So You Found Your Husband on Ashley Madison—Now What?

August 26, 2015
Advice on everything from getting counseling to finding a lawyer.

If you’re a woman who’s discovered your husband had an Ashley Madison account, you’re far from alone. Given that more than 32 million people were registered on the site, tons of unaware significant others are finding themselves in the same unwelcome position. “It can be very easy to miss the signs that your husband has signed up for a site like this or is being unfaithful in some other way,” says Jane Greer, Ph.D., author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.

When a man is unhappy in his marriage but is committed to staying faithful, he’ll probably voice his concerns to his wife because that’s the only way to get what he he’s looking for. “On the other hand, if he’s going outside his marriage, he may stop talking about how unhappy he is because he’s finding what he needs elsewhere,” says Greer. If you’re completely caught off-guard by your partner’s infidelity, here are a few potential courses of action.

If You Want to Stay
There are various reasons you may not see this kind of relationship infraction as a deal breaker. Maybe you want to stay together for the kids or have lost interest in sex with your husband. Whatever the case, it’s your prerogative to stay firm in your commitment to him. “It doesn’t mean you’re a a sucker, and it doesn’t condone the experience,” says Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a sex and relationship expert. “If you’re willing to do the work, you can come out with a far better relationship after cheating.” (Although, we have to say this: If it makes you the least bit unhappy, you don’t have to live with it. You do have options, like the ones below).

One important factor to keep in mind if you’re deciding whether to stay mum is how his straying could affect your health. “If there’s a chance your husband has had an affair, you need to go to your gynecologist and get tested for STDs,” says Fleming. It’s even smart to do so if you’ve been in a sexless marriage for some time, just for your peace of mind. If you two are having sex and there’s a chance he’s cheating, it’s smart to bring it up for the sake of both your sexual health and happiness. “Having an affair or seeking one out is a red flag that something isn’t working in your marriage,” says Fleming. “This wakeup call can be an opportunity to make things better.”

This is especially true if you’re fine with him looking for sex elsewhere because you’re not into it anymore. “It’s not uncommon to renegotiate fidelity after some time being married, whether it’s talking about open relationships or polyamory,” says Fleming. Granted, you have to actually talk about your partner's infidelity to use it as an opportunity to restrengthen  your bond. If you’re down to try, Fleming suggests you start the conversation by saying something like, “I don’t even know how to bring this up, but I found out you have an Ashley Madison account. Help me understand why so we can figure out if we can make this work for our relationship.”

RELATED: 6 Signs He's Probably Cheating on You

As tough as it is, maintaining a calm demeanor is key to making him feel like he can tell you the full truth. “The adrenaline of anger numbs you from the pain, but will likely make him more defensive,” says Fleming. If you dig beneath that fury to figure out what you're feeling underneath that—abandonment, rejection—you can talk to him from a more vulnerable place. “That will make him more likely to truly hear you,” says Fleming.

If You’re Not Sure
It’s not always clear from the get-go whether you can work through cheating or if it's irreparably damaged your relationship. “You need to have an honest conversation with him about what kind of toll this is going to take on your marriage,” says Greer.

When you sit down to talk (always have this kind of conversation in-person), feel free to ask him as many questions as you need to. “You may want to know if he’s actually met anyone from the site in real life, how long he’s been on it, and how many women he’s talked to,” says Greer. He may say he wasn’t on it to meet anyone, just to check it out. If your gut is telling you he’s lying to you, then be open about that with him, as well. You're completely within your right here to ask to see his phone or his e-mail for verficiation of what he's saying. 

RELATED: If They Cheated Once, Will They Cheat Again?

How your guy reacts to this conversation can help inform whether you want to stay together. “He should be saying things like, ‘I don’t know what I was thinking, I want things to get better between us, and I feel terrible,’” says Greer. Even better if you can tell he’s genuinely sorry and he agrees to see a couple’s therapist to work through the heart of his infidelity issues.

If he belittles your feelings by calling you crazy, blames you for the fact that he’s on the site in the first place, or seems like he’s not going to stop signing on, it’s clear he isn’t committed to changing. Another clue he’s set in his ways is if he’s not willing to do what you need to feel safe. “If you want him to sit in front of you and delete his profile, he should do it,” says Greer. “Rebuilding trust is about openness. You need to see the actions that demonstrate the end of duplicitous behavior.”

RELATED: Why Men and Women Really Cheat

And a note on looping in your friends and family: At most, choose one trusted confidante to tell, recommends Greer. Someone you know will support you if you stay, rally behind you if you go, and be civil to your husband if you decide to work it out. “People can take sides or become critical and angry, even if you eventually decide to forgive him,” says Greer. To that end, also make sure you choose someone who can keep her lips zipped so the news doesn’t spread.

If You Want to Split Up
Whether this is the latest in a long string of cheating or he doesn’t seem remorseful, you may come out of the conversation deciding you’re done. Hold off on calling the divorce lawyer. The immediacy of anger and hurt can blur your vision, pushing you into making rash decisions you otherwise wouldn’t. “When there’s an affair, there are such intense emotions involved on both sides,” says Fleming. “If you’re going to walk away from a relationship, you don’t want to have any woulda, coulda, shouldas. Going to couple’s therapy can help you make sure you’re acting from a place of clarity.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t implementing changes like him sleeping on the couch or even giving a trial separation a shot. But no matter what you choose, if you have kids, shielding them from the brunt of the storm should be your top priority. “You don’t want them exposed to explosive anger or name-calling,” says Fleming. Institute rules like only discussing the infidelity after they’ve gone to sleep so you don’t accidentally drag them into the drama.

RELATED: How Men and Women REALLY Feel About Cheating

If some time has passed and you’re sure you want out, a professional is still valuable when it comes to navigating those murky waters. “Seeing a couple’s therapist can help you deal with the anger and resentment so they don’t carry over into an ugly divorce,” says Greer. Talking it all through with an unbiased mediator makes it easier to end on the best terms possible, then move forward.

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