Many have outlined the lessons that can be learned from the Ashley Madison hack in terms of personal privacy and internet security. Others see the site hack as an example of justice being served in what they see as an increasingly immoral world. While we always promote honesty in relationships, we are less interested in passing judgement and more interested in the relationship lessons that an affair can bring to the surface and how these do not always end in despair or divorce.
Ashley Madison’s cleverly manipulative tagline “Life is short: Have an Affair” is appealing because it offers a shortcut to getting certain needs met. Instead of communicating your desires with your partner, it implies an easy fix for getting your sexual desires fulfilled. This equation does not take into account how time consuming and heartbreaking it can be to process an affair with your partner. This is a lesson many Ashley Madison users are now learning the hard way, and maybe others can also take this lesson to heart before they cheat.
As a society, we think of cheating as the ultimate, unforgivable sin. But we see so many different problems surface in relationships that can be just as damaging such as withholding love, sex, or affection. As the “injured party,” the person who was cheated on may feel self-righteous and refuse to consider how their behavior may have contributed to problems in the relationship in general. They may refuse to have any compassion for the ways that their partner’s denied desires or fears and wounds led to the affair. When this happens communication becomes limited to a loop of apology and blame, which does not allow for a couple to reconnect.
It is undeniable that finding out about an affair can be extremely painful. Your partner, in whom you’ve invested so much trust, has lied to you and broken an agreement. At the same time, if you want to recover from an affair, it will not help to think of one of you as the helpless victim and the other as the evil perpetrator. Once cheating has been discovered or confessed, both parties need to decide if they want to face the process of looking at the issues in the relationship (and the affair as a symptom of these issues) rather than labeling the person who had the affair the cause of the problem.
For some people, those who find it unthinkable to actually communicate their desires to their partner, an affair might present a unique moment of crisis that can help save a struggling relationship. It can be a moment where honesty comes flooding out in all directions. We have helped many couples turn relationship crisis into an opportunity, and finding out about an affair, or even an attempted affair, puts most couples in a crisis. We agree with Ashley Madison in that “life is short”, which is exactly why honestly communicating your desires is so important.