By now most of the world has heard about the Ashley Madison website hack. Ashley Madison’s website slogan is, “Life is short, have an affair.” AM is not a traditional dating website, instead it caters to married people and people in relationships interested in having a secret affair. With over 37 million members, the company prides themselves on keeping their client’s identity and information confidential through top notch data security.
However, this may be changing soon as the hackers are now threatening to release all of Ashley Madison's customer records and make the names of their customers public if the website isn't shut down.
The hackers called themselves the "Impact Team," and the potential release includes "profiles with all the customers' secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails."
It is easy to jump to judgment regarding the clientele of Ashley Madison, especially for those of us who have experienced the heartbreak of discovering an affair. However, as a therapist, I believe it is also important to remember that there are other individuals who may have used the site to contact same sex partners due to the real fear of retaliation, violence and even death threats from their community.
Additionally, as hard as it is for more traditional couples to understand, there are many couples who embrace websites like Ashley Madison, and their intimate sexual lives will be exposed to all, including their children, co-workers, and others. As human beings we must pull the lens out of our own pain and desire to see revenge enacted upon "the cheaters", and instead find a place in our hearts for compassion for those who will be swept up into this tidal wave of public shaming. I get it, believe me I do, being cheated on hurts, and it impacts your life and the choices you make in your personal relationships. But in the end, how does this really help anyone?
Given my clinical specialization in sex addiction, it is not unusual for clients to report compulsive use of websites such as these. Websites like Ashley Madison and Adult Friend finder become an easy access to their “drug." Much like a crack pipe to a drug addict, a person who sexualizes their pain often deals with a myriad of attachment issues and unresolved trauma. For others, they choose to eroticize their frustration, anger, and resentment in the relationship and with their mate vs. discuss their relationship issues with their spouse or partner, or seek couples counseling. That said, not every person who cheats is a sex addict. But nearly every person who cheats and deceives their mate very likely has an unhealthy relationship with their sexuality. Often these individuals mistake intensity for intimacy. And often these individuals deal with shame based thinking and self loathing.
Yes, there are those disordered human beings who take pleasure in hurting and lying to their mates. People who deal with personality disorders or other more acute problems. But for the vast majority of clients I see, there is real remorse, not simply due to being discovered, but sincere regret and shame in hurting the person they love. What steps they take to re-build trust is what will determine the outcome of that relationship lasting or ending in a break up or divorce.
Whatever informs the person's choice to use Ashley Madison with the intention of cheating, it is important to state that this post is not intended to minimize the significant pain the betrayed spouse or partner experiences when discovering the person they have loved most in the world has been cheating on them. The pain is real, and the anger, confusion and horror is a traumatic wound to the partner. I have been there...I understand that pain.
However, while many people who have been cheated on are likely cheering the hackers on (and understandably so, it was my initial reaction as well), it is wise to remember that if this information does indeed go public, the painful side effects will not only impact the person having the affair, but also create public humiliation for the betrayed spouse and partner, as well as the children and family. And more profound losses are likely to occur such as suicide, homicide, bullying, loss of church affiliations, loss of income, and other serious life threatening consequences of this hack.
In closing, there are no easy answers, and I realize that this is a very difficult topic that brings about polarizing opinions. My hope is that by discussing this here, I am offering a more balanced perspective, as well as offering hope and encouragement to the person reading this who has used Ashley Madison and is experiencing regret, fear, anxiety and the horror of being discovered and publicly shamed. If you are that person, and you have been engaging in sexual deception and compulsivity, I encourage you to reach out for support today.
If you are a spouse or partner, and have been hurt by your partner's sexual lies and affairs, you deserve to have focused support and healing as well. I understand your pain, I know you are hurting, so please reach out and get the support you deserve. There are many resources to help you, including, "Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts."
Finally, rather than raise our shaking fists as a nation, throwing scornful insults and verbal rocks at the adulterers who may soon be publicly exposed and shamed, my hope as a therapist is that this is a wake up call to those who need help. That this threat will become an on ramp out of hiding in order to create a life and a relationship to be proud of. No more secrets, lies, excuses, anxiety of being caught. Instead, a chance to start fresh...with openness, honesty and integrity.
As Paulo Coelho states, "Honesty is the highest form of intimacy." What was your reaction to the hackers? You are welcome to share below.
Kindly and in support,
Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S
#comeoutofhiding #ashleymadisonfear #gethelpforaffairs