"Most of the cheaters -- myself included -- would say the same thing," D.S. says. "It's very seductive. You feel attractive. People care enough to listen. Someone asks how your day was. Now, just because [M.H.] didn't ask how my day was and some other guy did doesn't validate me. I could have very easily gone to my husband and said, 'Yoo-hoo, I'm right here, and you haven't been looking at me and you haven't for a month.' I didn't give him any fair advantage to defend me or his marriage or himself."
When her husband discovered the e-mails, which she had been sending through their business server, he was devastated. When she denied any wrongdoing, he retrieved and printed out 10,000 electronic messages. And with that evidence in front of her, she says, she suddenly realized what she had been risking. She pleaded with him to stay.
"I begged," she says. "I literally begged. And I am confident that had I not shown that amount of remorse he would have walked."
Already comfortable with the online world, M.H. turned to the Web for answers. He found a support group for betrayed spouses, and soon invited D.S. to join the discussion. They repaired their marriage with the help of new, virtual friends. Later, they decided to create their own Internet support group.
"We really felt strongly that all of the support we got for free from the Internet, we really needed to repay this," D.S. says. She says the seven years of running SurvivingInfidelity.com has proved even more rewarding than she had expected.
"You watch people over the course of months go from the puddle on the floor to 'Oh, I got a job and I can pay the rent on my own now' to 'I don't need him.' It's a powerful thing to watch."
And most people, she says, tend to reconcile. A husband and wife who want to be known only as John and Susan -- because, they say, their children do not know about John's affair -- are one such couple. They turned to a chat group for help after John cheated in 1999.
The couple was living in Austin, Texas, with their two young children and had decided to host a European exchange student for the academic year. At the time, Susan was busy with child rearing, and John was focused on building his start-up firm. He had also started consuming pornography online.
One night, John and the exchange student were watching a movie. They moved closer together on the couch, and neither pulled away. Soon, they were sleeping together regularly. Susan suspected something was amiss, but John denied having an affair with the girl. He says he felt terrible about lying.
"We are both Christian, we go to church, and this went against everything I believed was right," he says. "On the other hand, one of my biggest needs as a human being is affection and to feel desired and here was this person meeting that need."
After the exchange student returned to Europe, she sent Susan an e-mail telling her everything. Susan called John to her computer. "In the end, when everything was discovered and Susan kept asking, 'why? why? why?' I came to the conclusion that there was no reason why. My wife was looking for the logic in all this, but what I did wasn't born of logic."
Still, Susan decided she wanted to try to fix the marriage. John did, too. They found marriage counseling unhelpful, so they sought assistance through an online chat group. Today, they say, their relationship is strong and supportive.