Why you shouldn't search Ashley Madison

A Westminster marriage counselor makes the case against searching Ashley Madison.

The Ashley Madison member list is now public. Please resist any temptation to search it for your partner's name.

"Why?" you may ask. "If my spouse was interested in cheating, I want to know that. I would need to know."

It's not that simple. There will be serious emotional consequences to finding out your partner paid money to explore having an affair. The first of which is not knowing whether they followed through with that interest. Chances are your partner did not have an affair. It's actually much more likely they were curious, they were looking for an escape or they intended on having an affair but it never ended up happening.

While you will feel betrayed, you will also probably feel that it's not grounds for ending a marriage if there is no proof that infidelity occurred. Why, then, would it be helpful to know they were signed up? It will force you from that point on to live in a new world. There is no going back from that. You can't un-ring that bell.

So I urge you in another direction. First ask yourself why you even think it's possible that your spouse was involved. Did you already suspect them of cheating before the headlines? Is your sex life dissatisfying, or is it a source of conflict? Does your partner seem disinterested in you and your feelings? If you answer "yes" to these, then you need to have some serious conversations about your relationship, including topics of trust, sex and emotional needs, regardless of Ashley Madison.

Next, turn inward and become introspective. Have you felt sad that the passion, the focus on each other and the flirtation have decreased over the years? (Probably.) Have you felt taken for granted? (Of course you have.) Have you ever longed for the excitement of being wanted by someone else or enjoyed the flirtatious attention of another? (It might feel wrong to admit, but it's OK to say "yes" to this one.) Talk with your partner about these feelings. It is very likely they have had similar feelings, and it may be one of the most helpful discussions you ever have.

See, some of us would never sign up for a website like Ashley Madison, which is specifically designed to facilitate cheating, no matter what. But we need to own the fact that becoming married and pledging fidelity doesn't erase our need to be wanted, to have excitement, to have someone be entertained by our stories and think we are cool.

We should acknowledge that the security and stability of marriage, career, home and kids can become boring. We can accept that putting rings on our fingers doesn't erase our automatic brain-based reaction when we see an attractive person walk past us, nor does it reduce the thrill if that hottie shoots us a smile. We need to admit when these things happen; we need to be at peace with our human sexuality and desire for excitement. Most importantly, we need to communicate these things to our partners. I believe this is the most effective vaccine we have against infidelity.

People have strong reactions when I suggest sharing these (normal, human) feelings. "Won't that be so hurtful to my spouse?" Well, you tell me what is more hurtful: having your spouse be completely honest and vulnerable with you or finding out they have had sex and/or fallen in love with someone else?

The pain of infidelity — emotional or sexual — is unlike any other. I regularly witness the deep, heart-wrenching agony involved in finding out that the one person you trust most in the world has lied to you, broken a promise of fidelity, given their heart to another. I want so desperately for there to be less of this type of pain in the world.

And so, I ask of you: Don't search the AshleyMadison.com member list. Sit down with your partner and explain to them that you are tempted to search it. Talk about why. Share with them the feelings and temptations you have had yourself. Talk about your relationship, and talk about yourself and your needs. Then hug, cry, watch a funny movie, go do something new together. Whatever you do, decide right here and right now to re-dedicate yourselves to nurturing your relationship, acknowledging your humanity, and being faithful to each other.

The Ashley Madison tagline of "life is short, have an affair" gets it all wrong. Life is pretty long, actually. Don't spend it resenting your spouse for signing up for a stupid website.

Alexandra Rickeman is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Westminster (www.communicationforcouples.com). Her email is alex@communicationforcouples.com; Twitter: @alexrickeman.

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