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I imagine this week’s news — that AshleyMadison.com, the website that encourages affairs, was hacked — has caused a certain amount of angst among the website’s 37 million-plus subscribers, many of whom are married or in committed relationships. Infidelity relies on secrecy, and with hackers demanding that the website and and its partner site, Established Men, be shut down or they will release “all customer records, profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies, nude pictures, and conversations and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails,” secrets are about to be spilled — although shutting down the lucrative website is not likely to happen.

InfidelityOn social media, some called the hack karmic justice; others gleefully celebrated what they see as shaky morals. One tweet— “Praying for all the victims of the Ashley Madison hack. This must feel like a total betrayal of their trust.” — was retweeted 769 times and favorited 1,353 times.

Nobody likes a cheater. In fact, 91 percent of Americans say that infidelity is morally wrong. But, that doesn’t stop us from indulging anyway; while infidelity statistics are sketchy because they’re self-reported, some think as many as 70 percent of married couples are cheating. A recent study indicates that 77 percent believe infidelity is more common today, and 37 percent of divorced adults say cheating was the cause of their divorce.

OK, fine. But, should we be publicly shaming those who stray? Should we have to face the scorn of society like the adulterous Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter for our very private sins? That’s the question — a good question — Nicolas DiDomizio

The truth is, nobody deserves to be lied to, and being cheated on by a trusted partner can be a genuinely traumatic experience. … But one thing that’s also becoming more and more universally agreed upon is that cheating is complicated, and it reflects all sorts of private realities that anyone outside the relationship can never truly understand. tweet

Publicly shaming people for getting some on the side “is both cruel and unnecessary,” he says. Plus it’s likely that a percentage of AshleyMadison.com members are in consensually non-monogamous partnerships — do they deserve to be outed to relatives, co-workers, neighbors, employers for what is essentially an extremely private matter and happily agreed-to arrangement?

Yes, cheating is complicated. Just ask Mating in Captivity author Esther Perel, who asks us to reconsider infidelity.

I look at affairs from a dual perspective: hurt and betrayal on one side, growth and self-discovery on the other—what it did to you, and what it meant for me. And so when a couple comes to me in the aftermath of an affair that has been revealed, I will often tell them this: Today in the West, most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages, and some of us are going to do it with the same person. Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together? tweet

As bad as infidelity may be, let’s not forget that there are many ways to betray a spouse:

I have a lot of people who come to my office who think that they are the virtuous people because they haven’t cheated. They have just been neglectful, indifferent, contemptuous, asexual, demeaning, insulting, but they haven’t cheated. But betrayal comes in many forms. tweet

My poll indicates that many people believe withholding sex is as much of a betrayal, maybe more, than having an affair. And with a post on The New I Do website from last year on sexless marriage still attracting comments by unhappily married people in that situation — many who feel their only options are to suffer, divorce or cheat — it’s clear there’s a bigger discussion.

But for now, the discussion is this — should we be publicly shaming people who cheat?

Interested in creating a marital plan that addresses infidelity? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

2 Responses to “Ashley Madison and our complicated relationship with infidelity”

  1. blurkel says:

    just another list of reasons why marriage is a terrible idea. No one can be everything for anyone, and certainly not for all time. One partner will essentially give up everything for the other, whether voluntarily or not won’t matter. At that point, the resentment builds until one person manages to completely dominate the other, or the conflicts grow too large to remain a couple. Just look at divorce rates if you doubt.

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