Ashley Madison Hack, a Modern-Day Scarlet Letter
By: Risa Ganel, LCMFT Owner/Principle Therapist
Couples Therapy Columbia MD
A news story brings up anxieties we’d all rather avoid
I’m sure by now you’ve heard of the outing of thousands of Ashley Madison users. You may have thought, “Good. The cheaters deserve it!” You may be outraged about hackers appointing themselves morality police. My reaction was different – my first thought was for couples I work with, struggling to get through the devastating aftermath of an affair, who’ll suffer a flood of overwhelming feelings.
After an affair, anything can trigger flashbacks, sending you back to what you experienced when you first found out your spouse cheated on you. It could be a movie about a cheating spouse, a song that played when you learned of the affair, the sight or even mention of the town or hotel where it took place. Any of these can trigger you, causing distress. That’s why, when I heard of the Ashley Madison hack, my first thought was for my clients and the anguish they’d experience, even though none of them was involved with the site.
Who’s in the Wrong Here?
We tend to vilify those who have affairs in a way that other cultures don’t, and we’ve been doing it for centuries. Hawthorne’s famous novel, the Scarlet Letter, is set in 1640’s Massachusetts and portrays Hester Prynne, an adulteress forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” as part of her punishment. This public shaming and the resulting lifelong loss of adult companionship are far worse than the prison sentence she endures. Ironically, the recently hacked website begins with that very letter, a modern-day scarlet letter A, now attached to its users.
What Ashley Madison promotes through its business, saying, “Life is too short, have an affair!” is wrong. It’s not a victimless romp. It betrays your relationship. On the other hand, the hackers are wrong too, and two wrongs don’t make a right. The damage done by the website doesn’t justify damaging its users and their spouses.
To be clear, I don’t recommend anyone have an affair. Ever. It’s a betrayal, pure and simple. However, monogamy is what’s new. Affairs have been going on as long as humans have been around. They’re not going away anytime soon, even if Ashley Madison goes out of business, which is unlikely.
If you’ve cheated on your partner, you should know that nothing on the Internet stays private. Back in 2001, I worked with a client who suspected her husband was having an affair. She downloaded key-logger software to their joint computer, and in days had all the details of his affair. That was 14 years ago! Today, if you send an explicit text or email, create an account on a dating site, watch porn, anything – it will be found out. It’s just a matter of when, by whom, and what they’ll do with the information.
Cheaters who get outed can lose their marriage, kids, job, even the will to live. At least one suicide has been linked to the Ashley Madison hack! This has to stop! Nobody is beyond redemption. Not even among 17th century Puritans, let alone today. Whether you were the cheater or the betrayed, there is help! An affair doesn’t have to be the end of your marriage. Working with a skilled therapist, you can create an even stronger marriage.