Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

How Many Marriages does Ashley Madison Save?

What is evil?   And would you even know it if you saw it? I’ll give the answer in a moment.

I was intrigued by the article in Bloomberg’s Businessweek on the 21st of February: Cheating Inc.: At Ashley Madison's website for "dating," infidelity is alive, well, and profitable. Those of us in the infidelity field have long been aware of AshleyMadison.com and their promotion of infidelity in marriage.  Their motto is “Life is short - Have an affair” and their profits support their claim. Last year alone their gross revenue was $60,000,000 and they reported a net profit of $20,000,000. Given those numbers it’s hard to argue their success.

The article was triggered by Fox Network’s refusal to air an AshleyMadison.com advertisement during the Super Bowl.  “But why?” questions the creator of Ashley Madison, Noel Biderman?  During the most-watched Super Bowl in history, Fox broadcast an ad for GoDaddy.com, in which racecar driver Danika Patrick wears a skintight body suit and later a movie trailer featuring Adam Sandler and a barely-dressed woman. So what’s the big deal? Why not show Ashley Madison’s ad?

I’ve been hesitant to write about AshleyMadison.com simply because I didn’t want the knowledge of their existence to be a temptation. A past client who utilized their services confirmed that concern just yesterday. “I never would have fallen into my affair if it hadn’t been for a news report on CNN about Ashley Madison. I cringe each time I hear the name is mentioned. For me the discreetness provided a path I would have never traveled”, said Maureen, a mother of two, “Had it not been for the promised privacy I don’t think I would have ever been bold enough to put myself out there”.  “In fact I felt sick the week after Labor Day when I heard Ashley Madison had a record day due to kids going back to school and parents having more free time”.


According to Biderman in the Bloomberg article; “his business isn’t hurting anyone.”  “If you eradicate Ashley Madison, you’re not going to eradicate infidelity. That’s what allows me to sleep at night,” he says. “If you think that all affairs happen on Ashley Madison, you’re very naive. The majority happen in the workplace. People are thrust together, that’s where they happen.” In that context, Biderman likes to argue, “affairs can be much more damaging, by causing meltdowns at work, becoming public, and blowing up marriages. Ashley Madison and its clandestine, more transactional approach, he says, is actually a marriage saver, a public service of a kind.” “Do you think if you stop allowing divorce attorneys to advertise, we would stop people from getting divorced?” he says.”

Maureen would beg to differ; “For me the pain of that year far out weighed the benefit. It almost destroyed my marriage and my life.” She continued, “At the time I thought if no one gets hurt then there’s no harm, but that’s just not the case”.  “It’s hard for me to imagine it’s helping any marriages after the harm my involvement brought to mine.”


But my reason for writing about this has little to do with Ashley Madison and more about something much broader but just as insidious.  Why would Fox News refuse to air Ashley Madison’s ad yet at the same time air commercials that in some respects were just as risquÈ as the one proposed by Ashley Madison? Can you see a bigger issue here?

In traditional theological teaching, there are three sources of evil.   They are the world, the flesh, and the devil - and I’d suggest that evil has to be dealt with in that order. According to Richard Rohr “The flesh may be the most apparent when it comes to individual failure and it may be the source of our greatest wounding, but up to now there has been little recognition of the underlying forces or structures that ultimately lead to the behavior. If you don’t start at the most hidden, the most disguised, the most denied level of evil, then you can’t get to the root.”

In fact, rather than recognizing each of the three sources, the vast majority of focus seems to have been aimed almost exclusively at the flesh. From an early age, we warned about the evils of the flesh. Sermons are preached about it, people are shamed about it. Examples are given of both those who overcame their flesh and those who fell. The virtue of right living is extolled and the shame of failure exposed. But unless we examine the problem from a broader perspective we’ll miss what is really going on.

Day in and day out I work with those who have “failed”. Failed marriages and fallen individuals flow though my office like a never-ending stream. But is flesh the only problem? Is it simply that we’re weak and prone to stray or might there be an even deeper problem we fail to consider?

“The world” represents what we call the system or the establishment. It influences the way cultures, groups, institutions and nations organize themselves in order to survive. There’s nothing wrong or unusual about that reality, but we must be aware that systems naturally move toward self-perpetuation and survival. To survive, systems have to create their own reality and truth which often has little to do with larger truth.  And once you become a part of that system, it’s reality and justifications for existence become your own.

As a result, it’s ten times more difficult to expose the evil of a system compared to the individual because there’s no one bad person. It’s all of us and for that reason it seems more acceptable.

A great example are the many scandals that have happened in churches and government. Leaders, who should know right from wrong, commit terrible wrongs. However, once you are a part of the system there are things you can’t see, you can’t say – you just don’t perceive them as a problem because somehow in the context and logic of that system it all makes sense. They only present a problem for you when you step outside that system or someone critiques the system in a way that gets you to open your eyes and see the situation from a different perspective. Our way of life so dominates our thinking that we often can’t see the larger picture.  Unless the illusion can be exposed at the level of “the world,” most people - even good intentioned people - will be fooled.  Our own self-interest and reputation or image will influence what we call morality.

Inside the system conformity appears as virtue and critical analysis as rebellion. “Anything “organized” usually operates at it’s own level of ego and is incapable of self-criticism. Systems tend to protect not only themselves, but also business as usual. Why? Because they are the status quo, you can’t criticize yourself because you are the system. You cannot critique what you are benefiting from” says Richard Rohr.

Which brings me to my point.  Choices made by Fox News during the Super Bowl are a great example of how we as a country fail to see the deeper realities. At one level, we shun the anti-marriage messages of Ashley Madison, yet at another level promote programs such as “Desperate Housewives” or “Sex In The City” which frequently convey the exact same message. You can’t reward and promote it at one level and condemn it at another. How is it that we so easily condemn individuals who cheat but spend our nights glued to programs promoting the very things we claim to abhor?  

Are we capable of removing ourselves enough from the system in which we live and take a critical look at what we support and believe? For instance; our culture seems to be far more tolerant of divorce than we are of exploring the possibilities of restoring a marriage after infidelity. From almost any perspective, that reality is insane. How is it that divorce, which destroys the continuity of family, lowers our standard of living, impacts the future well-being of our children, can be a better alternative than exploring the benefits of reconciliation?

If at one level we get upset at companies like Ashley Madison that prey on human frailty, can we also be equally upset about the system that exploits those same frailties for profit in movies and television? What do you think?



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thank you

Thank you for your bravery in speaking the truth about the power and danger of "group think".


You ask how we, as a society, can be against a website like Ashleymadison.com that provides a platform for married people to find willing partners with whom to cheat on their spouses and yet promote and enjoy programs like Desperate housewives, etc. I believe the answer is in the word "reality". A TV show is not reality and a married couple will sit and enjoy watching it together; whereas websites like ashleymadison are there to make real the fantasy of an affair. You won't find many husbands or wives willing to sit at the computer with their spouse at their side and answer the emails they get from ashleymadison-like websites. Yet they will sit together and watch Desperate housewives etc. together. The world "system" does not fully endorse, even many conservative Christians do not endorse, Christ's view that if you think about having sex with another woman (man) you have commited adultery in your heart. It is a hard teaching to accept because it is nearly impossible to live up to! And if one fully accepts that view, then one has already commited the sin so why not have the pleasure that goes with it; i.e. go ahead and actually "have" the affair. People are not ready to accept that there is no distinction between thinking about doing and actually "doing:". The TV programs and movies are in the realm of fantasy and Ashleymadison.com type websites are in the realm of reality. We as a society are OK with accepting the reality of the fact that we have these "illicit desires" but we are not OK with accepting the acting out on them becoming a socially accepted norm. Thus, Fox can ban the commercial that promotes bringing fantasy into reality (ashleymadison.com) yet continue to promote the fantasy itself (Desperate Housewives, etc).

I found this to be very

I found this to be very thought provoking!  I was someone who thought I would leave immediately if my spouse cheated on me.  Much to my surprise I have tried to support both of us through recovery for the past 2 years and it seems my friends and some family are much quicker to encourage me to leave the marriage than I have been.  The lack of support to keep working towards reconciliation after 2 relapses has been difficult and at times made me question my own patience for recovery!  Many times I have felt that people are quick to support you through a divorce instead of reconciliation during a recovery process that takes time to heal!  I find myself questioning the same thing...."why do we not encourage reconciliation of a marriage"?  In my experience, people around me seem very comfortable to talk with me about divorce, how to move forward without my spouse and to move on.......it almost seems that talking about marriage issues and steps to reconciliate after an affair is too difficult to discuss and people actually go out of their way to not mention it.  At times, I even feel like I am encouraged to leave my marriage to take a stance for my friends due to their own fears and to give a message to their own spouses....??  To much exposure of infedality via television, movies, and news reports may also be adding to people fears ......we need more exposure to the pain of betrayal and the steps for recovery to help people understand it is devastating but possible!  Nevermind the benefits of reconciliation to all those involved!

Ashley Madison

Before my husband's affair I thought that movies and shows depicting these type relationships were so standard.

Even though I always wanted the cheaters to reform and come out as the "loser" I didn't think much about it.

Those days are over for me. The devastation and aftermath/fallout from surviving an affair is so so much more traumatic than what TV portrays.

The reason it is so easy for people to disregard the media and all of these kind of story lines is the fact that they've never walked through this fire before.

It is just so far-reaching in who it hurts--nobody knows that part of it.

Ashley Madison web page broke my heart


Regarding your Ashley Madison article;

Thank you for this article.  I totally "get it" when you say that it is a deeper problem.  I "get it" that the super bowl adds that they allowed are in the same category.  The trouble is that in our society we have accepted the Victoria Secret adds and the like as we accept that we brush our teeth. 

 I want to share my experience with the dating site, Ashley Madison.   I was raised by a European mom that explained to be that men if given the opportunity will "do something" and if I do not know it will not matter.  So I already had a much more open mind about men and their "needs" if the OPPORTINITY ARRISES.  Where I really, really had trouble is that my husband did not seek "an opportunity" but actually went "looking for IT" on their web site, paid money, and spent hours upon hours on the computer, taking away time and money form the family.  I told him that this pre-meditated dating is like when you pre-meditate a murder.  It is not in the line of passion. 

I want to thank you for opening up this story.  I am grateful for 12 step programs for folks like my husband and celebrate the folks who are not in denial and realize they need a program of recovery.  I am sure that your seminars are very positive and with your help and the 12 step groups there is hope, recovery, and forgiveness.




I agree that this society is sick in many, many ways.  Most every advertising focuses on the attractions of sex and it's byproducts.  Presidents are allowed to use a flimsy excuse as "it depends on what your definition of "is" is."  The porn industry destroys intimate sexuality with blatant unloving, animalistic sex.  Comedians play on it.  Our president is troubled with issues like what marriage is.  I guess that too relies on "it depends on what your definition of "is" is?"  When attempting to educate oneself about the term "sex addict" which doesn't even exist in the handbook for diagnosis of mental illness, one of the first few things one reads and offered unsupported are:  sex addiction has nothing to do with sex; sexual addiction is not a moral issue; pornography when not used to excess is beneficial in marriage."  A lot of hype, with no support?  Who says those things are true?  And who says that adultry is a good thing?  These people talk, as if they are some kind of expert...and they are spouting a lot of statements they can't even support.  RIDICULAS!

society's numbness to tv / movies

Rick - your article touches on a point that I am very passionate about.  Advertising with inappropriate images has long been on my pet peave list.  Why is there a woman in a bikini selling cars (shouldn't she be selling bikinis)?  At technology conventions, why is a scantily clad women handing out information about circuit board chips?  Yes, I know the answer .. sex sells.  That is what I have been told.  It is a sad reality about our society.  Are we really that immature and gullible to fall for that?  And the more we advertise this way, the more we expect it, the more we ignore it, the more we are used to it.

As far as allowing the commercials on the SuperBowl, perhaps the fact that society has been acclimated to those other companies or advertising methods, it was allowed.  I believe that the repeated viewing of shows on tv causes a "it's normal" feeling among society.  The more you see inappropriate, immoral, and illegal behavior on tv and movies, the more it becomes "normal".  The more you watch shows with blood and violence, the more numb to it you become.  I discovered this at my own parent's home recently.  I had to remove my young daughter from the tv room.  (CSI stuff, blood, dead bodies, violence) They were oblivious it seemed to the affect those images would have on a young child.  I believe the same happens to adults who frequent strip clubs, visit internet porn sites, etc.  They become numb to the reality that those activities are damaging to their relationship with their spouse.  "Everybody does it .... blah, blah, blah, vomit"!  

I thought for a moment in your article you were going to reference the Holocaust.  Probably got your attention now, huh?  You mentioned how large groups get lulled into doing wrong (churches, government).  It is scary to me how as humans we can be so sedated to the truth of what is plain right and wrong!  

Absolutely Concur

Rick:   Great article, and all great points.  Particularly this one:  "How is it that we so easily condemn individuals who cheat but spend our nights glued to programs promoting the very things we claim to abhor?"  

Moreover, once you're "on the other side" of the infidelity journey (either as the hurt spouse or the cheating spouse), you watch all of the programs & commercials, hear all of the ads and songs on TV and radio, and read all of the news articles and assorted commentary, and you realize how common references to infidelity are, and how deadened and desensitized the rest of the "world" is to the casual acceptance of infidelity as norm.  It's EVERYWHERE and for those of us on the healing side, it's like bumping into a bandaged wound each time you encounter these things. 

We have changed our TV viewing patterns, changed what we listen to on the radio, and certainly what we read or find acceptable as media in our home.  We're not Quakers, but there are somethings that we just simply cannot, will not, stomach any more. 

If the world (and many mainstream churches) would fully acknowledge that the Enemy exists and is stalking our marriages, we'd be a lot better off and perhaps take a harder line on our responses to the acceptance of things as they are.   What's the saying?  "The greatest trick the Devil ever played was to convince the world that he doesn't exist."  

Thanks for your work.  You've been a blessing to us.

Ashley Madison Ad

I couldn't agree with you more.  I discovered my husband's affair in 2008 and subsequently learned of 3 other affairs that occurred prior to the 2008 discovery.  We are now almost three years later and are still together after much counseling and individual work that continues today.  We have changed the way we live on a daily basis - accountability on both our parts to each other, decisions about the people we choose to spend time with.  Your commentary made me realize that we have slowly evolved into practically shunning all media - so much that we cancelled our cable TV and chose an online service that allows us to watch shows that we like.  The result - we watch less TV and spend more time together or God forbid, read more!  We choose programming that is in line with how we want to live our lives.  No influences!  But do we as a society have to live like hermits?  I don't think so.  I think it is about realizing what moral values you want to maintain in your life and applying them on a daily basis.  And to think I used to be one of the biggest fans of Sex and the City . . . I now can't even stomach a re-run based on what I have been through over the past few years.  It does make you wonder how much influence society in general (media, TV, movies, books, etc.) has on one's tolerance for certain values.  30-40 years ago, divorce was practically unheard of, now it's unusual if you don't meet someone who hasn't gone through a divorce.  The same seems to be happening with affairs - just seems that it is now considered "normal" behavior and widely accepted.  What's next?

Quick thought:

I would hesitate to say that the rate of affairs has gone up significantly over the past 50-odd years, I'd like to think the rise in the divorce rate shows that women no longer have to put up with the same BS at home that well-meaning but impractical morals had thrust upon them before.  Still, the #1 way to avoid falling into a situation like Ashley Madison is being 100% upfront and honest about your sexual satisfaction in your marriage.  Trust me on this, I've been on there for a while now and every woman says the exact same thing "we're good partners with the kids, but I'm not loved anymore." 

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