Online Secrets and Cheating Spouses

Data breaches have become commonplace, but they’re still shocking. A few years ago, hackers released data they’d copied from the online social networking site Ashley Madison, which enabled extramarital affairs. For a fee of a couple hundred dollars, that site would match married users with someone who they could cheat with. The hackers posted the personal data, including names, physical addresses and even payment methods of 35 million users in a searchable database online, which allowed anyone who was interested to search online for evidence that proved infidelity.

Multiple public figures were identified as users of the website. Two “famous” guilty parties who’d built their reputations on moral values were found among the names included in the data breach. Josh Duggar, conservative reality TV star, and Sam Rader, a popular YouTube vlogger, both issued public apologies after they were found on the list of paid Ashley Madison members. Several suicides are even connected to the data leak. Countless people were left wondering if their secret would be brought light.

Some users possibly decided to reduce their anxiety by confessing their use of the site before they were actually revealed as users or caught. Most, however, probably sat tight, said nothing, and hoped that they would be left undiscovered. But with private investigators, reporters, curiosity seekers, lawyers, and interested spouses searching through the data, many affairs and attempts were likely revealed.

When affairs are exposed, via data breach or otherwise, confessions and apologies are sometimes made. But can the cheaters ever be believed again? Are cheaters ever really sorry for what they’ve done? Or are they only sorry that they got caught? Should cheaters ever be forgiven? Can cheaters be trusted in the future?

Everyone struggles with forgiveness and trust when other peoples’ sins are brought to light. But for the person who’s been cheated on, how they answer those questions may affect them for the rest of their lives. They need to understand why the other person cheated, and why the cheater didn’t confess their actions until after they were caught.

It’s only natural to be skeptical of confessions that are made after proof of the misdeed has become known. We’ve all seen apologies that are not sincere. Such apologies are usually accompanied by attempts to justify the behavior. But for some people, getting caught in infidelity serves as a turning point in their behavior. Change do happen. And sincere repentance, which is evidence of the change, is proven when those people dedicate themselves to relationship repair and restitution.

Situations like the Ashley Madison breach provided an opportunity for people to face their behavior, with all guises and fantasies stripped away. They were given the opportunity to heal, the opportunity to change. Those opportunities are there for all cheaters, whether caught or not.

Meanwhile, people shouldn’t feel gleeful about the Ashley Madison breach, or about other incidences of cheaters revealed. We should feel sadness and sorrow. And we should develop a thoughtful and kind response that goes beyond accusation and shaming. Everyone should try to hope for the best in those situations, and seek proof of repentance and trustworthiness.

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Healing After You’ve Been Cheated On

If you’re in the process of healing yourself after your spouse or significant other cheated on you, you might feel like a tree that has been cut down. However, what you’re going through may in fact be more like a cut back. And that may not be such a bad thing.

There was a lifeless, old and scraggly tree in our front yard a few years back when we moved into our then-new house. It was ugly, and I wanted to have it cut down. When the tree service arrived that fall, we were advised instead to have the tree pruned, to have it cut back. The service did just that, and we were left with naked, even uglier tree.

But when spring arrived, that tree sprang to life. It was unbelievable. The tree put out fresh green leaves, followed by bright flowers on every branch. It did not need to be cut down. That tree needed a pruning. It had to be cut back. Sometimes that’s what people need, too.

A book I’ve been reading lately discusses being vulnerable and authentic in relationships. The author wrote about experiencing both the painful and the pleasant intervals of life, using the same illustration of growing seasons and pruning seasons. According to the author, the greatest periods of growth in our lives come after being cut back.

Being cheated on is like suffering a deep cut. It’s painful, and parts we never thought we’d lose are cut off. But even for the cheater in the relationship, the wounds can be just the spots where great change takes place and the significant new growth starts. It’s amazing that something as terrible as an affair can work out to your benefit, if you allow it to. Things may be ugly at the moment, but just wait until the season of growth arrives!

The author of my book said she hopes that the person who inflicts a pruning as painful as an affair would help that person grow into a more tender person who can love more deeply than before the mistake was made. Such miracles are possible!