexual addiction, you should seek out someone who is trained and certified as a sex addiction therapist. The resources list below will help you find people trained to help specifically with cheating, infidelity and intimacy disorders.
If you or your spouse or partner is struggling with infidelity, intimacy issues or sexual addiction, there are many resources available to help you learn more and to get help. These include:
Books — There are a number of excellent books on infidelity, intimacy, sex addiction and the role of technology in modern relationships that provide valuable information on how to build genuine intimacy.
Therapy — To find a therapist with specialized training in the treatment of infidelity, sexual addiction or behavioral acting out, look for a certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT). You can find a sortable, searchable list of CSATs on the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals website.
Sexual recovery programs — For those who want to take a timeout to reflect on their behavior (or that of their spouse) and want full-time support, guidance and understanding, there are excellent outpatient treatment programs and residential programs for intimacy issues, infidelity, sex addiction and co-occurring conditions, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and trauma. Two such programs are The Ranch in Tennessee and The Right Step, which has a women’s substance abuse and intimacy disorders program in Texas.
Support groups — Twelve-step groups, which include Sexaholics Anonymous, Love Addicts Anonymous and Sexual Recovery Anonymous, apply the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous to sexual addiction and intimacy issues. Some are designed for spouses, others for couples and families. Many churches have groups for men and women with these issues. It is always useful to speak to clergy and trusted friends. But keep in mind that you cannot pray away psychological problems, as they require professional help.
Self-tests — If you think you or your partner may have a problem with sexual addiction, consider taking a self-test. Tests are available for men’s sexual addiction, women’s sexual addiction, partners of sex addicts and cybersex addiction.
Exposure of marital infidelity can be a heartbreaking, life-altering experience, but there is a path to recovery and healing. In some cases, such a crisis can even strengthen a marriage. Start by getting support from close, nonjudgmental friends, family, clergy or a therapist. Don’t make any decisions for 30 days. If you need time away from your spouse or partner to sort things out, by all means, take that time. Most important, this is a time to take care of yourself and to get whatever help and support you need to find a way forward.
Call 888-991-4080 to talk to an experienced advisor about treatment options.