The recent Ashley Madison hack hasn’t just exposed user data, it’s also brought to light our various attitudes toward marriage and monogamy in today’s high-tech, high-strung society.
Ashley Madison’s motto is brilliant marketing: “Life is short. Have an affair.” Why is it brilliant? Well, because life is short. Can’t argue with that.
In today’s world, short-term thinking prevails. On top of this short-term thinking, we're seeing increasing rates of narcissistic behavior and attitudes on the part of married spouses: I’m not happy. I deserve to be happy right now. I’m bored. I deserve to be excited right now.
(You’ll notice there’s no regard for the other spouse’s unhappiness or boredom.)
All of this leads some spouses to sign-up for the quick sexual thrill and ego-boost that websites such as Ashley Madison specialize in. Sometimes, users sign-up for the fantasy element only.
They might do a little browsing, maybe a little chatting, just to get that “kick” in an otherwise boring day. These are often the same folk who will begin innocently texting or Facebooking a co-worker or opposite-sex friend.
But what begins as “innocent” activity almost always escalates to something serious, something that is eventually discovered to wreak havoc and heartbreak in a marriage and family.
Other users are actively seeking extra-marital bedmates. Why? Perhaps they’re self-indulgent and have little self-restraint.Perhaps they are in a satisfactory but sexless marriage.
Maybe their parents cheated or they are “trapped” in a truly miserable marriage with an unloving partner. The reasons go beyond the scope of this article.
Yet there is one reason I would like to expand upon. The founder of Ashley Madison, Noel Biderman, has said, “Cheating is like the secret glue that keeps millions of marriages together.”
The idea is, people are happier and more devoted when they are engaging in secretive extramarital sex.
That’s a nice spin to put on it, but it’s BS. Saying cheating will save your marriage is like saying smoking will improve your health. Both are toxic to you and those around you.
Both are hard to hide for very long ... whether it’s the smell or the smoke, someone is going to get suspicious. Mr. Biderman’s sales pitch is simply the justification that people use when they want to indulge in or defend an action they know is shady.
It downplays the fallout of infidelity (everything from STD's to stalking behavior) and disregards the right of the betrayed spouse to know what kind of marriage he or she is really in.
Another justification for infidelity is the assertion that monogamy is impossible or unnatural. Again, this is BS.
The truth is, countless married couples have made monogamy work in their lives. There is a strong compulsion in our society to find an exclusive partner and walk through life with that person.
To raise your kids together and to explore life together. And while there may be times in marriage when spouses feel attracted to other people, they make the conscious choice to keep their promise of loyalty.
They resist the temptation and turn back toward each other instead of drifting further away. When things cool off, they work to heat them up again.
In the end, we all balance decisions in life. We don’t overspend in middle-age because we want to enjoy a comfortable retirement. We don’t overeat because we want to remain fit and active. We don’t slam into the back of that car that just cut us off in traffic because we don’t want our insurance rates to go up. We don’t succumb to every sexual urge because we want to enjoy the benefits of a long-term, loving marriage and home life.
Suggesting that people have no ability to make these kinds of conscious choices or display self-restraint is insulting in the extreme. Those who say a monogamous marriage is impossible are speaking from their own personal experience, character and decisions. And as they say, speak for yourself.
Of course, this is just a superficial look at tech-enabled infidelity. Texting, social media, cyber-dating and so forth happen in marriages that run the gamut from happy to miserable and from highly sexual to sexless.
There are many reasons people stray and technology enables infidelity in a way that is faster and easier, although certainly not more secretive, than ever before. My book Couples in Crisis: Overcoming Affairs & Opposite-Sex Friendships covers this issue in more detail.
Yet in the end, it is always a question of choice. “Will I betray my spouse?” In the wake of the Ashley Madison hack, we’re seeing a lot of “You got what you deserved!” opinions.
Some may say that it isn’t right to judge like this. Yet when it comes to infidelity, the fallout is so hurtful that perhaps some degree of (measured) social judgment is warranted.
It reinforces the idea that we should keep our promises. That we should strive to be of high character and to put our spouse and/or children before our own shifting desires or urges.
That humility, love and devotion aren’t outdated. Rather, they are virtues, alive and well, that are still making marriage work for many people. They are virtues that are still keeping homes intact. The social judgment we are seeing seems to support the idea that spouses should work on their marriage when things get rough or boring, instead of making things worse through deception and turning outside the marriage.
But back to Ashley Madison’s motto: “Life is short. Have an affair.” If I had to write a motto for married people, I’d say: “Life is short. Turn-off your computer and turn-on your spouse.”
Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B. is a couples mediator who specializes in infidelity and cyber-dating. Check out her book: Couples in Crisis: Overcoming Affairs & Opposite-Sex Friendships and visit her here.