The hacking of Ashley Madison and the subsequent release of the personal information of many of its 37 million subscribers is causing violent ripples in homes throughout the world.
The website, which caters to married people looking for extramarital encounters and has been compromised by cyber-activists, is now relegated to the role of helpless witness as the names and sordid secrets of its clientele are being broadcast for everyone (including their devastated spouses and families) to see.
It’s tragic that such a business exists at all and has found such numerous and willing participants.
As a pastor who has walked families through infidelity and its awful fallout far too many times over the past two decades, I’ve seen the horrible collateral damage of it all; the violation of trust, the fractured relationships, the wounds it inflicts on people and the barriers it erects between them, sometimes irrevocably.
And regardless of the differing circumstances and the scenarios of the indiscretions, one thing is almost always true: It didn’t happen in an instant.
Married people don’t just suddenly stumble into affairs as if tripping on a curb. It’s not often simply a momentary lack of perspective or self-control. It’s usually the inevitable result of thousands of questionable decisions, all of which slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, lead people astray.
These are all part of the countless, tiny steps on that slippery slope leading to a website like Ashley Madison, and eventually to a physical manifestation of cultivated thoughts.
Technology often serves as the portal to finding attractive imitations; the easy, ever-present, all-too available delivery system of those empty tonics for serious heartsickness.
Which leads me to the fundamental question I’ve been asking in the wake of the Ashley Madison leak:
Does your spouse deserve open access to your social media; your phone, text, emails, inboxes, passwords, etc., or is that somehow an indictment of the marital trust and an invasion of the privacy of each individual?
I contend it’s the former.
For a long time, I’ve made it clear to my wife that she can get into my personal emails or texts should she ever need to, simply to let her know that I have nothing to ever hide from her.
I don’t always remember to log off when I leave our shared computer, and I often ask her to answer my cell phone if it rings when I’m in the other room. I give her my personal email passwords so that she can forward me files if I need them. For me, this is simply a natural expression of my vows to her.
I am an open book to my wife because I want her to feel secure and loved and safe. My transparency is simply part of my expression of that.
Some argue that all of this equals a loss of something on my behalf; a sacrifice of personal freedom or individuality. In some ways, I agree, but for me, these things are at the very heart of what marriage is made of and why I chose to enter into that collaborative covenant partnership in the first place.
Marriage is a willing sacrifice. It is an intentional compromise. It is the welcomed alteration of a person as they are alone, as they commit to be part of something else, together with another.
A few important distinctions:
This isn’t about sacrificing that which belongs only to you.
Of course you will have parts of your life that you don’t share with your spouse; that stuff that we all guard closely and save solely for ourselves. But the hope would be that you don’t share those parts on social media at all then either. If anyone currently has more emotional access to you than your spouse, that might be a red flag.
This isn’t about giving up your identity.
You can be a fully formed human being, with goals and a career and friends and activities of all kinds—and still be open about your social media and unafraid of being exposed. My wife and I each have a great deal of independence and personal freedom and time alone. We are independent, but in ways and areas that don’t have to do with our affections and attractions and desires and our deepest selves.
This isn’t about not having friends you confide in.
These days, Christians (especially Christian men) are big on “accountability partners.” These are people you have in your life who supposedly ask you hard questions and help you keep good moral boundaries for your marriage.
Having friends you can be open with is crucial, but these shouldn’t be substitutes for sharing such openness with your spouse. I have great guys in my life who I trust and can be real with, but I also have the perfect accountability partner for my marriage—my wife.
This isn’t about superimposing my marriage onto yours.
Your marriage is unique, and you and your spouse will work out that specific relationship in a billion different ways that don’t look at all like another couple’s. I don’t share my perspective with any sense of superiority or judgment. This is simply the way I express my commitment to my wife, and how I am comfortable relaying this with regard to the technology I use.
Truthfully, many of the people recently outed by the Ashley Madison leak (as well an untold number of married people who are engaging in hidden intimacy in other settings), would still have found a path to be unfaithful regardless of the safeguards in place.
Yet, I can’t help thinking that if more of those couples had practiced radical honesty and full disclosure with their spouses in these seemingly small, practical ways, many of them might have been protected from ever heading down that alluring, deceptively gradual road to infidelity in the first place. Or at the very least, they would have course-corrected before disaster.
This article was originally published on johnpavlovitz.com. Used with permission.
is a pastor, writer and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past four years his blog Stuff That Needs To Be Said has reached a diverse worldwide audience. A 20-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. He recently released his first book A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community.