If you are thinking about checking to see if your partner is on the site for cheating spouses and partners, you should think about several things first

By now everyone has heard the name, with its tagline, “Life is short, have an affair.” Ashley Madison is a website for cheaters (reportedly 37 million of them), which recently made headlines when hackers stole customer information and threatened to post everyone’s data online.  This week apparently it made good on its promise. 

The hackers were supposedly seeking retribution for the moral outrage about cheating spouses (around 95 per cent if its users are men) who put their profiles online and then released these customer’s records, which are said to include their names, addresses and emails, as well as the last four digits of their credit card number and the amount paid.  There is even the possibility that people's fantasies too will be revealed.

CheckAshleyMadison.com, a website that allowed users to check whether an email address was registered with the site, has been taken down following an apparent copyright claim from Ashley Madison's legal team. 212,000 people visited the site in the short time it was operating, but there are reportedly other sites carrying users' details.

Right now you may be thinking, “I wonder if my partner is on Ashley Madison?” And your second thought is mostly likely, “I wonder if I should check them out...”

If you are thinking about checking to see if your partner is on the site for cheating spouses and partners, you should think about several things first.

Number One. 

Consider that a membership doesn't necessarily mean an affair. Sometimes people join sites like Ashley Madison out of curiosity, or for the turn on, or the excitement. And if you do find a profile, what will you do? Are you prepared for the conversation that you will need to have about your feelings of betrayal? 

In Dan Savage’s “An Open Letter to People Thinking About Checking to See if Their Husbands or Wives Were On Ashley Madison” he says, “Do you really want to know? Many people who were cheated on and found out...later expressed regret about finding out.”  He goes on to say that “Ignorance can be marital bliss.”


Number Two.

Has your partner ever cheated on you in the past?  If you have a history in your relationship of infidelity, it has probably been a long and rocky road to recovery.  Healing after an affair can be tough.  Occasionally people slip up. This doesn’t mean that your partner will always cheat on you.  Ask yourself if knowing if they are on the site will ruin your marriage or committed partnership and if you are ready for that kind of consequence. My advice? Think long and hard about where you are now in your relationship and wait it out. Eventually the truth will surface.

Number Three. 

It is possible that your partner has a profile up on Ashley Madison from the past. On the other hand, if the profile is up on the site after they promised to take it down, this is an important conversation to have. Furthermore, Ashley Madison’s sign-up process does not require verification of an email address to set up an account, so legitimate addresses might have been hijacked.

My advice?  Ask your partner first before you check.  Bring up the conversation about the hacking of Ashley Madison. Then ask them if they have ever had a profile in the past.  This gives them the freedom to discuss the possibility without feeling like you are accusing them of something in the present.

Betrayal can begin long before real cheating starts, when your implicit monogamy agreement is broken, through small acts of insincerity or exploration.  For instance, setting up an online profile can be kept secret and compartmentalised, and is rationalised as something private - not meant to hurt a partner. Yet when the partner finds out this becomes an explicit trauma to the relationship that begins a breach that can be almost impossible to get over. But if couples can talk about what they each want in their monogamy agreement, they can be as flexible and fluid as the relationship demands. There are no rules about what a couple should do or have or be in their marriage or committed partnership, there are only traditions.  And each couple can create new traditions based on their own values and their own desires.  But in order to do this they have to communicate first.

Dr. Tammy Nelson is a sex and relationship expert and the author of  The New Monogamy and can be found at www.drtammynelson.com.  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook