Advice: Chatting and Cheating

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on chatting and cheating, lack of intimacy and positive activism.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on September 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Two Wrongs, One Miserable Marriage

For almost two years, I chatted promiscuously online and shared intimate photos of myself. When my husband found out, it destroyed him and his trust in me. To even the playing field and assuage my guilt, I encouraged him to do the same. He says he loves me and wants to stay married, and I feel the same. How do I repair the damage and convince him to give up the chatting after all I've done?

I don't know where you're used to playing, but asking your spouse to commit the same violations of intimacy you did doesn't even the score -- it just sinks the whole stadium, perpetuating humiliation and pain without even touching the real problem. The ease of online chat notwithstanding, you probably found it attractive because it offered something that's missing in your marriage. Perhaps you don't know what pleases you emotionally or sexually or perhaps you don't know how to ask for what you really would like. That can make it easier to talk to an anonymous but eager stranger than to a real spouse. To stay married, you have to stop debasing each other and, with true emotional honesty, together establish the rules of your relationship from the ground up. You can start down the road to repair by sincerely apologizing to Hubby for hurting him and your marriage. You can tell him kindly how much it hurts you now that he is doing the same thing. And with the utmost respect for the future you want together, you each need to talk about what you would like from each other. That's what has been missing so far, and it's how you create the DNA of any relationship.

How to Do Good in Bad Places

I am a woman of 65 who has a good life as a fine art appraiser who travels a great deal. I cannot tolerate cruelty. As a child, I watched my father shoot a deer that suffered and died. I became a bleeding-heart liberal, donating to animal causes. I turned down a paid trip to Brazil, as I no longer travel in third world countries because of inhumane treatment of women and animals. My niece says that because of the organizations I belong to, I have done immense good. What do you think?

You make it sound as if there is something wrong with having a worldview and life goals liberal enough to encompass the needs of other creatures. You got there by viewing the pain of and empathizing with another creature; other people get there other ways. Further, you don't just espouse those beliefs, you live by them, even when doing so inconveniences you. That's a fine indicator of commitment and character.

You have done immense good by belonging to organizations and donating to causes that can leverage collective power to further your beliefs. I'm guessing you're wondering whether you have gone too far by refusing to travel.

It isn't the dollar value of the trip that is at issue, but whether there comes a point where you're restricting your sphere of influence or experience too tightly. If you were to confine your travels to countries that eschew inhumane treatment of women and animals, I'm not sure you'd be living in the U.S -- or anywhere. To take one example: Recent news stories assure us that the treatment of women who work on Wall Street is atrocious, the culture is hostile and the only way to force change is through lawsuits.

Couldn't you do more good by traveling to places you want to visit, linking up with others there who believe as you do and together exploring ways of making your cause more visible or more effective? It comes down to deciding whether to react negatively or positively. Sometimes reacting by withdrawal is a very effective strategy for bringing influence to an issue, but other times, activism is the more effective way to advance a cause.

Maintaining a flexible approach means that you evaluate and consider separately each opportunity for travel or participation in an activity, instead of reacting automatically by withdrawing from it. Consider the good that you could do by going, for example, to Brazil, where there are many who share your concerns. You may not be missed if you don't go, but if you do, you may forge strong alliances and encourage groups already on the ground.

A Whole Lot of Libido Going On

My husband, 26, and I, 38, have been married for three years. I've caught him on adult friend-finder, escort and swinging sites and soliciting prostitutes. In the beginning, he went there to get his ego boosted and for sexual gratification. When we met, he made me feel wonderful and beautiful, but I now hate myself. I will never measure up to what his profile says he wants. He relieves himself at work and has a low sex drive with me. He also wanted a blow-up doll, but he has backed off that idea. Otherwise he is attentive and caring and he hugs me all night.

Repeat after me: "His misguided behavior isn't about me. It's about what's missing in him." Yes, it feels like rejection. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it feels threatening to your future. But interpreting it as evidence of personal shortcomings keeps you in a panic about yourself while blinding you to the need to find out what's really going on. And even though something is amiss with the relationship, he is as much responsible as you for finding and fixing it. You, at least, have reached out to find a solution that includes your partner. Darling, here's what's obvious: Hubby seems to be looking at everyone (and everything) as a source of sexual gratification -- except his wife. It's not his sex drive that's low; it takes a whole lot of libido to slog through those tacky Web sites. What's really low is his emotional engagement with you. He curls up with you at night, but it would be a lot better if he could also do it when you're both wide awake.

You need to find out why he thinks love isn't something you express sexually with a wife. It likely has something to do with why he has to go outside the relationship to get acknowledgment. After all, most people go into a relationship for these very things.

Perhaps you are so preoccupied with your own insecurities that you are not paying enough attention to Hubby. Or perhaps you are giving him confusing signals about your emotional and sexual availability. Maybe he is very confused about his own sexual needs. In any case, a loving, non-confrontational talk about your entire relationship is way overdue. For starters, you might ask him to tell you what he wants in a relationship, and then you get to tell him what you want. You could ask him what his sexual needs and preferences are and what he would like from you. You have to begin the process of negotiating the relationship you want. It doesn't develop automatically just because you are married.

And learn to be comfortable having this kind of conversation. It's how couples get close and stay close. If you wish to travel through life together, it's a conversation you must have over and over again as needs and interests evolve over time.