I am a 40 year old basic kind of guy in a 9 year marriage which I though was happy and strong. Yesterday I got up early and turned on my computer to see my wife had left her web browser open to her Ashley Madison profile. I immediately had a billion questions run through my mind coupled with a lot of very strong feelings like anger, pain and mostly confusion. I didn’t know just what to do at that moment so I closed the site, cleared the history and turned off the computer like nothing had happened.
I realize that my wife and I have fallen into the routine most married couples do of day to day life. Our sex is generally bland but gets the job done for both of us on a weekly basis. It’s not perfect but we work well together as partners and I love her more than anyone. We try to do date nights whenever we can and once a year we do an adults only trip to get some much needed one on one time together. We don’t fight often and when we do it’s usually because one of us snapped at the other or was insensitive in some way. We have a busy and happy home filled with kids, friends and successful careers.
We both have extracurricular activities and honestly I am happy… I though we both were.
After seeing the profile I began asking myself a lot of questions and going over our relationship in my head. Is she really so unhappy that she would sacrifice our entire world, our family, our home? There is no way, she loves our children too much. Does she not love me anymore? I don’t believe that. Is the sex that bad? It needs work but that is something we talk about and are actively working on. Is it pressure from friends or outside sources? I started doing a little research on this site and have found their ads targeting women depicting them in situations that many people can relate to, the monotony of the daily grind we often find ourselves in. It shows nothing of the work or effort that goes into a relationship or the other lives depending on that relationship’s balance. They are trying to tell people that routine is no way to live and that we need to fill any voids we may have with lying and cheating to keep every moment exciting. It says nothing of the web of lives that could be destroyed. Nor do they talk about the fact that after the initial thrill is gone you are left with an even bigger void. They make it seem like cheating is socially acceptable and are giving people the format to do it. This is not the world I want to live in where people lie and cheat on those they love most. Has our society turned into such a single serving, instant gratification, anonymous pit that we think we can get away with this type of behavior? How do we combat this and how do I deal with what I’ve found?
–Devastated and Confused
Wow, what a blow. There’s nothing worse than losing trust in a marriage, even for couples who find a way to move on because for better or worse, there’s no going back.
So regardless of what else your wife did, she would have to be sincerely sorry for her dishonesty—at the very least—if you choose to work through this. You might not know for sure right now if that’s even what you want, as you’re still so consumed with the pain she caused. And the pain she only “maybe” caused, because you don’t really know exactly what she’s done beyond creating a profile on a cheating website. Do you know if any actual cheating has occurred? Your letter doesn’t mention anything about getting her side of the story, so I’m going to assume you’ve been stewing over this in silence.
The obvious first step in that case would be to TALK TO YOUR WIFE but in a way it’s good you waited and sent us a letter first. Because now I can break it down to you such that when that conversation happens, you will be calmer, more rational, more informed, and less likely to break up on the spot.
Let’s start by assuming the worst. Let’s say your wife has done every despicable thing your imagination’s been tormenting you with since you saw that website. It doesn’t have to mean she no longer wants to be married to you. Maybe it does, but dates nights and kid-free trips and regular sex that she’s trying to improve point toward your wife loving you every bit as much as you thought she did pre-website.
Can you accept the possibility that she still wants the life you’ve built, while also wanting other things? Whatever her reason to seek lovers elsewhere—for better sex or different sex or weird sex or something else only she knows—desire isn’t a zero-sum game. Wanting someone else doesn’t necessarily mean she doesn’t want you.
Sure, there’s a difference between wanting to stray and actually doing it. And of course plenty of married people don’t act on their desires—plenty of them don’t want to because they are invested in the ideals of monogamy. When two pro-monogamists pair up—hooray for them! When two people who don’t share that predilection pair up—even when their difference of opinion isn’t apparent until much later—well, good luck with that.
The thing is, monogamy is a relatively new concept in the history of humankind, so if your wife isn’t as built for it as she thought she was when she married you, wishing her to be so or forcing her into it as a condition of staying together will never work. Wanting multiple partners, like all other varieties of sexual preference, can’t be changed. That doesn’t mean cheating is or should be “socially acceptable”—but perhaps monogamy shouldn’t be society’s default setting for life-partnership.
This leads me to your assessment of the Ashley Madison business model, which is both accurate and short-sighted. You’re absolutely right about the “single serving, instant gratification, anonymous pit” of garbage human behavior pervading the internet. And no doubt all manner of selfish, lying, cheating assholes are eating up Ashley’s excuses, ready to spew them back at their devastated spouses if they get caught. But they don’t represent society or evidence we’re all going to hell. They’re just assholes.
Still, there’s a shadow of truth in the website’s portrait of a modern boring marriage in desperate need of excitement: people with otherwise fulfilling marriages who have terminally unsatisfying sex lives probably feel like they don’t deserve anything more. But sexual desire is part of our lizard brain—it’s ancient and strong and unreasonable, and ignoring it or suppressing it only makes people miserable. Everyone deserves a satisfying sex life (with consensual partners, of course). Including your wife.
If your ideal lover is someone who will sleep with you exclusively; if the thought of sharing your lover sends bile surging up your throat; if you’re capable of loving someone enough to not need sex from anyone else; then that is the sex partner you deserve. But it might not be what you want most in a life partner.
All the work you put into your marriage, everything you’ve created and nurtured—your home, your kids, your careers, your social life, your friendship with each other—all of it stands on its own. The strength and worth of your life together can’t be destroyed with one weakness, even if it’s a big one. Dishonesty—the only weakness you know of for sure right now—is a more significant threat than infidelity because it will poison everything unless it’s stopped. Trust is a zero-sum game: either you have it in someone or you don’t.
I have a hunch about your wife: I don’t think she left that profile up by accident. If the way you said you came upon it is true and not a cover-up for snooping, I think she wanted you to find it. She probably wasn’t capable of bringing it up on her own so she ensured that you would. It was a cowardly thing to do, no denying that. But listen to the substance of her message instead of fuming over the way it was delivered: whether the profile was a confession of infidelity or a request for permission, your wife’s sexual discontent has reached the level where something must be done.
So before you have that conversation, figure out what you’re willing to let that something be.
With justice and pleasure for all,
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