You went on Ashley Madison to check it out. You were curious. You wanted to know what all the hoopla was about. You entered your email; you paid for an account. And now your spouse is sitting across from you in the therapist's office, and you are wondering when the session will end and how much money this will set you back -- how much emotional destruction this will cause in your marriage.
The damage has already been done. But don't sign the divorce papers yet. There are still several possible outcomes.
One, it is unlikely that your spouse will leave you for an affair that occurred primarily in your mind. If you were only on Ashley Madison for the fantasy, because it sounded intriguing, you were curious or you were using it for masturbatory imagery, tell your partner the truth. It is more common than you think for people to join dating and cheating websites only to look around. Sometimes, people look around or even chat with someone by email, but never, in fact, make a date.
Two, if you did meet up with someone for sex, you are more likely going to suffer the consequences in your marriage if you lie about it, cover it up or try to justify it. Most people don't break up after an affair because of the sex or outside relationship; they end their marriage because of the dishonesty.
Tell the truth now, and come clean about your motivation. This could be the moment you have been waiting for to change your life. In therapy, you get to talk to your spouse about what made you decide to cheat. You have a willing audience and an impartial, trained observer who can help you navigate this dangerous territory. Be honest. At this point, what do you have to lose? They already know you went on the cheating website. You weren't trawling for porn, you were looking for real people, and they know that.
Three, if you cheated, don't blame your partner for your indiscretion. Explain what motivated you. Researchers say there are really three reasons to cheat; for sex, for romance or for the combination of sex and romance.
Perhaps there are ways that you can get back some of what was missing in your marriage now, if you work on it. Go back to the person you met on Ashley Madison and end the affair with integrity, do it like a grown-up, apologize if you hurt them, and then say goodbye. Now focus, and put some real effort into your marriage. Give it a finite period of time where you are both willing to give it all you got, and then decide at the end of that time if it is worth saving.
Is it worth ending your marriage over an affair? Only seven percent of people stay with the person they leave their spouse for, and no statistics exist for whether or not an affair works out for people who meet on cheating websites. However, its doubtful you will meet someone who will leave their partner for you if they were registered on a site that is meant purely for affairs.
Lastly, if you are truly innocent, and someone else used your email address and your partner found your data through the hackers leak online, you may be telling the truth. The authenticity of users emails on the site has been questioned and there is no way to verify that info. An official at Ashley Madison said Thursday the data exposed in the dump can't be conclusively linked to its users because they don't verify the addresses of their users, so anyone can use any email they put in to the system. And why would a spouse use a common email that could be checked by a spouse?
If you are a woman, the statistics are in your favor that you are telling the truth if you say you were never on the site. Gizmodo did an independent analysis of the site and said that of the 5.5 million women subscribers, only 1,492 women ever opened their inbox to look at messages, inferring that perhaps these were fake female profiles.
If you want to save your marriage, and perhaps come out of this post-Ashley Madison scandal unscathed, or even stronger, you might want to use this crisis as an opportunity to work on your relationship. Start with communication. Talk to your partner about your needs, your desires, your fantasies. What is it that you want in your marriage?
Studies show that affairs don't necessarily mean that you are unhappy with your partner or in your marriage. In fact, the research says that 56% of men and 34% of women said their marriage was "happy" or "very happy," and that they were having good sex, even during their affair. So don't write off your partner or your marriage yet.
Get a good therapist. And next time you go online, tell your spouse what you are doing, ask them to join you, or email them instead. Illicit fantasy works just as well when you send naked photos to your spouse. Just watch out for the hackers.