Infidelity goes Mainstream: Invalidating Partners’ Pain

Up until not that long ago, the only people who knew about websites such as Ashley Madison or Adult Friend Finder, were either people who were using the sites, their partners (if they were caught) or those of us working in the sex addiction field.  That all changed this week with the airing of several television commercials for the website Ashely Madison on the television channels Spike TV and other US cable networks such as Animal Planet.

The advertisements, which you can view on the ispot.tv sites (http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7nPx/ashley-madison-zombies-international and http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7y34/ashley-madison-other-than-my-wife#moreData ), have been aired nationally over 300 times.  As an overview, the first commercial shows handsome rather clean cut, all American looking men cheerfully singing the tune whose catch phrase is “I’m looking for someone other than my wife.” The zombie themed commercial tells us that by having an affair with someone we hook up with on Ashley Madison, we will bring the excitement back to our marriage.  What is obvious in both of these advertisements is that the behavior should be secret.

I have no intention of making this blog about marriage, morality or religious beliefs.  I acknowledge that there are many couples who have open relationships in which they engage sexually with others outside of their marriage.  The key differences between couples in an open relationship and cheating in a non-open marriage are consent and secrecy.  In an open relationship, couples have agreed to the terms of the relationship.  They know that there will be sexual interactions outside the marriage.  Both parties in the relationship consent to these terms and there are no secrets.  What Ashley Madison is proposing and supports is infidelity in secret.

While we can laugh at the silly commercials or be aghast at the fact that the company is advertising a cheating website in the same manner that Ford advertises a new truck, the fact is that the commercials supporting the practice of infidelity completely ignore the effects of cheating on a marriage.  Where in these commercials is the scene where the unsuspecting spouse catches a sexually transmitted infection from their cheating husband or wife?  Where is the scene that shows the pain and anguish that the partner who has been cheated on feels and experiences?

In our practice, we often work with partners whose spouse or significant other has cheated on them, some even via the website Ashley Madison.  I think I can safely say that none of these partners felt as though their significant other’s cheating brought the excitement back into their marriage, unless by excitement the owners of Ashley Madison mean anger, rage, tears, heartache, anxiety and a deep sense of loss and betrayal.

Janis Abrahms Spring Ph.D.  (http://janisaspring.com/) is a renowned author who writes about infidelity.  In her book, After the Affair: Healing the pain and rebuilding trust when a partner has been unfaithful, Dr. Abrahms Spring shares the possible psychological impact of an affair in a relationship.  These include a loss of: “identity, sense of specialness, self-respect for debasing yourself and forfeiting your basic values to win your partner back, self-respect for failing to acknowledge that you were wronged, control over your thoughts and actions, fundamental sense of order and justice in the world, religious faith, connection with others and sense of purpose or the will to live.”   I feel great empathy for the partners I work with who, unsuspectingly, will be exposed to this commercial and be emotionally triggered by both its existence and its content.

I understand that Ashley Madison is, above all, a company that wants to make money. I realize that in order to do that they need more subscribers.  However, I struggle with the complete lack of understanding of the impact of an affair on a relationship that is displayed by the company.  Has digital sexuality evolved to the point where we are encouraging lying and deception to our chosen partner on national television with a catchy tune?  Have we become so dehumanized on the internet that we truly believe that hooking up with someone via the internet is not cheating?

In the world of addiction (or affairs in this case) we often say that if there is a will, there is a way.  Therefore, if a man or woman wants to cheat on their spouse they will find a way to do so.  They will also easily find a way to do so without national advertising of hook up sites.

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