Divorce lawyers and the media across the world were woken from their sun loungers for one of those ‘irresistible’ PR moments last week as news broke of the data hack of subscribers to Ashley Madison, the dating website encouraging extramarital affairs. When Steve Mindel in Los Angeles plumbed the depths with “It’s going to be Christmas in September”, predicting a rush of unseasonal new enquiries, he might as well have been quoting the Sex Pistols “A cheap holiday in other people’s misery”.
But in reality, does anyone actually believe that there are now potentially 23,475,000 adulterers world-wide about to find themselves propelled into divorce through the disclosure of their online interests? The website does not require users to provide a marriage certificate, references or even validate their email addresses. Writing in the Guardian at the weekend, Barbara Ellen questioned the likelihood of hordes of women being available to make the maths work with “The sad truth is that certain men only believe it because it suited them to believe that women could be as sexually desperate as them”.
The latest Office for National Statistics figures (2011) show that only 15% of divorces issued in England and Wales are based on adultery and although there may be technical reasons why the figure is relatively low, many people do in fact manage to come through the raw and damaging experience of infidelity (or discovering the intention of such) with the help of family, friends and good therapists.
Mandy Saligari, director at Charter Harley St and a therapist whose name should be in every smart thinking lawyer’s directory for their clients’ sake, has shared the following advice with us for those on the receiving end of infidelity:
"If you discover your partner has been unfaithful, you are likely to feel outraged, humiliated, hurt, betrayed and often completely lost - how could this happen to you? You may want to take control back by punishing through withdrawing or by hurting back and friends don't take much persuading to fuel this instinct as they want to help and don't know what else to do. However, surprisingly, these responses can make the pain worse. Whether you want to break up as a result of the infidelity or not, I think it is vital to try to look at how on earth this happened to you and then to educate friends on how to best support you in this. When I first suggest this, people look aghast as if I am delivering a second blow, rubbing salt into the wound, but in my experience it’s the quickest way to take back your power, and to make sure it never happens again.
The way I would look at it is this: You may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with symptoms that include extreme change in sleeping patterns and appetite, increased nervousness, inability to concentrate, frequent crying and a sense of being overwhelmed by events. These symptoms need attention and seeing a therapist and attending a group can really help, even though it is likely to be the last thing you want to do. You may also feel driven to have sex with your partner, perhaps to reassure yourself that you are attractive, an act which is likely to be followed by profound disgust at the repeated reminder of sexual betrayal. You must treat yourself with kindness - easy enough to say but difficult when what is going through your head is blame and then shame - how could I have been such a trusting fool? There is a real question here which can be explored with the right support and without shaming yourself for such a valuable quality as trust.
You must be prepared to give up the safety of the victim status. True, you are a victim of another person’s behaviour, but to stay a victim will trap you into resentment - you can set yourself free but only if you are brave enough to look at yourself. Coupled with professional support, sincerely ask yourself:
- How did you come to choose someone who wasn't sexually trustworthy?
- How come you were betrayed?
- How come there was a gap in your relationship that made it possible for the infidelity to take place?
- Where was your attention when you were taken for granted and overlooked - do you put yourself last too?
Effective therapy can help you to hold your own hand through this experience and enable you to place your attention firmly back on you instead of being drawn to bitch and gossip about the betrayal. By all means cry, but do something with your tears so they are not lost energy, as wisely harnessed they are your fuel for recovery. "
Curiously, Steve Mindel might be right about one thing but for the wrong reasons. September can often be the time that, with a kind of "back to school" or post-holiday reasoning, many people approach divorce lawyers to explore their options. Starting a divorce is simple - all you need is the fee, proof of marriage and a reason, right? However, what the lawyer must do is sign a certificate advising the divorce court whether they have discussed the possibility of reconciliation and or provided names of people qualified to help effect reconciliation. Frequently ignored, this may just be the best advice divorce lawyers can give you, wherever in the world you might be.