Ashley Madison, a website designed to arrange intimate encounters among philandering spouses, was recently hacked and the thought-to-be-confidential names of its members was made public, and the list has destroyed marriages, families and careers across the globe.

The Ashley Madison hack has brought the issue of infidelity center stage, and into the homes of many families, as husbands and wives scurry to see if their partners’ names are on the infamous list.

Glenn Greenwald wrote an article about the Ashley Madison hack, likening it to a modern day, Scarlett Letter story. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlett Letter, the main character was publicly shamed and punished for having an affair, years after her husband had left, never returned and was presumed to be lost at sea. She was forced to wear the letter “A” on her dress, so all in the village would know she was an adulterer. Certainly, public scrutiny and shame remain some of the greatest catalysts for behavioral change. However, I am reminded of the quote, “Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you.” Most would agree that adultery is immoral (albeit not illegal in the United States). It is one of the basic commandments in many religions, including Christianity, and monogamy is a fundamental expectation in most marriages. Yet, infidelity is an increasingly common behavior in our country, with an estimated 30-60% of married individuals engaging in extra-marital affairs.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist who has worked with couples for over fifteen years, I can attest that infidelity is a relatively common issue discussed in my office. And while infidelity is a very serious and painful matter, it does not need to be a death sentence to many relationships or marriages. Infidelity is often a behavioral consequence or manifestation of an underlying relationship issue that has gone unaddressed for a greater length of time. The infidelity is often the issue that brings the couple in for therapy, enabling them to address the underlying issues and resulting in greater connection, intimacy and marital satisfaction.

While I certainly do NOT advocate cheating on your partner as a means of improving your marriage (please don’t!!), I’m here to say that if you discover your partner has been unfaithful, or you find their name on the list of Ashley Madison members, there is still hope for your marriage.

In Bonnie Eaker Weil’s book, Adultery: The Forgivable Sin, we see how couples can face the trial of infidelity together and emerge stronger and more unified by facing their own demons, practicing love and forgiveness, and learning effective ways to safe-guard their marriages for the future.

5 Tips if you or your partner have been unfaithful:

  1. Healing takes time AND work! Both parties must be willing to work on the relationship together and take an honest look at themselves and their behaviors, and commit to change.
  2. Do NOT rely on your heart or emotions to govern your decision-making. Focus on your intellect and logic.
  3. You must decide whether to stay or leave the relationship. If you stay, be present and actively engaged. Do not check out emotionally!
  4. Be willing to renegotiate the terms of the relationship. In order to rebuild trust, the offending party needs to be willing to be more transparent and surrender some privacy in order to make the other partner feel safe. They must also be willing to offer more frequent validation of their commitment and affection to their partner.
  5. Have faith! My mom used to say, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’ll be right either way.” If both partners believe they can get through this difficult trial (and are willing to do the work), they likely will. Finding a trained and qualified therapist to help guide the recovery process can expedite healing and help couples to build a stronger foundation for their future relationship.

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Author & Edited by Dr. Leslie Hamilton, Ph.D., LMFT – Orlando Marriage and Family Counselor with offices in East Orlando and Southwest Orlando Florida. Call Leslie for relationship advice at 407-248-0030