In the aftermath of the Ashley Madison hack, my therapy center has been blowing up with calls and emails from individuals and couples who are afraid, ashamed, and angry. These hurting people are asking for help in moving through the painful discovery or disclosure sharing that their relationship has been impacted by deceptive sexual choices, including infidelity on the Ashley Madison website.
If you are reading this and you are the person who has "cheated" on a loved one and have been losing sleep this week, terrified that your secret sexual life will soon be revealed, you have likely been scanning the Internet looking for ways to support yourself and salvage your relationship.
Or perhaps waiting was creating too much anxiety for you, and you decided to come clean with your significant other and are now dealing with the consequence of your partner or spouse's trauma, betrayal, anger and confusion.
Maybe you are the wounded partner or spouse reading this, and have either discovered or your partner disclosed to you about his or her affair or account with Ashley Madison. If so, my heart goes out to you. I have stood in those shoes and know first hand the devastation you are feeling right now.
As a couple in crisis it may feel like this is the end of the road for you. The trust is broken, the information is out, you are ashamed and enraged, the arguments, tears and excuses have been keeping you up late into the evening, and you are exhausted and feeling hopeless.
And now...what do you do?
I'd like to take some time to discuss next healing steps, breaking this information down per the individual, and then for the couple based on the scenarios I laid out above:
1. For the individual still in hiding: This is your wake up call. You are reading this information right at this very moment for a reason. If you are ready to use the AM scandal as an opportunity to come out of the shadows, I encourage you to seek help from an experienced sex addiction therapist in your area, or therapist who specializes in infidelity who can walk along side you on this difficult road.
If you are truly willing to take the needed steps to have a healthier relationship with your own sexuality, and ultimately your spouse or partner (should you want to stay in the relationship or marriage), then please make that call. If you go to the resources section of this website, you will find directories that list therapists in your area, as well as 12 step groups, and books to support you. Only you can decide how much longer you remain in sexual deception and isolation, and when enough is enough.
2. For the individual who recently shared your secret: While it takes courage to admit that you have been deceiving your mate, part of the recovery treatment for sexually compulsive individuals and their spouse is called Formal Disclosure. However, if you have informally disclosed your sexual deception without the assistance of a trained infidelity therapist or CSAT, then your partner or spouse is currently in significant pain, and you are likely dealing with shame and fear. Both of you may find yourself confused and uncertain about next steps. My hope is that you will explore the resources available in your area and begin to work with a trained and licensed therapist who has extensive experience with infidelity and sexual deception.
An important note to the cheating spouse: Betrayed partners or spouses can handle almost anything if the offending partner is willing to be truthful and seek counseling, but they cannot handle on going deception, or staggered disclosure (little bits of the truth coming out over time). You have likely created a fog of crazy making in gas lighting your spouse over time (i.e. denying her/his suspicions, making up elaborate stories, picking fights to hide your secrets), the time to stop that is now. Seek the support you both need to move forward. Individual therapy for each of you, group therapy, and couples counseling with a focused treatment plan is the recommended clinical approach to repair the relationship.
3. For the betrayed spouse or partner: If you have just discovered, or if your partner or spouse has just disclosed their infidelity with Ashley Madison or a similar site, you are understandably devastated and my heart goes out to you. It is important to understand that this is not your fault. Though your partner or spouse needs to get their own healing with a therapist specializing in this, you also deserve to have supportive counseling to walk you through first steps in healing. These first steps include how to set boundaries, compiling your safety and consequence list, and other first tasks in partner's recovery.
It is also important to note that as the hurting spouse or partner, you only know what you know. If you are concerned about your health or worried that you may have potentially been exposed to STI's or HIV, please take this seriously and set up an appointment with your doctor right away. Additionally, the resources page offers reading and materials that support first steps of healing for partners and spouses.
No matter what category you fall into here, or if you fall into a category of sexual secrecy that is not listed here, please remember that if you feel that you are at risk to yourself, or feel that you may harm someone else, or feel that someone may harm you, reach out to a friend, family member, your therapist, or call 911. There is always hope and support. Please make the call.
As I wrap this up, remember that a therapist may not treat clients outside of the state they are licensed in. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist in the State of California, and work with clients who reside within the state at my Glendora counseling center. While this information is listed here as a support to those couples and individuals who are in crisis, this is not intended as therapy or counseling, as I am not your counselor or therapist. Rather this information is offered here as a supportive resource.
In closing, Ashley Madison or an affair does not have to be the final chapter in your relationship. Instead, if you choose, it can be the doorway into healing and building a life and a relationship that you are proud of. I wish you all the best on your healing journey and you are welcome to share your thoughts below.
Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S
#healingfromanaffiar #ashleymadisonhack #couplescounseling