By: Christine Hammond, LMHC
The release of names and emails hacked from the on-line cheater’s website Ashley Madison stirs up questions of fidelity even in the best of relationships. This is especially true in light of some high profile confessions. The website’s promise of anonymity has been comprised and what was done in secret is now being revealed. But before checking a partner’s email address on the hacked list, consider these things.
1. Everyone is capable of making a mistake but not everyone does. No one is perfect. Having expectations of flawless living will only lead to disappointment. Committed healthy relationships demonstrate a willingness to admit errors, change behaviors, accept adjusted boundaries, and forgive. This is something both partners need to do.
2. “This above all: to thine own self be true.” (Polonius gives excellent advice to his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.) Before checking any list, take a moment to self-evaluate. Ask: “Have I ever thought of cheating on my partner?” “Have I ever acted impulsively or inappropriately with someone else?” “If my partner knew everything, would they see it as cheating?” This is the time to be honest before making accusations about anyone else.
3. “Begin with the end in mind.” (This is habit 2 from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey) What is the goal? Is it to see if a partner is trustworthy? Faith is a belief without proof. Trust is earned over time and should not be given without some verification. Faith and trust are not the same. However, trust is not built by obsessively checking for lies or constantly believing the worst about someone. Rather, trusting someone is a decision which should be evaluated from time to time.
4. When trust is betrayed, the only person who looks bad is the person doing the betraying. This is essential in maintaining proper perspective. Deception is reflected on the deceiver not the victim. However, there is an Italian Proverb, “He that deceives me once, it’s his fault; but twice it is my fault.” Allowing someone to continually deceive without consequence demonstrates a lack of self-respect and appropriate boundaries.
After reviewing the above, go ahead and check the list. There are several websites that allow a person to input an email address. Be willing to be honest about doing it. Demanding openness without reciprocating is unfair. If the name is on the list, consider these points.
1. Don’t jump to the worst possible conclusion. This is information only, not evidence. This piece needs to be evaluated in light of the whole big picture. Are there other signs of a cheating partner? Has something similar happened before? Take a step back and look at everything from an outsider’s point of view before any confrontation begins.
2. Have a plan. Make a list of what is known and what is still a question. Knowing what needs to be asked beforehand will keep the conversation focused. Avoid asking obvious questions designed to entrap a person. Rehearse possible answers and reactions ahead of time to prevent emotions from taking over and clouding judgment.
3. Confront in a neutral environment. For instance, a partner’s office can be a place of confidence and give them an upper hand. Find a location and time that is dispassionate, intentional and safe. Don’t back down on asking questions, this is a time to be strong and courageous.
4. Listen to everything. Body language is amazingly revealing especially when a person is comfortable. It is not just the words said; it is the words not said that are equally important. Pay attention to repeated vocabulary, touching around the neck, or any mannerism that is inconsistent with past behavior.
5. Get some help. This is a good time to seek out advice from a counselor, trusted friend or mentor. Avoid speaking with family as they tend to side with their own no matter what. A partner who demands additional secrecy is a red flag.
Remember a healthy relationship requires growth on both parts. This is not one sided, no matter what has actually occurred.