I wrote an article last week, noting my reaction to the Ashley Madison debacle. It has continued to unfold. At least two suicides are suspected to be linked to the release of private details. The company emails are now floating around. Political and media names are beginning to emerge as members of a website devoted to facilitating secretive cheating.
A reporter contacted me, and I recorded the conversation. Glad I did! By the end, I was seeing that this reporter wanted a quote, and not one the reporter got. From past experience, that often means I will be misquoted — or at least quoted without context. So, if I am quoted, here is the transcript:
Reporter: Thank you for speaking with me! I am betting it has been busy for you since the news broke over Ashley Madison.
Lee B.: It did trigger a few emails and phone calls. But to be honest, marriage problems are more than just a result of a database being released. We stay pretty busy helping couples in trouble.
Reporter: So, you haven’t seen any shift?
Lee B.: Oh, we have seen more traffic and interest. But I think right now, many people are trying to figure out what to do. People with accounts are trying to decide what to to. Come clean or keep hiding? Spouses who have found their spouse had an account are trying to figure out what it means.
Reporter: Well, it seems pretty clear-cut, doesn’t it? The spouse was cheating.
Lee B.: No. I don’t think it is nearly that clear-cut. In fact, I think there is a great more nuance to what is going on than the media is noting.
Reporter: How so?
Lee B.: Let’s just go with statistics. Of the registered accounts released, which was approximately 36 million, from what I am hearing, 28 million were men. Only a small fraction of those men were looking for other men. So, most were looking for a woman. There were only what, 6 to 8 million women? And some people believe that many of the female accounts were faked. Some believe that the company behind Ashley Madison made fake accounts, so they could lure men in. Kind of like “ladies night” at the bar. The owners put out bait. Otherwise, the men don’t come — and don’t pay.
But let’s suppose those 6 to 8 million women were real. Either they were very busy, or lots of men did not find a match. Just numbers.
Reporter: OK, but those men were looking.
Lee B.: Even that is a bit more nuanced. I think some men probably created accounts because of their fantasies. They never really intended on action. They were playing out a fantasy.
Reporter: So you are OK with that?
Lee B.: No. It certainly indicates an issue, in the relationship and in society. But it was not so clear as saying someone cheated. Either by lack of opportunity or lack of desire, they did not actually use Ashley Madison to cheat.
Reporter: It sounds like you are OK with Ashley Madison. That you are letting them off the hook.
Lee B.: Absolutely not. The first time I read about Ashley Madison, I was on a flight to a conference. It made me sick. I actually got physically nauseous. I could not believe a company would form around cheating. And I read their tagline, “Life is short. Have an affair.”
I had to apologize to the passenger beside me, as I thought and unfortunately said, “That is a pile of crap!”
But let’s be clear: Ashley Madison did not invent cheating. They just figured out how to profit, and profit well, by taking advantage of it.
Reporter: So, you don’t think they contribute to cheating?
Lee B.: I don’t think this data breach is going to change this. It is like the Hydra from mythology. Hercules took it on. But every time he cut off one of the 9 heads, 2 came back. Ashley Madison may be done. But someone will replace them, only with the promise of super security. Probably, it will be the same people behind Ashley Madison.
The issue is not the company. It is the fact that some people are willing to live duplicitous lives. They hold onto a marriage, and want to cheat on it.
Look, this data breach was illegal. There are many people who will say, “I am glad they did it. Now I know.” And there will be a spike in divorces. There will also be a spike in couples who decide to finally take a look at their relationship and make it real — address the issues and move forward.
I will admit I got a little bit of guilty pleasure when I first heard of the breach. But this was still an illegal action. It was an assault on the company. It was also an assault on people. What if the next breach is Sex Addicts Anonymous? Names are released of people who are getting help — but still, their names are released. Then, the next is for some other company. The fact is, the breach was just illegal. It will not stop the companies who will spring up and serve those who want to cheat.
Reporter: I actually thought you would be happy to see this happen. . .
Lee B.: I am happy when couples stay together, not because someone is cheating — or wanting to cheat — but because they decide to work on their marriage. I am happy when people face their issues. I am happy when people find a fulfilling and loving relationship.
I am bemused that this happened, and people are jumping on. There is the company. I despise the company. There is the data breach. I believe that was illegal. There are the people now left out to clean up the pieces. But I hear from people, every day, that discovered their marriage was not what they thought it was. That happens, with or without this data breach. As I said in the article you noted, the truth usually does come out.
Reporter: You said you despised the company. But you seem to be protecting them.
Lee B.: There is nothing I can do to protect or harm them. What I despise is that this company has one sole mission: help people cheat, in secret, on a spouse. That is all they do. They create a way for people to contact other people, with the clear intention of cheating. That is an immoral mission, in my opinion.
Reporter: But what about Facebook? People cheat on Facebook. Or Snapchat. People message their lovers on Snapchat? There are others. . .
Lee B.: There is a difference. Facebook has let me keep up with friends from high school and college. It lets me connect with others with similar interest. Snapchat allows people to send silly messages. I use it with my kids, just to snap a picture and add a caption. In other words, they have other purposes and missions. Not Ashley Madison.
Oh, and it is also a very hypocritical company.
Reporter: How so?
Lee B.: The husband and wife who run it at least claim to be monogamous. In fact, in interviews, the wife admitted she would be devastated to learn her husband had cheated. And yet, they run a company that creates that potential. They say they were only exploiting an opportunity. I think the exploitation is correct. But there are plenty of opportunities out there. Why choose one you would not want in your own life?
I have a friend that runs a fitness company. Know why? He is passionate about people being fit. He believes in helping people to maximize their physical capacities. He believes in what he does. Yes, he makes lots of money. But he is also doing what he believes in. He is not at all hypocritical.
But here is a company that founded itself on making money being destructive. They claim not to believe in it for themselves, but are glad to collect fees. And according to most estimates, that amounted to over $100 million per year. Quite a revenue for something you would not want in your own home.
Reporter: OK. So, what about the people involved?
Lee B.: The people in the database? Time to come clean. Time to say, “I had an account.” Then come clean on why. Was it fantasy? Time to talk about it. Was it to cheat? Time to talk about it. Was it because someone was miserable? Time to talk about it. Issues can be solved, but not while they are hiding in the dark.
Reporter: But maybe this is just an indicator that humans aren’t meant for monogamy.
Lee B.: That’s crap. I have heard that said. But it seems to be for justification purposes. Look, if you really believe that, fine. But at least have the decency to let your spouse in on this little secret. It isn’t fair to NOT be monogamous AND hide it from a spouse.
I feel the same about all the people who have written the “I had an affair and it saved my marriage.” Justification. They didn’t sit their spouse down and say, “this isn’t going the way I want it to. Let’s figure this out.” That is just the decent thing to do with a spouse. At least be honest and say, “I am not happy here.” And don’t wait until you are ready to take some action that jeopardizes everything.
Reporter: So, if this isn’t just “in our genes,” what does cause the infidelity?
Lee B.: I think there are clearly 2 pieces in play. First, there is not enough connection between the couple. They are not as connected as they need to be, so there is a yearning and a distance between them. And second, there are not enough boundaries. Boundaries are what protect the marriage. They are the things you do to keep a marriage safe. Maybe it is not having dinner with someone of the opposite sex, alone. Or maybe it is making sure messaging is about a specific topic, not about emotional issues. Or maybe it is about how you share your social media, phone, email, and other hiding places.
In the end, it is a commitment to stay connected and to protect the marriage. Every marriage has times of disconnection. So, you need the boundaries to keep it safe during those times. Then, you work on the connection.
Reporter: So what happens next?
Lee B.: To the company? I would be happy to see them end. But something else will fill the space. To the people exposed? I hope they find a way to face this, to see the damage done, and to work to repair the damage.
Reporter: Thank you for your time.
Lee B.: Thank you.
NOTE: If infidelity, including from Ashley Madison, has affected your marriage, here are some free resources to help you recover.
According to the press, divorce attorneys are waiting for the rush. People on both sides, cheater or cheated, are waking up to a new reality. Embarrassment, hurt, shame, guilt, and anger is erupting around the United States.
Somewhere around 36 million accounts of potential cheaters has been unleashed. Why do I say “potential”? Because having an account does not amount to actually following through. Some have likely created accounts to fuel their fantasies. Some had inappropriate conversations. And some cheated. Their account will not reveal what each person did.
Whatever the reason or outcome, there will be devastated spouses who are just learning of a spouse’s wayward eye.
Ashley Madison would love to put this genie back into the bottle. But it is more like Pandora’s box — once the box is open, there is no going back. That is the nature of information on the internet.
I have been asked over and over, “has the internet/smartphones/FB/Snapchat/AshleyMadison/pornsites/etc. caused infidelity?”
Statistics and observation would say no. The rates of infidelity stay fairly consistent. The change is in the manner of carrying out an affair. These resources are more like conduits. It still takes someone who is willing to step beyond the boundaries of a marriage. That really is the issue: the willingness of someone to cheat.
Do I like Ashley Madison? Absolutely not. “Despise” would more accurately describe my feeling. And the feeling is aimed at those behind it — the willingness to create a conduit for cheating. Yes, those other conduits I noted provide ways to meet and cheat. But they have other purposes. Ashley Madison does not. Its sole purpose is to facilitate cheating (OK, the REAL purpose is to make a profit — but a profit based on deceit and damage).
I have mixed feelings, though, about the hack. It is, after all, illegal to hack a company and share private information. On the other hand, one thing is clear: the truth will come out. Truth #1, a company that specializes in deceit did not protect their users. But Truth #2, people were at least willing to consider cheating — and instead of confronting the issues in their relationship, they were willing to deceive.
Oh, trust me, I have seen the “my affair saved my marriage” comments and articles. And they are merely a great self-justification. But why not truly save your marriage? Why not either 1) build a relationship you would actually treasure and protect, or 2) be clear with your spouse that you can’t be faithful?
From my perspective, I have to witness the devastation of not doing one or the other (building or admitting). Spouses who become: paranoid, suspicious, angry, hurt, bitter, resentful, and mistrustful. Children who become: angry, hurt, bitter, resentful, and have difficulties trusting love in their own lives.
A very short-termed escape from a reality that could potentially be changed. A fantasy that is very unlikely to last (would you want to stay in a relationship with someone who cheats? — the basis of an affair – and the reason why very, very few affair relationships last).
We only need to look in the news for proof that the truth does come out. Ask Cosby, Fogel, Clinton, etc., etc., etc. It may take some time, but the deceit can’t last.
Oh, and if you discovered a spouse was on Ashley Madison, according to the hackers, there is at least an 83% chance that it is a husband. Of the 36 million accounts, 28 million were male. The rest were female. But some believe that many of even those few female accounts are faked, to get men to sign up.
That does not mean women are not cheating. After all, heterosexual infidelity does require one of each gender. It is more likely an indication of how women enter into infidelity, versus men. For women, it may be more relational than men. Men are happy to rely on the ease of a website.
For me, the real issue here is that people see marriage as disposable (or at least not worth protecting). Not working out? Walk out. Not working out? Go out (and cheat). Ashley Madison just tapped into that feeling. Their tagline is “Life is short. Have an affair.” Wouldn’t it be better to believe, “Life is short. Have a great marriage.”
It always amazes me the effort some cheaters go to in order to facilitate the extra-marital relationship, versus the amount of energy (or lack of) to deal with nurturing a marriage. I often feel the same about criminal activity. With all the creativity and energy that goes into an illicit activity, what would happen if that was used for decent (licit) activities?
The Ashley Madison hack will open up many people (primarily, wives) to the reality that things are not what they thought. Does that mean the marriage needs to end? Perhaps. Or it could lead to facing the real issues of the relationship. It could actually be the beginning of something new, based on honesty.
And you can be sure, this won’t be the last time the truth comes out. It may only be the last time that the truth of 36 million people is unveiled at once.
The truth usually does come out.
And your reaction only causes further problems.
Reactions are “knee-jerk.” They are rarely thought-out, and almost always counter-productive.
And the next time, it happens again.
You are stuck in “Reactive Soup,” as I call it.
While the behavior is understandable, it is not likely to be getting you anywhere you want to be. It is likely NOT helping your relationship. And it probably leaves you frustrated with yourself (unless you are still stuck blaming your spouse).
Oh, sure, you could rationalize why this isn’t your fault and why it isn’t your problem.
But it is.
Only you can make a change. Your reactions are not getting you where you want to get, so let’s get them changed.
Listen below to learn why you react, and how to stop.
Jack’s wife just revealed that she did not want to stay married. 22 years of marriage. Gone. Jack was in panic mode.
“What do I do?”, he repeatedly asked.
To be honest, Jack had already done a number of things I would have advised against. He was already behind the proverbial “eight ball.”
Jack’s determination was actually getting him into worse trouble. His efforts were in the wrong direction, confusing, and only leading to more anger.
So, Jack asked me where he should start.
I knew what Jack wanted. He wanted what we all want: a shortcut, an easy technique, a secret “ninja move” that would turn things around.
But as is true with most things in life, it is a bit more complicated than that.
“Jack,” I said, “take a deep breath. Sit back and listen.” Jack struggled with that, but he did it. Until I told him that something else had to change first: his mindset.
In fact, Jack and I discussed 5 ways his mindset had to shift. I share those 5 areas with you on this podcast. I tell you what needs to shift, and how it needs to shift.
Even if you have been trying to save your marriage for some time, this is important. You may not have even made that first shift that is crucial for anything to move forward.
James and his wife had been struggling for years. Arguments, fights, and conflicts had cut into their love for each other.
While James believed there was still love there, he knew it was buried deep for both of them. James spent lots of time licking his wounds, remembering the struggles — and usually seeing that he had been “done wrong.”
He contacted me because James didn’t want to end his marriage. But he didn’t know what to do. He was stuck.
Tina’s husband just left one day. They had not been fighting. Really, neither had ever been much on arguing.
On his way out the door, Tina’s husband said, “I just don’t feel anything. I need to clear my mind and see what comes up.” And he was gone.
Tina was devastated. What had she done? Why had she been abandoned? Tina wrote to say, “I don’t want a divorce. But I didn’t do this. Why should I have to do anything?”
Pain and hurt. We avoid those feelings, but they still come to us. That’s a part of life.
But sometimes, the pain and hurt can keep us stuck. Ironically, when pain or hurt keeps you stuck, you generally only get more pain and hurt. In other words, the “stuck” just keeps us in a cycle of getting more of what we want to avoid.
Is there another option?
Let’s discuss why pain and hurt keep you stuck and the games you play because of the hurt. Then, let’s discuss a way to get un-stuck.
The problem is, in every game, every hidden agenda, every ulterior motive, there is manipulation and indirectness.
It may work for salespeople, attorneys, and politicians. But it rarely works for spouses and friends.
When someone is playing a mental game, our “BS” meter becomes hypersensitive. Something is just not quite right, just a little off.
And because of that, we lose trust.
What is YOUR game? What is the hidden agenda? What is the ulterior motive?
Don’t get tripped up by playing those games.
Learn what to do. And what NOT to do. . . .
In other words, “I don’t have confidence, and until I do, I don’t want to take action.”
I consistently answer the same way: “Confidence is the wrong place to start. Confidence is not the starting point.
Fear grips everyone. Here and there, we all find ourselves caught by fear, seemingly unable to move, feeling unable to act.
If you know that feeling, I want to let you in on a little secret: confidence is NOT the starting point. It is part of a cycle. But waiting for confidence will be a long wait — it may never come. Unless you decide to take action, follow the cycle, and get to the point of confidence.
So, what are the steps toward confidence? Listen to learn the “confidence cycle,” and why NOT to wait for it to get started!
And so, I often have the question asked, “Should we separate? Will a separation save my marriage?”
Can a separation save a marriage?
Short answer: yes, it can.
Longer answer: a separation can save a marriage, but it is statistically unlikely. And in my experience, a separation is a step in the wrong direction.
Fairly recent statistics show that around 79% of couples who separate end up divorced. In other words, 8 out of every 10 couples who separate will divorce.
I view separation as an absolute last resort to save a marriage. It is, in my opinion, that unlikely to help.
But here is the thing: if you are stuck in a conflicted and hurting marriage, it can be a very appealing solution. And yes, you can find “fans” of separation. There are people who tell you it is an important step in restoring a marriage.
Those people are ignoring the statistics.
They are appealing to your sense of relief that can come from a break in the conflict.
But are there better solutions? Absolutely. Here is one.
In this podcast training, I tell you why separation is problematic — so that you understand that. I also tell you how to structure a separation, if it is inevitable and a last resort. Listen below for help with separation.
No tingles, no butterflies, no desires. Is it you? Is it your spouse? Were they ever there?
Those feelings of attraction and romance are not well understood by most people. So, when they aren’t there (or are at least in short supply), many believe it to be an indication that the relationship is wrong, destined for failure, or maybe permanently broken.
There are 5 root causes of why those feelings might be missing. The bad news is that there is nothing you can do about 1. The good news is you have a choice about the other 4.
Learn what happens to those feelings. But more importantly, discover what to do about it.
Perhaps with hat in hand, you sit down with your spouse and let your spouse know, in your most sincere and concerned voice, that you know you have fallen short. You know you can do better. . . and you promise to change.
What you expected was a spouse who is supportive and hopeful, smiling at you, and proud of your efforts.
What you get, instead, is anger and frustration. Maybe it is the silent treatment. Or maybe it is yelling. Through clenched teeth, you may hear your spouse say, “I DON’T BELIEVE YOU.” Or maybe, “We’ll just see about that.”
You feel shot down. Maybe hopeless. That did not play out the way you thought it would.
Don’t blame your spouse. Choose to fix it. Choose to make the change.
Here is what to do, when your spouse doesn’t believe you will change.