Tuesday's data dump of supposed Ashley Madison users likely has some couples questioning their relationships and others wondering if they know someone on the list.
So what happens if you do discover a loved one was on Ashley Madison? Couple and sex therapist Irene Oudyk-Suk of Couples In Step Counselling in Toronto says the most important thing is to stay calm and prepare yourself to have a serious discussion.
She notes physical and emotional infidelity aren't just excuses for ending a marriage, they are the result of a breakdown of trust, pleasure and joy in a relationship.
Before you approach your spouse, take a moment to think things through by yourself. Ask friends to recommend a counselor or look online for a therapist who specializes in emotionally focused therapy, suggests Oudyk-Suk, who also points out that weekend-long sessions can provide couples with the space needed to heal and move forward. And remember, safety is important too. If there is a history of physical abuse in your relationship, do not broach the subject in a place that makes you feel vulnerable.
Once you're ready to talk, recognize that the conversation is bound to be emotional. Oudyk-Suk recommends keeping tempers in check and taking a time-out or talking to an expert when things get heated. Therapy can offer a safe setting for couples who might fall into the ‘blame game’ often associated with infidelity.
But just because couples are having trust issues doesn't mean all the love is lost. "Even relationships with severe problems, including infidelity, can be repaired," she says, adding that couples can rebuild trust, if it is what they both want.
Just don't expect your relationship to go back to normal after an apology. Oudyk-Suk warns rebuilding trust can take months, rather than weeks. And that's usually with the help of professionals. "Repair is a process and of the 'two-steps-forward-one-and-three-quarters-steps-back' type," she explains. Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist and renowned relationship expert at Berkeley University, says trust isn’t just important for couples, it’s vital for society as a whole. Gottman credits his student Dan Yoshimoto for discovering that the basis for trust can easily be broken down to being ATTUNE-d to your partner.
Awareness of a partner’s emotion
Turning toward the emotion
Tolerating different viewpoints
Understanding (or attempting to understand) your partner
Not becoming defensive
and acting Empathetically
Of course, as the debate about the validity of the user list rages on, we also wondered how people in relationships should proceed if they believe their emails were falsely added to list. "You must understand that your claim of innocence is going to be very hard to believe — even if you are innocent," Oudyk-Suk says. But again, if you communicate with your spouse, you can maintain the trust.
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