Good Adultery, Bad Adultery
Adultery in fiction
is very much a mixed bag. Sometimes you have good adulterers; sometimes you have bad adulterers. Those you see as 'just messing up' and can be sympathised with, and those who are genuine Jerkasses
and deserve to be caught and humiliated in front of a large crowd.
On a superficial level, in fact, the distinction between good adulterers and bad can be entirely arbitrary
. Most good writing, however, takes clarity and nuance into account.
Adultery, good or bad, is Not to Be Confused with open relationships
where the partners are honest with each other and not in an abusive way
. (Though there is such a thing as Good Polyamory vs. Bad Polyamory, so there's a gray area of overlap.)
Some sure-fire signs that someone is a 'good' adulterer:
- The adulterer is the protagonist.
- Their partner is physically and/or emotionally abusive, to the point that they may well kill a partner whom they discover is cheating. Or even just for the insurance money.
- Alternately, if the partner is neglectful. A spouse who is constantly working late/taking long business trips, or always going out with their friends rather than staying home with their wife/husband (or taking them out instead).
- The relationship being "ruined" is quite literally loveless. The cheater was forced into the arrangement, either against their will, or as a guarantee to keep something terrible from happening to a loved one.
- For the sake of the One True Pairing. Especially obvious if the adulterer and the adulteress are both long-term characters, but the individual being cheated on is only in the show at all because they are married to one of the adulterers.
- A couple still love each other but they are going through a rough spot, or they are 'on a break'. However the original relationship is not over over, so it's still portrayed as a kind of infidelity. Obviously this has a tendency to make the situation worse. Loneliness is often a huge factor in the cheater's motivations.
- The cheating is with a member of the same sex.
- The other party cheated first. If they were only Mistaken for Cheating and find out that their partner retaliated by doing it for real, expect a lot of heated discussion of this trope.
- The adultered-upon spouse is physically incapable of sex due to age, or injury. (Especially if they know about it and do not object.)
Signs that a person is a 'bad' adulterer:
- The person being cheated upon is the protagonist.
- Sheer shallowness. Rather than giving any actual reason for an affair, they just do it because it feels good.
- In spite of the fact that they're cheating, they have no moral compunction about manipulating their partner for their own ends.
- Plain old dishonesty. Oftentimes, if a character is involved in an open relationship or is simply dating casually, having multiple partners isn't really a big deal. What really sets off the person being cheated on, though, is being lied to. Claiming to have an exclusive relationship, while actually not, is a guaranteed Berserk Button if the scorned lover finds out.
- When the cheated-upon character is dealing with heavy stress brought about because of the marriage, and the affair further aggravates it.
- The cheating in general is meant to provoke discomfort in the form of sexual jealousy in the audience — see Cuckold.
- When the non-adulterous character knows, and does not do anything or encourages the affair, the Good/Bad scale can vary wildly, depending on the reasons and the morality of the author.
See also The Unfair Sex
, where the distinction seems to fall across the Gender line
(but may also use the above to justify it).
A lot of this probably stems from the fact that adultery in Real Life
is complex and difficult; while people cheat for many reasons (some understandable and sympathetic, others less so), it's still considered a betrayal of the other partner in the relationship. In fiction, however, the adulterer is often treated as either Good or Bad — there's rarely much grey in-between.
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- In Chobits, Hideki's cram school teacher is discovered having an affair with Hideki's best friend Shimbo. When Hideki realises the implications that she's cheating on her husband, he immediately starts calling Shimbo a wife-stealing pig...until it's revealed that her marriage is completely devoid of any emotion, as, shortly after they married, Ms Shimizu's husband bought a persocom and fell in love with it, completely forgetting about her. It got to the point that she couldn't get into her house anymore because he'd put the chain on the door, showing that he'd forgotten she was even coming home. Under these circumstances, it's understandable as to why she'd have an affair, and since Japan does not have a good attitude toward divorce she might not have thought she could just divorce the guy, especially if the marriage was not arranged and they married ostensibly for love. And as a teacher she has to appear morally beyond reproach.
- Lampshaded in Planetes. Goro Hoshino is all but married to ''space'', and spends years away from Earth. His wife very pointedly mentions how he's extremely lucky to have her, because she should have gotten into an affair by now, and anyone else would have. Goro himself agrees.
- Marvel attempted to portray Scott "Cyclops" Summers of The X-Men as a 'good' adulterer twice, in both cases ending up splitting the fan-base:
- When Jean Grey returned from the dead, Cyclops rushed to her side abandoning his wife Madelyne Pryor-Summers and baby son Nathan. Although it seemed a fairly "safe" thing to do, since it established the One True Pairing that had characterized the franchise since X-Men vol. 1 #1, Cyclops was one of the leading protagonists and Madelyne had only existed for about three years, the matter was handled in such a way that a large segment of X-Men fans still haven't forgiven Scott to this day. This even though editors and writers tried to fix it in a way that revealed Madelyne as Jean's clone and had her go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge as the bloodthirsty Goblyn Queen.
- Later on, after Jean and Scott had become a married couple, Grant Morrison decided to break them up and to pair up Cyclops with his pet character Emma Frost. This involved Emma, acting as Scott's therapist, entering into a telepathic adulterous affair with him and basically declaring that everthing readers had been told in the past 35 years about Scott's character and the love between him and Jean was a lie, so that cheating on his (second) wife and hooking up with an unethical ex-villain with a superiority complex was portrayed as Emma enabling Scott to reach true maturity. Naturally, since Jean Grey is one of the more popular X-Men, a lot of the fans were not pleased - especially as Morrison proceeded to kill her off - and not many tears were shed when Scott broke up with Emma during the events of Avengers vs. X-Men.
- An example of the 'good' same-sex adultery: In Peter David's Captain Marvel Rick Jones's wife Marlo Chandler suddenly locked lips with telepathic superheroine Moondragon (Marlo eventually returned to her husband).
- In Sailor Moon fanfics that feature Usagi/Seiya and are set during Stars or after, Usagi will usually cheat on Mamoru if he's alive at any point because she's lonely and thinks he's ignoring her or because he's come back and is a complete asshole - often Mamoru is cheating on her as well. This is almost always portrayed as right and just because Mamoru is just SOOO mean and abusive.
- Mamoru cheating on Usagi is also almost universally used as a way to show what a horrible person he is, making it a case of bad adultery. If he's not sleeping with Rei, it's Setsuna, An, or whomever else the author can twist to make Usagi fall totally for Seiya, Haruka, or Demand, making it good adultery.
- In the Avatar fan-comic How I Became Yours, Fire Lord Zuko gets Katara pregnant and physically assaults his betrothed (Mai) for getting upset about it. Zuko, by the way, is officially a Good Adulterer (because Katara is his True Love).
- In Discworld fanfiction involving the lady Assassins, several different views are given concerning infidelity. In the Discworld Tarot episode on the Three of Cups - which has strong associations with infidelity - Miss Alice Band has a novel problem to face. Three regular lovers don't mind the fact that they, at most, only have a one-third share in her affections. Alice herself sees this not so much as serial monogamy as parellel monogamy. But the fourth lover is jealous as Hell and is showing it. As the fourth woman in her life is a Seamstress to whom Alice is paying $800 dollars a time for professional attention, jealousy should not factor in. But she's had a paying relationship with this Seamstress for a long time now. Alice has discovered it's not as simple as that. Her regular Seamstress is being most unprofessional and has fallen in love with her client...
- And Emmanuelle Lapoignard les Deux-Epées, her fellow Assassin, was what can only be called a Quirmian Marriage with her husband, a Colonel in the Klatchian Foreign Legion. Apart for ten months of the year, she is free to take all the lovers she needs. It helps that in the Legion, men learn to forget. The Legion is proverbial for this. But when he gets a long leave, she is as loyal a wife to him as a man could ever want. This marital dynamic is explored in the Hogswatch seasonal story Il se passait au Nuit de Pere Porcher (In English, by the way, only the title is in Quirmian.)
- Dirty Sympathy Klavier is lonely and trapped in an abusive relationship with Daryan, who hasn't killed him yet because Klavier is the lead singer in their band. So he ends up having an affair with the grounded and considerate Apollo, who helps him get rid of Daryan. Oddly, Daryan doesn't mind Klavier sleeping with female groupies but things go south when he finds out he's having a romantic and sexual affair with another man.
- American Beauty plays with this: The protagonist, a middle-aged married man, lusts after a high-school girl but never fully acts out his fantasy. Later, his wife begins having an affair with another man. While the protagonist is actually indifferent to this fact, his wife is shown to be a confused woman focusing on the wrong things since their marriage is mutually unfulfilling. Once the teenager is revealed to have lied about her promiscuity and is actually a virgin, the protagonist reacts by treating her warmly and with care.
- Played relatively straight in Another Time, Another Place with Janie falling into the "Good" category, since her husband, Dougal, doesn't appear to have any interest in her beyond how useful she can be as a labourer. It's not very clear whether or not Dougal ever knew about the affair. He only seems mildly irritated that Janie isn't paying as much attention to him as she usually does.
- Brokeback Mountain: While the infidelity is presented sympathetically, the spouses are clearly shown as victims, and the destruction of both families is shown as a painful consequences of the affair. The whole thing is presented as a grand tragedy for everyone with the spouses coming out better in the end.
- In Braveheart, the English have quite a few bad cheaters, with their lords raping married (and non-married) Scottish women, and King Longshanks' sniveling son having an obvious affair while ignoring the needs of his wife, Princess Isabella— not to mention implication that the only way Isabella would produce an heir would be for Longshanks to do the honors himself. On the other hand, Isabella then has a romantic affair with the heroic Scottish rebel William Wallace, which gets her pregnant, thus breeding the English out of the monarchy the way Longshanks sought to breed the Scots out of Scotland.
- Rose in Titanic is a Lonely Rich Kid who is loveless and unfulfilled in her relationship with Cal, which was organized by her mother for money, and is therefore justified to the audience in cheating with Closer to Earth Jack. Cal is initially portrayed as clueless regarding Rose's feelings, but as the movie goes on, he loses any possible audience sympathy by turning into a violent Jerk Ass.
- The Bridges of Madison County. Which, oddly enough, doesn't actually fit any of the aforementioned criteria for "good adultery". Then again, if the other man is Clint Eastwood, nobody's gonna blame you for not being able to measure up.
- The print comic Doonesbury mocks this movie, by having JJ leave Mike for Zeke under similar circumstances... except Zeke is depicted as a buffoon and JJ a flighty fool who made a stupid, spur-of-the-moment decision without thinking.
- Although this probably has more to do with Garry Trudeau's disdain of the bestselling novel by Robert James Waller on which the film is based. Doonesbury had already done a stinging parody of Bridges of Madison County before it was turned into a movie.
- In Coming Home. The wife is lonely and unsatisfied, the husband is distant (and by the end of the film, crazy) and the paraplegic Vietnam veteran with whom the wife cheats is kind and noble. (The vet is also able to help the wife reach orgasm, something she could never do with her husband.) It almost seems at one point as if the main message behind the film (apart from "War Is Bad!") is that "Adultery Can Be Good for You!" Of course, the infidelity does have negative consequences... but mostly for the husband. One gets the impression that the wife is better off for the experience.
- Chicago has this all over the board. The earliest instance is where Roxie cheats on her dull but loving husband Amos, then kills her lover in a rage, and continues to manipulate Amos to the end despite his continued loyalty. Amos is also one of the the only sympathetic characters in the whole movie, next to the wrongly-executed Hungarian woman, and this trope is lampshaded in his solo.
- In-universe, Velma discovers her husband cheating on her with her sister and kills them both. This is meant to highlight just what a Crapsack World they were dealing with. All the other inmates, by contrast, seem to feel justified in murdering their husbands- and are not generally considered to be very good people.
- Doctor Zhivago stars a pair of lovers who are themselves married to other people. The woman's husband disappeared in a battle during the War, and she spends much of the movie trying to find him. It turns out he didn't just survive the battle- he became a high-ranking Red Army officer as a result of it. The man's wife...well, nothing happened to her actually. She still loves him and lives with him at the time of the affair and is even caring for their child. Because the movie is pitched to the audience as being about one of the great love stories of all time, the fact that this is technically adultery is nearly an afterthought.
- In the 1989 film Cousins, where a man's wife cheats on him with another man. Where it gets interesting is that the man who was cheated on falls in love with the cheater's wife. Both the main character's wife and her lover are shown to be...not great; both the main character and his lover are shown to be just wanting more.
- The main characters start out pretend cheating to get back at their partners. When they genuinely fall for each other, they stop seeing one another and try and salvage their marriages. When they do wind up together, it's well earned.
- In a World: Played with. Characters in the film are divided over whether Michaela Watkins making out with another man for twenty minutes and coming very close to sleeping with him (in her words, she refused to "let him put the tip in") counts as cheating or how bad it is if it does. She herself feels very guilty. For some reason, her husband (Robb Corddry) makes a grand romantic gesture to welcome her back into the marriage, although he is by any reasonable standard the wronged party.
- In Liar Liar, amoral lawyer (Jim Carrey) convinces his adulterous client (Jennifer Tilly) to believe that she was driven into the arms of another man, in spite the mountain of evidence that she's just a slut. This is played for laughs until the end, at which point the Carrey character feels great remorse for winning the case and possibly robbing the husband — a loving father — of custody of his children.
- Five Minutes to Live portrays a man cheating on his wife as bad, but we still are meant to like him. Her loyalty, meanwhile, is unswerving, even in the face of Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash, people (okay, he plays a maniac who'd just as happily kill her as bed her, but still)! Needless to say, the movie ends with their marriage being completely patched up.
- Spanglish. Adam Sandler's character is the one left sexually unsatisfied due to how quickly his wife gets off (and subsequently falls asleep). Later on, when she is discovered to be a cheater, she is villified. Meanwhile, his affections for the Latina maid is justified in much the way that the typical "woman finds love out of marriage" is, but they are both strong enough to realize that they can't have what they want.
- Same Time Next Year has Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn as two lovers who meet once a year at a particular resort to spend a weekend together, before going home to their spouses for the other 51 weeks. This goes on for many years. We never see or hear the other spouses, and apparently these two love each other even though they also love their spouse as well.
- Terms Of Endearment follows Emma (Debra Winger) as a kooky-but-lovable girl who early on marries Flap (Jeff Daniels) and gives up her career to do so. She meets John Lithgow, and grows sympathetic to his cause— his wife has an injury which prevents the two from having sex (although this may be an excuse on the wife's part). Meanwhile, Emma is growing emotionally distant from her husband, who became a professor while she had to stay at home to take care of their children (they met in Grad school). Emma admits to Lithgow that she's not sure whether Flap's cheating on her, but considers this a stronger justification for the affair, since she's not just doing it for Revenge Sex. When she does discover that Flap's cheating on her with one of his students, she flips out on him on campus and demands a divorce. Later, she does not tell him about her affair with John Lithgow on her deathbed even though she considers it, in part because of the obvious problems it would create ethically afterwards.
- Entirely averted in the British World War II film Brief Encounter, where two married people meet on a train, and realize they're each other's soulmate. But they end up giving each other up to remain loyal to their own home lives, and this is portrayed as the right thing to do.
- Also averted in the cinema-verite musical "Once" (which has a lot in common with "Brief Encounter"), where the Girl refuses to have anything other than a platonic relationship with the Guy: while she and her husband are separated, and the marriage is probably unsalvageable, she wants to give it every chance she can, for the sake of her daughter.
- Averted in Casablanca as well. Ilsa is arguably the love of Rick's life, and she seems willing to leave her husband Victor Laszlo for him if he asks. However, in the end, Rick decides that the right thing is to leave Ilsa and Laszlo — who are actually quite Happily Married — together (even if only for the sake of the war effort).
- Used in Dodsworth. Throughout the main part of the film, the wife, desperate to feel young, wealthy and attractive, pursues other men and lashes out at her husband whenever he implies any impropriety on her part; the film makes an effort to understand her state of mind, but she's still unsympathetic. The husband, meanwhile, winds up leaving her in the end for a much nicer woman, and it plays out as a triumphant moment.
- A Fish Called Wanda; Archie is depicted sympathetically, while his wife (and daughter!) are both horrid monsters. In the end he runs off to South America with Wanda without a backward glance. Wanda, on the other hand, is depicted as a conniving, materialistic shrew, manipulating everyone until the end when she was about to go alone to Rio. Sure, she wasn't all that happy that Archie was being left behind, but that didn't change what she was about to do.
- Peter Sellers comedies have all sorts of takes on adultery:
- In The Dock Brief (1962) he plays a lawyer trying to defend a client who openly admits to killing his wife. The meek fellow (Richard Attenborough) hoped his boisterous wife would have an affair with a boarder whose personality better suited hers, but finds out she didn't because she respected the sanctity of marriage too much. He snapped and killed her right then and there.
- Waltz of the Toreadors (1962) has Sellers as a womanizing general married to a cruel woman who feigns illness and threatens suicide to try to keep him from pursuing other women, as revenge for his past indiscretions — and she wasn't always faithful to him either. At the end, circumstances keep him trapped in the marriage when he makes an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy decision regarding the mistress he truly loved, and he is about to commit suicide - then he meets the new maid...
- Only Two Can Play (1962) has Sellers' character trying and failing to consummate an affair with another (married) woman out of ennui with his current life with wife and kids. His wife chews him out over this when she finds out, but says he can do what he wants; it seems she's bothered more by his secrecy. Realizing the other woman doesn't really care for him, he returns to his wife and learns she had an affair with the other's husband during all this! They reconcile.
- One likely reason Inspector Clouseau turned into the Breakout Character in the original The Pink Panther (1963) was not only because his wife was cheating on him with the jewel thief he was pursuing, but because at the end she helps frame the poor Fool for their crimes... making him more sympathetic than intended. It helps that the movie clearly sets his wife as being in the wrong. Clouseau is shown to be extremely devoted to his wife and willing to indulge pretty much any of her whim, and never shows any interest towards the other gorgeous women in the movie. Sure, he's a klutz, but no one can fault his devotion as a husband.
- In What's New Pussycat?? Sellers is a deranged psychiatrist whose wife, a stereotypical fat lady opera singer, accuses him of being 'a lascivious adulterer'. He angrily replies "Don't you dare call me that again until I've had a chance to look it up!" When patient Peter O'Toole asks for help to stop his womanizing ways for his impending marriage, Sellers merely suggests he get married and cheat.
- In I Love You Alice B. Toklas! (1968), Sellers becomes a Runaway Groom twice — the affair he has turns out to be unfulfilling — as he tries to figure out what he really wants in life.
- In Being There, Eve Rand falls for Chance (Sellers). She's married to another man, Ben, but it's a May-December relationship (with what author Ellen Gilchrist called the "bartered sexuality" that implies in an essay) and in fact, he's dying. But first, she loves Ben dearly and he her. Second, Ben senses and understands her longing for Chance, and in fact it makes him happy that she'll have someone to love and to love her when he's gone. With this understood, she makes several seduction attempts on Chance, and Hilarity Ensues since Chance hasn't the faintest idea what's going on. At the end, however, when Chance is at Ben's deathbed, he promises the old man he will take care of Eve, and tells the attending doctor that he does love her; he may not understand specifics, as is his nature, but he has grown kinda fond of her nonetheless.
- One growing variation of this trope, appearing in recent films such as Waitress and Before the Rains, is a woman with an abusive husband having an affair with a man whose wife is the nicest person ever. Before the Rains has the man taking advantage of the woman, who is trapped by her society. Waitress treats the man slightly more sympathetically, but has the woman end the affair due to an attack of conscience after she meets his wife, and also after she leaves her husband.
- John Tucker Must Die has three high school girls who find out that the titular John Tucker is going out with all of them at once. Cue them attempting to do horrible things to him. A good establishment of the "don't you dare lie to me" clause — Tucker went to a highly elaborate effort to make sure that none of his girlfriends found out about the other. As opposed to, say, simply telling him they weren't dating exclusively, and in the end the lesson he takes to heart is the one about lying; he introduces his new girlfriends to each other and makes it clear he intends to date them concurrently.
- Compare She's Gotta Have It, which features Nola dating three different men simultaneously. They're all mildly resentful of the situation- but it never explodes into an Escalating War in part because Nola is honest with them from the beginning what the situation is.
- The Whole Nine Yards has the husband, Oz, working his tail off to support his unloving, freeloading wife AND mother-in-law, while they're plotting to have him killed for life insurance. She also goads him into trying to turn another hitman, Jimmy, in for reward money showing a clear lack of concern for Oz's well being in the process. When Oz starts courting the Jimmy's ex, nobody is feeling sorry for the wife. In fact, Oz is portrayed as being such a nice guy that the wife's first hitman can't even bring herself to kill him, and Jimmy flips out over adultery despite MURDER being his trade.
- In the end, Jimmy relents and even gives Oz and Synthia a wedding present. Why? Because they faked his death, meaning they aren't legally married anymore, and he found himself a new Love Interest anyway.
- In The Wolverine, the good adulterer Logan, sleeps with Mariko, but he's a wounded soul and she's trapped in a loveless engagement. The bad adulterer Noburo, is just getting his jollies on, and was engaged to Mariko to get money. He's also conspiring to have her killed for even more money.
- Little Children fits this mold as well. Sarah's husband is shown to be rather perverse, using internet pornography and fetishes to get his kicks and ignoring Sarah's emotional and sexual needs; so her cheating on him may be seen as acceptable. Brad, however, is a stay-at-home father who seems to have latent resentment over his wife's control over the money, and run of the household. But, Brad's wife does not commit any major indiscretions against him, with the exception of being somewhat distant to his feelings of personal inadequacies; so Brad cheating on her is somewhat less sympathetic. However, one of the central themes of the film is the fact that basically good people can do very bad things, and that social mores and values often don't factor in well in real world situations.
- The nature of this trope is an important point in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. In a discussion about the motivations of men and women cheating on one another, Bill Harford asserts that "women essentially just don't think that way." Whereupon his wife replies "If you men only knew...." and proceeds to tell him of one occasion on which she nearly cheated on him for reasons which are not in any way sympathetic. The confession haunts Harford throughout the film, inspiring some decidedly reckless actions on his part.
- Done in Now, Voyager, when Jerry Durrance cheats on his wife (who "isn't good for him") with Charlotte Vale, and the affair is portrayed as freeing and empowering for him.
- Played with all over the board Mean Girls. The guy, Aaron, is arguably the only one portrayed as totally in the right. His ex-girlfriend, Regina got together with him again just because the main character, Cady wanted him, but it's later revealed that Regina has been cheating on Aaron. After the Escalating War ensued, Cady revealed this to Aaron, hoping to steal him for herself. Soon enough, Cady becomes the new "Queen Bee" and she later revealed that she'd been trying to get a chance to talk to Aaron in private, because she thought Aaron was Regina's property, and that she wasn't allowed to talk to him. At this point Aaron just walked away from the whole messed-up situation.
- In the Irish film Intermission, a middle-aged banker named Sam leaves his wife of fourteen years, Noeleen, for the younger Deidre (who is broken up from her own relationship to Unlucky Everydude John). Sam's rationale is that he and Deirdre "just clicked" while leaving Noeleen enraged and questioning her worth as a woman and wife. It's kind of hard to feel very sympathetic for Sam and Deirdre, as Sam did leave his wife without any warning and without even divorcing her first, while Deirdre doesn't even seem to contemplate her actions. Deirdre's jaded sister does frequently call them out on it though. In the end, Noeleen takes Sam back, but isn't going to be letting him forget his little transgression anytime soon, while Deirdre realizes that John really loved her and they're engaged by the end.
- Although none of the female characters in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day are actually married, they are frequently adulterous on their partners; however, their actions are generally presented in a negative light. Delysia is overall a sympathetic and likeable character, but it's made clear that her stringing along of three men for her own purposes is cynical, manipulative, and ultimately harmful as she's destroying her only real chance for happiness. Edythe, meanwhile, is shown as a selfishly opportunistic harpy, mostly because her affair seems to be entirely random while Delysia's are used to make her position in life more secure. One of the major themes of the movie is how tenuous successful women's positions are, and how much they rely on the men around them, so both characters can be seen as sympathetic.
- Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys. Andrea is constantly cheating on her husband with her boss William. Her husband loves her and only wants to help provide the income along with her. She berates him, humiliates him, and is potrayed completely unsympathetically as she tries to get closer to William who is a CEO and would leave her at the drop of a hat.
- Used in Walk the Line, when Johnny Cash is distant and generally a dick to his first wife, while openly pursuing June Carter who, by contrast, is entirely unwilling to betray her husband. But he's portrayed sypathetically, and has a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when he finally winds up with her. He *is* Johnny freaking Cash though.
- Parodied in Walk Hard, where Cash Expy Dewey Cox is portrayed as having a comically exaggerated case of Moral Myopia when he attempts to marry an attractive musical partner without informing her that he is still married to his first wife, an unsympathetic shrew.
- In Frida, Frida de Kahlo is okay with her husband Diego Rivera's infidelities, as she comes from a period and culture that accepts that a man has 'needs.' (She also sleeps around herself.) What she makes him promise, though, is that he doesn't betray her. Later on, guess what his sleeping with her sister counts as?
- The entire film of Its Complicated is one big hypocritical example of this trope.
- The Mike Judge film Extract has the lead character hire a young pool boy to seduce his wife while he was drunk and (unwittingly) under the influence of heavy drugs, just so he feels morally justified in sleeping with the new, attractive, younger girl at work due to feeling sexually unsatisfied and realizing that his wife is losing interest in him. Once he sobers up he decides against the Zany Scheme at the last minute only to discover his wife's already slept with the pool boy. As for that new girl at work he finally gets her into bed by threatening to turn her over to the police for petty theft, sending him into full-on midlife crisis Moral Myopia All of this is played sympathetically, and it turns out that the girl he was attracted to was a petty thief, and also a con-artist who was seducing and manipulating one of the lead character's employees in order to extort everything the lead character had away from him. It's heavily implied that while he was attracted to her, she seduced him in order that he wouldn't call the police (as he was intending to do) and so that she could make a getaway. So while he's certainly no saint, he's also not quite an irredeemable bastard either.
- Francois the title character of The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe is having an affair with his best friend's wife (all three in the same orchestra) - he's made out to be sympathetic as he'd like to terminate it, but is too weak-willed to resist her aggressive advances.
- Lifetime movies often use this theme. And guess who is the "good" adulterer and the "bad" adulterer...
- The main plot of The Descendants is George Clooney finding out that his wife, who was recently put into a coma, had cheated on him for a long time. When he confronts her friends about the affair, the female friend tries to justify the cheating, at one point saying, "It wasn't her fault...." Clooney immediately shuts down that line of conversation, saying, "You're talking to me in cliches? It's never the woman's fault? Give me a break!" While the movie does suggest that her motives were not unsympathetic and that Clooney's character had his part to play in the breaking-down of their marriage, it's still made clear that her affair was selfish and destructive to her family, not to mention the other guy, who was more reluctant and in a much better marriage then she was.
- The 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo has Edmond (the Count) have an affair with his true love Mercedes, who married his rival while he was unjustly imprisoned. It's revealed that she only married the other man because she was pregnant with Edmond's son (now a young man), and none of the men realize it until she admits it. In the end, Edmond, Mercedes and their son live happily ever after.
- The affair between Marco Venier and Veronica Franco in Dangerous Beauty is clearly presented in an almost entirely sympathetic light, and as True Love. Never mind that Marco's wife's only crimes seem to be that she is not a poet, has no secrets, is not sexually adventurous, and is upset that her husband carries on a very public affair with Veronica, for whom he openly declares his love.
- In Beowulf, Beowulf takes a young mistress to bed rather than his wife, because their marriage is effectively dead as a love affair. His wife holds no ill will against his mistress, and they share a conversation at one point. It comes across as bad adultery, but it's a symptom of the greater tragedy, not the tragedy itself.
- The main conflict of The Ledge deals with a Love Triangle between the hero who is an atheist man, a Fundamentalist Christian and the latter's wife. The film attempts to portray the affair in a good light, with the hero rationalizing and justifying his seduction of the antagonist's wife by saying that "she is too good for him" and that he is her "savior" from an oppressive life, this did not sit well with audiences.
- In Loverboy, Dr. Reed Palmer is a surgeon who stays late at work. His wife, Dr. Joyce Palmer assumes he's doing his nurse on an operating table and hires the protagonist Randy (working part-time as a gigolo) to both satisfy her and get back at Reed. Later, two other husbands whose wives hired Randy approach the doctor and explain the situation. He's reluctant to go after Randy, as he admits his own infidelity. One of the other husbands brushes it off and tells him his wife has no right to cheat. In the end, after the three husbands are arrested, Joyce bails Reed out and, after a Slap-Slap-Kiss, they go home. The one who assumed that men were allowed to cheat is left in jail by his wife.
- Kate Chopin's The Awakening has the protagonist, Edna, is married to one man, in love with another, and having sex with a third (who admittedly probably doesn't care about the other two). And she pretty much tells the second man that she won't let any man control her, implying that she pretty much intends to keep things this way. It's hard to tell how sympathetic she's supposed to be. This also pops up in some of the author's other works.
- Anna Karenina:
- The main plot is Anna's morally ambiguous adultery. Although at first the loveless marriage excuse comes up, Anna later claims to have fallen in love with her husband again, and he expresses similar feelings. This does not stop her affair with Vronsky. Whether her hedonism is good or bad is left in an incredibly gray area. While Tolstoy suggests that her society is forcing most people to be repressed and unhappy, and that Anna is too passionate a woman to put up with it, he also shows her leaving her son with his angry, oppressive father, and of course, when she ends up a social pariah, she sees no other option that committing suicide.
- There's also Stiva, Anna's brother, who is caught by his wife Dolly with a maid and whose marriage is suffering as a result. Naturally, Dolly is resentful of her husband's infidelity. However, she applauds Anna's affair with Vronsky and even lies to Stiva that she herself has cheated on him.
- Jane Eyre:
- Mr Rochester had a love affair with Celine Varens, a French ballerina, and he supported her. They lived together not quite like a married couple, but it might have been close. She cheated on him and talked nastily about him to her second lover, unbeknownst to her that he was hidden in the apartment and could hear her. She was just a French Jerk, not worthy of his love. It cured him rather quickly.
- Bertha, the cheating husband's wife (who he was arranged to marry, and only thought he was in love with her, unaware of her insanity) is a lunatic who tries to kill him multiple times. When her husband describes her adulterous affairs, he's clearly disgusted and it sounds particularly nasty and debauched. (However, modern readers might conclude that her behaviour and her mental illness might have been connected.) He is so ashamed that he keeps her locked in the attic and never lets the public know of his wife.
- This is Older Than Print. In Geoff Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the Miller's tale, a landlord's (John) very attractive wife (Alison) cheats on him with a student (Nicholas), by whom convinces John that an essential second flooding of the world akin to Noah's Ark would happen again, the husband whom prepares for all three of them by the man's instructions (suspend tubs from the rafters, go in one and cut them loose when the water high enough), while the two have sex. Meanwhile, a parish clerk (Absolon) is also attracted to the wife, believes John is away, and asks her for a kiss from outside the 'privy vent' of the house where this is all taking place. The wife pretends to put her head out to kiss him, but since it's really dark, he ends up kissing her ass. Angered, he returns with a hot coulter (blacksmithing tool) to ask her to kiss her again, but Nicholas sticks his butt out now and farts in his face. Absolon strikes him and burns his rear, to which Nicholas calls for "Water!" in his pain. John believes that someone has seen the flood and cuts the tubs loose, but breaks his arm in the fall, as there is no water. Nicholas is burned on his buttocks, Absolon is personally humiliated by Alison and John, aside from the broken arm, is seen as a madman while trying to explain his reasoning to his actions and is a 'cuckold' (A man married to an adulterous wife). Pretty much nothing negative happens to Alison, at all, but the Husband is definitely portrayed as not only unreasonably jealous (and thus had it coming), but too dumb to be sympathized for, because every Christian of the period knew that God had promised there would not be another great flood, and therefore he should have been able to see through it.
- D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. Lawrence himself bemoans how beastly the whole situation makes the titular character and Connie Chatterley herself look from a certain perspective, but he kept the story that way because that was how it turned out. But Clifford, the cuckold, could be interpreted as an Author Avatar due to how Lawrence was impotent due to having tuberculosis and his wife was cheating on him, which gives the sympathetic portrayal of Connie's cheating a more personal reason for it's presence.
- Used in Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome, in which Ethan is portrayed sympathetically as being trapped in a loveless marriage to Zeena, a hypochondriac shrew, with his only chance of escape from Zeena and the confining town of Starkfield being the vibrant Mattie. In the end, though, Ethan and Mattie suffer a Fate Worse than Death after a failed suicide attempt.
- This trope makes a surprise appearance in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, in which we find out that the titular Rebecca was, rather than the lovely and kind-hearted perfect wife her successor assumed her to be, a lying, manipulative, cruel sociopath who cheated on her husband Maxim with a series of lovers- and was not even really in love with them either. Maxim, meanwhile, is shown putting up with this until Rebecca actually intentionally provokes him into shooting her (because she has cancer and no way of treating it, and is apparently too afraid of committing actual suicide; as well as the fact that this makes him a murderer: her ultimate attack on him). She is, in fact, so awful that the heroine, Maxim's second wife, is glad he shot Rebecca, and the reader's sympathies are directed toward Maxim in spite of the murder. We also find out that Rebecca seduced Giles, Maxim's brother-in-law. Giles' wife (Maxim's sister) Beatrice either knows or strongly suspects this and avoids further visits with her brother for that reason. She and Giles still seem to get along well though, and the second wife at one point feels inferior because the two have a "good marriage".
- Used in the Incarnations of Immortality series. The Incarnation of Death (who is new to the position) checks his mail and finds a letter that reads: "Dear Death—Last night I caught my old goat cheating again. I want you should take him out right away so that I can get the insurance. Sincerely, Outraged Wife. PS, Make sure it hurts!" Death is repelled by this request for murder, thinking to himself, "No need to answer that one. No wonder the old goat cheated!"
- Occurs in a good 75% of John Updike's total fictional output; the adulterous male protagonists tend to be portrayed as essentially sympathetic, if deluded, in their desire for something more out of life, even when it leads to their treating their families like dirt; any female adulterer who isn't sleeping with the hero tends to be silly, desperate, bitchy, or just doing it for revenge (and some of them manage to be all four at once).
- Husband and wife Leino and Pekka in Harry Turtledove's Darkness series. When sent onto separate isolated teams to work on top secret government projects, both of them end up committing adultery. While the text itself doesn't make any moral judgments in Turtledove's signature style, the respective situations definitely make the wife Pekka the more sympathetic of the two. Her affair is with someone who has also been a major character from the beginning of the series, who we have come to like for his quick wit and ability to make it out of some dire situations, plus she agonizes over her growing feelings toward him for months before they finally hook up. Leino, meanwhile, almost immediately jumps in the sack with a shrill harpy who has nothing going for her besides her looks, and they're both killed at the beginning of the final book.
- Pekka later becomes violently distraught with guilt over her infidelity for a time, and when she eventually learned of her husband's dalliance, and accepts it with a "at least he didn't die alone" outlook.
- In Turtledove's Worldwar series, focus character Sam Yeager ends up having sex with the married Barbara Larsen in a "we're going to die, so why not?" moment. When the moment wears off, both parties are angry and ashamed that they let it happen, but Barbara remains faithful to her husband. This isn't really portrayed as good or bad, just something that happened that wouldn't have under normal circumstances, and the two try to mend their friendship afterwards. But when they find out Barbara's pregnant and are told (wrongly) that her husband is dead, she and Sam get married. When the husband does return, this is only the latest step in a Humiliation Conga that leads to him going off the deep end and eventually being gunned down by the military. Much later in life, when Yeager tells the whole story to his son Johnathan, he confides that he believed Barbara would never have stayed with him if not for the pregnancy.
- John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman, where the male lead Charles' difficulty in choosing between the nice but shallow and socially confined Tina and the bold, exciting Sarah is treated sympathetically. And without actively demonizing Tina to boot.
- Played with in Graham Greene's The Complaisant Lover. We're led to believe Mary's having an affair to escape the confines of marriage to dull, buffoonish Victor. When he finds out about the relationship, he shows himself to be a decent, sensitive man- and Mary and her lover look worse and worse by comparison.
- Used in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Christopher's mother cheats on Christopher's father, and blames it on the stress of raising their autistic child. Her sympathy, overall, is hard to gauge.
- Used in The Horse Whisperer in which Annie commits adultery because she's fallen in love with Tom Booker. The two of them are portrayed as nothing but sympathetic, despite the fact that Annie's deeply distressed daughter Grace is involved. Annie's husband is a nice guy and devoted family man. Tom dies in order to save Grace's life in what could be construed as an act of Redemption Equals Death.
- In Michael Chrichton's Next, a female scientist is clued into her husbands affair by her sapient parrot (who probably did it on purpose) and flips out on him over it. A page or two later, she's in the arms of her lover, who she's been seeing for over a year. Uh... huh.
- In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Lillian Rearden discovers that her husband Hank is having an affair, and since she thinks it's some casual fling with some floozy, she doesn't think twice of it as she believes it demeans both her husband and his lover, so she admits that she will neither divorce him nor tell him to break it off. But when she discovers whom he's having the affair with: Dagny Taggart, and that it's a mutually rewarding relationship, she becomes horribly upset and tries to demand he stop it. She eventually has a thoroughly repulsive one-night stand with James Taggart solely for the purpose of demeaning Hank. She's not happy when she reveals her infidelity to him and realizes that he doesn't give a damn.
- The Naked Husband by Mark D'Arbanville spends a whole book exploring this trope. He and his wife had developed distance without realising it during their marriage, and his attempts to decrease it are generally met with rejection by his wife. His affair with a woman he met at work is shown to be extremely passionate, and it is obvious they are soulmates. However, the damage the affair causes to their respective spouses and families is shown rather vividly. I would call it one of the most ambiguous books on adultery ever written, and very good for it. Of course, given the authors personal experience it might have been expected...
- Used in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Features the good cheating as in everybody in the relationship knows about the relationship with a character named Erika Berger. Blomkvist, the protagonist, and Erika were in a relationship when they were younger. When Erika got married to her husband, she tells him after some time has passed that while she loves him, she desires Blomkvist. Her husband is pretty much totally okay with her continuing her sexual relationship with Blomkvist, leaving them with an open marriage. On his end, Blomkvist still flirts and has sex with all kinds of women. (Granted, at least part of it might be because he spends a substantial amount of time away from Erika in the first novel. In the third, he starts a relationship while he's working in close quarters with Erika, and she seemingly begins to accept that he might soon have a real partner.)
- In Sergey Lukyanenko's Night Watch, Anton is prophesied by Geser that he and Svetlana will have a powerful Other child. Both are attracted to each other but are apprehensive about the prophecy. During a Night Watch retreat, Anton catches her after she has a theesome with Ignat (an incubus) and another woman. The next morning, she realizes he knows but is mad that he doesn't seem to care. Anton actually tries to justify her actions, which causes her to blow up into a tirade on the stupid prophecy and the fact that she hasn't had sex in years (presumably, since her husband left her). This, of course, raises the question of why she would choose to have sex with another man and another woman rather than her boyfriend, for whom she has feelings. This is especially jarring because Ignat previously tries to seduce her (it's his specialty) but fails miserably. This incident is never mentioned again, and they end up getting married and having a powerful Other daughter.
- In Cujo, Donna has an affair out of a desire to escape feeling old and bored. While her husband is obviously less than thrilled, they manage to work past it mostly because she narrowly avoids being killed by a rabid dog and their son is killed indirectly. Donna's lover, meanwhile, trashes her house when she breaks things off with him and manages to convince himself that he was heroic in doing so.
- In Chosen, Zoey spends her time balancing her human boyfriend Heath, her vampire boyfriend Erik, and the twenty five-year-old teacher Loren Blake. Word of God is that it's not a good thing that Zoey hid her relationship with Blake from everyone (Erik does know about her being with Heath and is not happy about it), but there is the implication that Erik is a jerk for not being alright with Zoey having multiple boyfriends.
- Discussed in How NOT to Write a Novel. Among other things, they mention that having the protagonist cheat on their significant other first is a very good way to make the protagonist Unintentionally Unsympathetic.
- Zig-Zagged in A Song of Ice and Fire. On the "good" hand, Eddard Stark is a protagonist and he and his wife Catelyn were "on a break" in the sense that he was away at war for more than a year; Catelyn acknowledges that he has needs and doesn't begrudge him finding comfort in some other arms. On the "bad" hand, Catelyn is ALSO a protagonist, and, even worse, when the affair bears fruit in the form of Jon Snow, Ned insists on raising the boy alongside his and Catelyn's own trueborn children, leaving her with a constant reminder that she is essentially his Second Love. Catelyn comes off as The Resenter, and no one thinks she was unjustified. And then there are the repeated hints that Ned actually adopted the boy, fabricating the story of his birth and falsely claiming John his bastard by a random girl, to protect the true mother's honor. Or to save the child from what would at best be a life as a political pawn, surrounded by intrigue at constant risk of assassination, and more likely near-instant murder. Then again, it is even possible that Ned did that as both a final courtesy to the mother and a final revenge on the father.
- Zig-Zagged again in the marriage of King Robert and Cersei. Any royal adultery is Bad Adultery - when the King does it, it results in scandal and bastards that can threaten the stability of the realm, and when the Queen does it, it's treason. However, their marriage is miserable, and it's hard to blame either of them for seeking solace elsewhere. Then again, Robert is depicted as fickle and careless with his affections, willing to beget bastards and make promises to the mothers, only to forget them in the morning. Cersei at least loves and is committed to her lover, but it's her brother Jaime, which makes it bad adultery again, "except" that their relationship is actually pretty sympathetic aside from the whole incestuous-breeders-of-abominations thing.
- In yet another odd case of Zigzagging, Cersei cheating on her regular affair partner Jaime with Lancel and Osmond Kettleblack and Moon Boy for all we know is treated less sympathetically than cheating on her husband with Jaime in the first place.
- Used by Ridley Pearson as a reason Sgt Boldt has to be circumspect in his murder investigation since his wife was involved with the victim when they were having a rough time.
- In It Can't Happen Here, Doremus and Lorinda have had a ongoing affair behind Emma's back. The affair is depicted as positive, since the two are intellectual equals who are passionately in love, whereas Doremus and Emma are anything but.
- Madame Bovary: Emma Bovary has it rough. Her husband loves her and adores her, but he's a stupid and naive guy who doesn't come even close to her intelligence and imagination, and cannot give her the fashionable life she craves, and he doesn't understand her at all. It's hard to judge Emma that she looks for affection elsewhere. She has two lovers in course of the novel, but it's hardly good for her. Neither loves or cares for her as much as she cares for them, and both ultimately back off when things get serious. Keeping these relationships forced Emma to borrow money from a Loan Shark, which lead to her ruining her life and the life of her family.
- In the Honor Harrington series, Hamish Alexander is married to the disabled Emily Alexander, who is practically seen as a saint by the population of Manticore. He visits prostitutes to satisfy his needs, and both his wife and society at large consider this to be perfectly acceptable. However, when he later falls in love with Honor, the rumors that they're having an affair (in truth, these are slander on the Government's part that turn out to be Accidentally Accurate) are horribly scandalous. Emily, upon realizing that they're actually in love, responds first by getting angry, then dealing with the facts on the ground and accepting their affair, and later taking a hint from Honor's Grayson society and setting up an Exotic Extended Marriage.
- Zig-zagging this trope is what The Scarlet Letter is all about. At the end of the day, the adultery itself is not treated sympathetically, but the characters who perpetrate it are, and the sexual repression of the society they live in comes in for as much scrutiny as their transgression itself.
Live Action TV
- The Jonathan Creek episode 'Angel Hair' features an adulterous husband who, adultery aside, is depicted as an otherwise decent man who feels genuinely stifled in a marriage that, from his point of view, is lacking in passion. He's still treated as something of a hapless fool, though, especially considering that the wife he's cheating on is a beautiful pop singer who, whilst she's not quite the passionate sex goddess that the media depicts her as, is nonetheless a loving, caring woman who clearly thinks the world of him.
- In another episode House of Monkeys a woman has an affair with her father-in-law. However, both she and her husband are portrayed as utter twits, and their story ends with their mother/mother-in-law shouting at them: "if only you would just take your marriage by the scruff of its neck and make it work!"
- The pilot episode contains both kinds. The victim's affair is considered unsympathetic when it's with an oversexed French model. However it's later portrayed very sympathetically when it's revealed he was never having an affair with the model at all, but with his unglamorous housekeeper with a crazily jealous husband.
- Blackpool features both. Ripley's affairs are casual sex, while Natalie's is about love. Ripley eventually tells her to go be with the man she loves. But who can compete with The Doctor?
- M*A*S*H had different cases:
- Trapper John constantly has shallow affairs and never seems to feel guilty in any way about it. It's implied he did this even outside the war, too. Sometimes though he shows some signs he still loves his wife.
- Frank Burns has an ongoing affair with Margaret Houlihan. Several episodes revolve around him trying to keep this from his wife, who he apparently stays with for financial reasons. It's also implied that he messed around with his secretary back home.
- Henry Blake is clearly having affairs with various nurses around the 4077th. One episode has an incredible Double Standard as he learns his wife had an affair with an orthodontist. He freaks right the hell out without considering it's just desserts.
- Margaret's husband apparently was cheating on her with a number of different women - you can even pick up on it in the first episode he's mentioned in. Margaret shows Col. Potter a picture of him:
Potter: Who's the girl he's with?
Margaret: I think she's his cousin.
Potter: Huh. Close family.
- Hunnicut and Potter's son-in-law felt intensely guilty for the act, and wanted to make things right. In both examples, the message was "You made a mistake; don't let it harm your wife; she doesn't need to know, but go back to her and love her like you never loved her before." All the more poignant with Hunnicut because it was The Casanova Hawkeye who stepped in to save his friend's marriage.
- A matter of contention for fans of the show was the differing treatment of the affairs Trapper and Henry had compared with Frank's. Trapper's affairs were never justified in the slightest, which made him less sympathetic, but Henry seemed to be in a single long-term affair with one nurse. Which he ended (apparently offscreen, the nurse simply vanished) upon getting a taste of his own medicine, via a guilty letter from his wife that clearly caused him distress. Frank's affair was treated as him being too much of a greedy coward to divorce his wife for Margaret, whom he clearly felt at least something for, as he had a mental breakdown upon her getting married.
- Once Upon a Time also features a sort of mixed take on the whole trope between Real Life Mary Margret Blachard and David Nolan. While it's most likely meant to be the Good Adultery since the two are really Snow White and Prince Charming, there are elements of Bad Adultery as Mary Margret is shamed by David's wife Kathryn and the whole affair is played as a rather horrible thing. While both were dishonest about it, David was the one who failed to tell his wife the truth when he promised that he would which made Mary Margret out as the bad guy for destroying a recently reunited couple (who had promised to work on their marriage in 3 different episodes no less). In the end they end up together though despite dragging the whole thing through hell and highwater the whole first season, but only because everyone gets their fairy tale memories back and remembers that they're supposed to be together.
- Goodnight Sweetheart. Gary Sparrow, the time traveling hero was in a relationship (and later marriage) with two different women in two different time periods (the 1940's and the 1990's). While the series treated the affair itself as wrong, Gary personally was always portrayed very sympathetically as a man impossibly caught between two women he loved and as feeling very guilty for doing so.
- Used somewhat lightheartedly in Season II of Entourage. Unsure weather or not his girlfriend Kristin (of whom the rest of the boys don't approve) is cheating on him, Eric gets drunk and sleeps with a Perfect 10 model. He's guilt ridden for much of the remainder of the episdode ... untill Kristin confesses to him that she HAD been cheating on him (Ironically she justified it by doubting that E had been staying faithfull in Vince's company). Eric then gleefully tells Kristin about the affair as he leaves.
- Used on Friends, where Ross sleeps with another woman not only because Rachel says that they should
put their relationship on hold take a break, but because he believes that she is sleeping with Mark. The episode after they split for real shows that while they don't necessarily agree with Ross, the other characters understand where he is coming from. Also used with Rachel herself. While she at first seemed to have the same mindset as the others, she ended up going the rest of the series run without admitting fault. Considering how "We were on a break" was one of the show's Running Gags, it wasn't as though she didn't have the opportunity to rethink her position.
- This show also tended to blur the line between good and bad adultery. While Ross' reasons for cheating were understandable if not condoned it was played for drama, a few episodes later Joey slept with a married woman just because he wanted to and that was played for laughs.
- Jericho has Eric Green, the protagonist's brother and aide to his Mayor-father, and all round swell guy. He's quickly shown to be cheating on his wife with the local Bar owner. Yet he is not portrayed as a soulless monster and when confronted points out how his marriage is basically winding down, and how he has genuine feelings for his new lady. Even when his wife becomes pregnant, and then later suffers from an acute case of Death by Childbirth, he is still shown as a good man who just made a bit of a cockup of the whole situation.
- Will and Grace. When Will's father has an affair, he actually admits it being his own fault, though still decided that he wouldn't tell his wife. When it gets discovered that both of his parents are having affairs, they actually take an equal share in the blame and end up separating.
- An interesting example is Rome. Servilia's anger over having been betrayed by Caesar is her driving force throughout the first season, and is one of the major reasons behind his untimely death. But Servilia isn't Caesar's wife, she is his mistress. And he didn't leave her to go back to wifey Calpurnia, he left her for his "real" lover, the Roman republic. Whether we are supposed to side with Servilia on this one or not is up for discussion.
- House after he and his now-married ex-flame, Stacy, sleep together. Wilson tells her off for toying with House's feelings (of which she believes he has none) and Cuddy refuses to tell her that it would be fine for her to leave her husband.
- Played with in an episode of New Tricks — the team are investigating the death of a wife who, having given up a potential musical career upon getting married, was feeling stifled in her marriage to her down-to-Earth, seemingly incompatible husband and ended up having an affair with a male gigolo; Sandra, who was the original investigating officer, feels a bond with the woman and suspects the husband of murdering her; the audience is initially encouraged to sympathise with her, and to suspect the husband. At the end, it's revealed that he didn't do it, but in fact knew that she was cheating on him, but was happy to let it continue because he knew that she didn't love him any more, but he still loved her and just wanted her to be happy. Seeing the man break down upon revealing this, the wife doesn't appear quite as sympathetic as she previously had, and her actions appear more selfish and cruel.
- Used in Sex and the City where Carrie cheats on Aidan with Big, who happened to be married at the time. Aidan is not once portrayed as doing anything to "make her cheat", Carrie more that acknowledges that the affair was hurting everybody all around, and Big of all people is shown the one to be "wanting more out of life" due to his dissatisfaction with married life. "Everything we own is beige" is notes in lament. When Carrie admits the affair to her friends, she's actually hoping they'll tell her what an awful person she is. Aidan breaks up with her when she tells him, and though they later get back together the second break up (due to differing ideas about getting married) isn't portrayed as anyone's fault.
- Noah's Arc: Wade cheating on Dre with Noah is "good adultery" that supports the One True Pairing, while just about any other form of adultery seen is of the "bad" variety.
- The second episode of Castle has a particularly good example: the killer (who murdered her friend after discovering her boyfriend had slept with her) is treated as a victim, and Kate muses on the unfairness of the guy getting away without punishment... Despite her knowing from the outset that he was married, and later on, it turns out that the death was accidental. She didn't mean to kill her friend and both young woman appear to be just out of high school or college; so the man (who was several years older than them at least) was sleazily taking advantage of them and their naiveté by stringing them along for sex.
- Another episode revealed that Castle's first wife Meredith, who is also the mother of his daughter, had an affair with a director and abandoned him and Alexis to move to Los Angeles to start an acting career. Castle seems to hold no particular ill-will against her, to the extent that he's willing to hook up with her again whenever she's in town.
- After Castle and Beckett become a couple, Meredith shows up to see her ex's new girl. At the end, Beckett asks her why the marriage ended. Meredith admits that, after many years together, she finally realized that she knew next to nothing about Castle, while he knew her inside and out. This prompts Beckett to re-evaluate her relationship with him.
- Played with in Frasier, Frasier suspects that his father Martin had an affair whilst still married to his (now deceased) mother, and is shaken when Martin admits it. This affects his relationship with his father, Frasier being unable to forgive this betrayal, until he learns that Martin lied; it was actually Frasier's mother who had the affair. Martin blamed himself for it, and encouraged Frasier not to let it affect his feelings towards his mother, something which Frasier had little problem with. It should be noted that his brother Niles, however, had little trouble accepting it even when it seemed that Martin was the guilty party, reasoning that the two obviously managed to overcome it and have a happy marriage from that point on.
- Frasier himself is a victim of adultery, his wife Lilith having had an affair in Cheers — he even comments on learning the truth that the shared experience of being cuckolds has given Frasier and Martin a rare something that they have in common. Lilith, for her part, is not well treated by the other characters, although her adultery is just one of the reasons why Frasier's family doesn't like her.
- Niles and Maris also encounter this trope. In Niles' case, he is heavily attracted to Daphne throughout the series despite being married, but is portrayed sympathetically, while Maris' affair with their marriage counselor is depicted as selfish and the reason for Niles to initiate divorce proceedings. However, it's presented as obviously a lot more complicated than this; Niles ultimately never acted on his feelings for Daphne while he was married (although he was sorely tempted at times) and is willing to acknowledge that the Daphne situation could have nevertheless had a deleterious effect on his marriage whether he acted on them or not, while Maris' adultery is clearly shown as being the back-breaking straw on top of a large pile of selfish, unreasonable and unfair behaviour towards Niles.
- Grey's Anatomy, as is appropriate to its name, plays the sympathy of adultery off of both ends. The first season cliffhanger involves Meredith abruptly discovering that her boyfriend Derek (better known as Doctor McDreamy) is actually married when his wife Addison flies in. The second season opener works under the assumption that he's done something horrible by getting involved with Meredith- until the very end, when a patient asks Addison how she can stand to be in the same room as Meredith when she slept with her husband. Addison is incredulous, and tells the patient that she cheated on Derek first and that was why he came to this hospital in the first place- to get away from her. She then sternly tells the patient that she owes Meredith an apology. As the season progresses, we also see that she holds Derek no ill will for the affair, and is perfectly willing to accept a divorce if he wants to continue seeing Meredith.
- What makes this interesting is that it's clear from Addison's reaction that she thought Meredith and the other interns already knew all this- Addison knew there was gossip going around about her and she confronts some interns earlier in the episode. Apparently all the characters besides the doctors were Locked Out of the Loop.
- Also interesting is the fact that Addison and Mark (the guy she cheated with) are presented as being as much the One True Pairing as Derek and Meredith (at least up until Addison left the show), and this, more than anything else, is the reason why they slept together. Derek was upset not because Addison cheated on him sexually, but because she fell in love with someone else.
- Well, and the fact that Mark is his best friend. (Having said that, Mark is still a regular on the show, as opposed to following Addison to her spin-off, and everyone's more-or-less buried the hatchet.)
- More straightforward later in the show. They're being subtle, but it's pretty clear that Owen's adultery is bad-flavored, with Cristina as the wronged party.
- There's also the whole George and Izzie situation. From the beginning, George is portrayed as having the hots for Meredith... but this quickly ends after they have a terrible one-night stand (during which she bursts into tears), completely putting him off her. He then starts going out with Callie Torres, but this ends when she sleeps with Mark. Then George's father dies, and the two end up having a quickie wedding in Vegas. Almost immediately, he realizes it was a huge mistake and ends up in a drunken one-night stand with Izzie, which turns out to be his One True Pairing. A few episodes later, he tells his wife, and she ends up forgiving him because of the vows... only for him to force her to end the marriage. Even then, the two have trouble starting off due to, apparently, no chemistry between them. A few seasons later, George dies, and Izzie gets cancer. Ouch.
- Nip/Tuck screws around with the concept of Good Adultery, Bad Adultery so much that's it's pretty impossible to find any sort of consistent standard. To wit-
- Matt's girlfriend cheats on him with another cheerleader. This is treated as extremely bad. It is treated less bad however when he starts dating her girlfriend who has decided she isn't really a lesbian anyway (they met because Matt's lesbian girlfriend convinced him to join them in a threesome, as part of an abortive effort to salvage her relationship with the not-really-a-lesbian cheerleader).
- There's a nuanced portrayal of Sean's affair with a patient, which Sean appears to have initiated on the suspicion that his wife was having an affair with a hunky student. She wasn't. What really screws things up, though, is that their staff psychologist Grace suspects the affair exists and confides her suspicions to Christian. He promptly takes this information to Sean, who is furious at her for discussing suspicions about his personal life and nearly fires her- before she reveals that Christian had sex with her and that unless they have a professional reason to fire her she can file an unlawful termination lawsuit. Christian is either oblivious to the fact that Grace was telling him this because he's Sean's best friend, not because she's a gossip, or he's a Jerk Ass who was trying to use this as an excuse to get rid of her.
- It's treated as bad that Christian had sex with Sean's wife-to-be Julia right before she married Sean. However, Sean being royally pissed off when he finds about this betrayal is treated as an overreaction. Granted, all this happened over fifteen years ago. On the other hand the fact that Matt isn't really his son is a pretty big bombshell to drop on a guy when he's been under the assumption that his wife only had one sexual partner. If this sounds contradictory with the entry below it's because the "betrayal" dynamic shifts entirely depending on whether Christian or Julia is doing the betraying.
- For some reason it's worse that Julia cheated than it is that Christian did it with her, even though the latter is Sean's best friend and business partner. Christian is Easily Forgiven after a few episodes, but Sean isn't quite as nice to Julia. He verbally abuses and harasses her at every opportunity, invites his new porn star girlfriend to Matt's school functions, and tells Julia's mother to go screw herself when she tells Christian and Sean that Julia's about to head into an emotional breakdown and she needs an intervention. A few episodes later, she does.
- Explainable in that Christian is a case-study for promiscuity, selfishness and all around bad behavior and Sean is used to forgiving him for it and having low expectations, where as Julia is presented as 'madonna' until the truth comes out. Even Christian 'loves her from afar'(until he doesn't).
- In the third season Julia starts going out with the hunky student as a result of everything that happened above. This is the only particularly straightforward use of the trope's conventions.
- As you might be able to guess, it's hard to tell whether they're trying to subvert the trope's conventions or just doing a really bad job of using it straight.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has an unusually nuanced portrayal of this trope. When Elliot is separated from his wife, Kathy, he has an extramarital encounter but still mentally considers it cheating. After they've reconciled, one scene has Elliot's wife bringing up the question of whether they'd slept with anyone else while separated. Elliot admits that he had done so, but refuses to ask Kathy the same question, as he wants to put their marital troubles behind them.
- An episode of Flashpoint deals with a husband and wife who had been trying for many times to have a baby and failing. The wife becomes increasingly obsessed with trying to get pregnant and having a baby and the husband becomes frustrated with her inability to talk or think of nothing else. Then the husband runs into an old friend and sleeps with her. Only to realize that what he did was wrong and afterwards genuinely loved his wife more.
- In The Office (USA) a long time was spent having Angela engaged to Andy, but sleeping with Dwight, the one that she really loved at the time, though had left for Andy because Andy was "less of a risk." This example sits on both sides of the trope because Dwight and Andy are both shown to be sympathetic in that scenario, which ends with her losing both of them as viable romantic options.
- In Tales from the Crypt, a housewife becomes bored because her scientist husband is too busy with his work to pay attention to her. Inspired by a soap opera, she strikes up a relationship with a repair man. Her husband catches them making out on the sofa, just as he was on his way to tell his wife that he was finished with his job and would be able to spend more time with her. He does not take this revelation well, and uses his latest research - a new anesthetic - to knock both of them out for a week and surgically switch their heads to each other's bodies. In this case, the husband was shown as being more sympathetic, although with a good bit of Sanity Slippage and Disproportionate Retribution.
- Deconstructed rather strangely in Merlin. Being a family show, the adultery between Guinevere and Lancelot takes place before her marriage to Arthur, consists of only a kiss in the dark, and happens whilst both Guinevere and Lancelot are under a spell. Oddly enough, this is still referred to as "adultery". The consequences are dire, as Arthur ends up banishing Gwen from Camelot. Even worse, nobody ever finds out that Gwen was under an enchantment at the time, and the season ends with Arthur taking her back because he still loves her - not only forgiving her for something she didn't even do, but offering no kind of apology for banishing her from her home on pain of death.
- Between The Lines features an example of the protagonist committing bad adultery. Tony's womanising is frequently portrayed as a character flaw that costs him his marriage quite early on.
- Unusual "bad adultery" from a protagonist on Veronica Mars. Keith, Veronica's dad, begins an affair with a married woman (he himself is married to an alcoholic who fled, stealing $50,000 from him). Veronica is crushed, and confronts him. She calls him on his hypocrisy when all of his excuses are exactly what every guy they've caught in their Private Eye business says. He breaks it off.
- A season 4 episode of The Listener involved a woman whose husband had left her for another woman tracking and murdering the male clients of an adultery website. On the one hand, the male adulterers involved, including the murder victims, and the woman running the website got some pretty heavy scorn from the IIB team investigating the crime. On the other hand, there was no attempt to romanticize the killer despite being an adultery victim, partly because she was only killing guys who looked exactly like her ex-husband and turned out to be mentally unbalanced for unrelated reasons. On the other hand, the team's tech guy seemed to have a lot of fun setting up a fake site profile for his boss, and the boss, who seemed curious about the hits he was getting from women who wanted to commit adultery with him, decided against looking at the responses, joking that since he was single there would be no fun involved in checking out potential adultery partners...
- In the series True Detectives, Hart has a very bad tendency to cheat on his wife with much younger girls. He justifies this by claiming it's to let him work out the stresses from detective work without carrying them into his home, but the two affairs he has all but completely ruin his marriage. Rust is also of the opinion that it's an incredibly stupid thing to do, since Hart seems to also have a knack for choosing girls who are not entirely stable. Hart's first girlfriend is viewed by him as cheating on him when she starts dating another man, however she insists that she and Hart aren't in an exclusive relationship (she knows he's married) and she wants to look for a partner who she can eventually have as a husband. After discovering that Hart is having his second affair, his wife cheats on him with Rust. This is portrayed somewhat sympathetically (she'd been faithful all up until then and was clearly driven to despair by learning her husband was cheating) and somewhat unsympathetically (she explicitly only had sex with Rust because she knew it would anger Hart most when he was told, heavily pressured Rust into doing it, and insisted later the the entire thing was her idea and that Rust was "a good man"). Her affair also ended up being the one to end their marriage.
- One episode of Surgical Spirit has Neil Copeland having an affair with a nurse nobody likes. Copeland is portrayed as a man who made a genuine mistake- his marriage and children keep haunting him, but on the other hand, he genuinely likes the nurse. He eventually admits that he started the affair thinking that it would be fun, and he had no idea that he'd end up feeling so guilty. By the end of the episode, he realises that he has to end the affair and does so... by proxy, though. As for the nurse, most of the dislike for her didn't come from the fact that she was dating a married man, but rather because she kept insisting on using a completely different system of organisation that nobody else used, thus slowing procedures significantly, and she quits after realising how toxic the workplace is.
- Jonathan Coulton's song "Betty and Me" is about a man whose wife is cheating on him with a doctor under the excuse of making Designer Babies. The only thing that makes the song funny instead of disturbing is that the man's wife isn't even trying to hide her affair; the husband is just that oblivious. That being said, it's hilarious and is meant to be so.
Betty's been spending lots of time out late with Dr. Martin/
She says that they're working on the baby every night!/
And Dr. Martin sends her presents like new underwear and a bottle of wine/
I guess I'll keep writing checks until the day that baby is mine!
- Reba hits all sides of the scale:
- She sings "Little Rock... think I'm gonna have to slip you off" because the marriage fires have dwindled. And also her cover of Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands.
- She also sings the haunting song One Promise Too Late about meeting her soul mate, but being too noble to drop her husband, who's been nothing less than good to her. "I'm not sorry that I met you... I can't have you, but I never will forget you. Where were you when I could have loved you? Where were you when I gave my heart away?" And also partially in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, where she turns down the married man with the ring on his finger.
- And then there's When Whoever's In New England's Through With You (usually listed as Whoever's in New England), where she knows that her man is cheating on her, but is willing to wait out the affair. (In the music video, he comes back at the end.)
- Speaking of retribution, Garth Brooks' The Thunder Rolls has the wife of the philanderer kill her husband — or at least preparing to at the end ("Tonight will be the last night/She'll wonder where he's been!"), after waiting up late, fretful and worried for his life as he returns from a rendezvous.
- Papa Loved Mama has the wife sleep around with various men on the town while her husband (a truck driver) is on the road because she can't stand being alone all the time. Husband comes home unexpectedly with a dozen roses and a bottle of wine looking to surprise her, finds out she's not there, and kills the wife by running his truck through the hotel she was cheating on him in. This song is one that puts both partners involved in a sympathetic light.
- Another of Garth's singles features an "other woman" that isn't even an animal, much less a woman: Rodeo. ("Well, it ain't no woman, flesh and blood/It's that damned old rodeo")
- Madvillain's "Fancy Clown", where Viktor Vaughn expresses the pain and frustration of being cheated on by your woman, especially when you know (and hate) the guy she did it with. How does he do this? By calling her, and telling her that it's over, oh, and he's been sleeping around behind her back, too, with several women including her own mother. He doesn't seem to grasp the hypocrisy at all, and it seemed like so straightforward at first, too; The opening features a mournful singer telling the story of how "I hear you in the background whenever I phone, telling your brother to say you're gone... You've been dipping around the town with some fancy clown." What makes it better is that she's cheating on him with MF DOOM A.K.A, Daniel Dumile A.K.A.,... Viktor Vaughn.
- An Alternate Character Interpretation is that his assertion than he had sex with several other women during the relationship is a lie concocted in a pathetic attempt to hurt his (ex-) girlfriend.
- Played with in the Eagles song "Lyin' Eyes"; the adulterous Gold Digger protagonist of the song is portrayed in a surprisingly sympathetic fashion, as a lonely woman trapped in a loveless marriage to an old man. The song still notes, however, that she did bring it on herself by marrying the guy solely for his money, and that her way of dealing isn't exactly laudable; she's betraying her husband and stringing along her boyfriend by promising that she'll leave her husband for him without any intention of doing so.
- Long Black Veil originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell, later covered by Johnny Cash and the Dave Matthews Band among others. The song tells the story of a man wrongly accused of murder but refuses to provide an alibi that would exonerate him because it would mean revealing the truth that he was screwing his "best friend's wife" at the time. The protagonist ultimately takes the secret to his grave after being convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.
- Nearly the exact same plot is used in Gary Moore's Over The Hills And Far Away, later covered by Nightwish. Instead of a murder it is a robbery, and the man spends ten years in prison instead of being executed.
- In Pink Floyd's The Wall, Pink (a rockstar) invites groupies to his room but eventually starts to ignore them. He calls home to find that his wife has been cheating on him; a mental apparition of her tells Pink he "should have talked to [her] more often." This one is hard because Pink is portrayed simultaneously in both a sympathetic and a demonizing light.
- The guy in Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" clearly understands the ambiguity of this sort of thing in reality. He's the guy having an affair with a married (or otherwise taken) woman while her man is "out of town": she's clearly looking for something she can't find with her husband (or whatever), but the man himself realizes exactly how despicable the whole situation is...and still does it anyway, for reasons he can't quite explain.
- Then there's Ruper Holmes "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" The protagonist in the song is tired of his wife and looks for a new lover in the personal columns of the newspaper. He sees an add he likes and responds to it, asking the woman to meet him at his favorite bar. When he sees her walk through the door, he recognizes her...to be his wife. They had both been looking for a new love and when they found out the "new person" was their spouse, they apparently decided to renew their life together. Happy ending.
- Ruby (Don't Take Your Love To Town) by Kenny Rogers is about a heartbreakingly sad example of this. A vet comes back from Vietnam, paralysed from the waist down. his wife nurses him as best she could, but goes out in the evenings for those things her husband is unable to give her. There is a suspicion that she a nd her lover want to be rid of an encumbrance. The narrator reflects on what he'd do if he were able....
- For Better or for Worse uses the trope, giving us Anthony constantly pursuing his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth... while married to Therese. While Anthony is clearly meant to be the one we sympathize with, it didn't work too well for many readers.
- An earlier example has Elizabeth at the other end, being cheated on by her long-term boyfriend at college. Intriguingly, when she finally figures out what's going on and confronts him at the other woman's apartment, the other woman immediately turns around and cries "you pig! You're cheating on me!?"
- This is whole point to the H-Game Secret Wives Club. It is portrayed mostly sympathetically for the protagonist and the women involved, though both sides do acknowledge the implications of their actions and lampshade how unsympathetic it looks to another point of view.
- Used in the old Sierra game Conquests Of Camelot in which the player has to retrieve a veil from a prostitute on behalf of a husband so that he can prove to his wife that he didn't cheat on her. He gets away with it. This creates some Moral Dissonance considering the storyline is based on Lancelot and Guinevere's illicit love affair cursing the land, causing Arthur to go out in search of the Holy Grail in the first place.
- One of the characters in Discworld Noir is an old lover of Lewton's who broke off the relationship unexpectedly and rapidly vanished. During the game she returns, and reveals that the reason for the sudden heartbreaking was that she'd actually been married the whole time, but up until she disappeared, she thought she'd never see her husband again; once she discovered this assessment to be false, she decided fidelity was the best option. The game doesn't really pass judgement one way or the other over the morality of the actual relationship between her and Lewton, but Lewton himself holds one hell of a grudge over how fast she left.
- In Baldur's Gate 2, Keldorn's wife is unfaithful because Keldorn is Married to the Job and the period between each time she sees him is measured in months, if not years. If you confront the man she's seeing he's remarkably blasé about the whole affair, as he knows Keldorn's wife actually loves Keldorn and was only unfaithful because she was lonely and because Keldorn's daughters needed a father figure in Keldorn's absence, and it's further implied that there were certain... obstacles to physical intimacy between her and the other man. If you convince Keldorn to reconcile with his family and retire, the other man immediately backs off and the affair is resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Alternatively, you can bring the matter up to the courts, which will get the man hung, Keldorn's wife imprisoned, and Keldorn's daughters hating him forever to keep him in the party.
- In Assassin's Creed II there are side missions called "beat-up missions". The player must locate cheating husbands and boyfriends and beat them senseless. Ezio himself is The Casanova and proud of it, but the closest he gets to instigating an affair is seducing Caterina Sforza, who is a widow who never loved her husband to begin with (to the point of ordering his death) and in Brotherhood, it's revealed that she was only leading him on in order to secure the Assassins' protection. Ezio himself never goes after a married woman and is pretty clear about his long-term intentions towards women.
- In Fire Embelm: Genealogy of the Holy War, a highly plot-significant couple features both. Duke Victor of Velthomer is bad, as a serial adulterer and rapist who tried to throw his pregnant victim out of his householdnote . His wife Lady Cigyun is good, as she takes The Wise Prince as a lover in the aftermath of finding out about Victor's crime. Those who know the story sympathize with her for having such an awful husband.
- Adultery is one of the main themes of In Your Arms Tonight, which begins with the protagonist's discovery that her husband of three months is having an affair. She has the option of divorcing him immediately, but there are several routes in which she doesn't, and instead ends up getting involved with another man while she is still married. This is always portrayed sympathetically as the protagonist finding the love and support that her husband is not providing to her, and only in one such route does she carefully refrain from physical intimacy with her love interest because she feels it would make her no better than her husband. Her husband's infidelity, on the other hand, is never presented sympathetically: it is a purely physical relationship, and in one route he goes so far as to tell the protagonist that he is cheating on her because she does not have enough sex appeal.
- Done in an early Order of the Stick story arc - while Durkon and Hilgya (of the Linear Guild) are off alone together, Hilgya tells the story of how she came to live in the human lands: she was forced into a marriage with an "oppressive" husband ("Would you like a foot massage, sweetie?"), so she fled after unsuccessfully trying to poison her husband ("Cursed dwarven save bonus against poisons!"). Subverted in that Durkon chastises her for it - even though her story didn't relate her husband's actual words.
- In supplementary material for And Shine Heaven Now, Erin hinted that Arthur Hellsing was the result of an affair between Abraham van Hellsing and Mina (Murray) Harker. If true, they'll probably get a pass on the whole 'adultery' thing because...well, if Arthur doesn't exist, then neither does Integra.
- Played With in Queen of Wands—from the reader's perspective it first seems like Brad was cheating on Angela with Wannabe Wiccan Girl, which naturally hurt Angela. However, it's later revealed that their relationship was polyamorous—Angela was just hurt to realize that WWG was "the 'real' girlfriend" instead of her.
- The most notable example in Better Days was towards the end when Elizabeth caught her husband screwing his secretary, and she responded by having an affair with Fisk before confronting her unfaithful husband and demanding a divorce.
- Jay Naylor seems fond of this trope. An earlier storyline had Fisk's mother, Sheila, having an affair with her neighbor. While the affair was shown as sympathetic (the neighbor was emotionally abused by his shrewish wife), the end did show negative effects, as the wife divorces her husband when she finds out and takes their son away. Because the son was one of Fisk's friends, this also leads to Fisk giving his mother the cold shoulder until Lucy yells at him for it.
- When Lucy is in college, her roommate, Rachel, frequently cheated on her boyfriend while expecting to marry him someday. This is treated as bad adultery, since the boyfriend is a sweet guy. Lucy having the boyfriend cheat on Rachel with her is good adultery, because Lucy really loves him and is the protagonist. Granted she is faithful to him and they eventually get married, but a later storyline that has her debate whether or not to cheat on him with her other roommate's boyfriend partially shows her as sympathetic because she feels unsure about limiting herself to one lover. The only reason it's treated as bad is because one of her friends points out that she'd be throwing away a good, loving relationship for a fling.
- King of the Hill plays around with this concept a lot in regards to the Love Triangle between Dale Gribble, his wife Nancy, and John Redcorn. Nancy cheated on Dale for years, and their son Joseph is obviously Redcorn's. Initially it's Played for Laughs; Dale is a Conspiracy Nut who believes every whopper in the book, and yet he misses the obvious deception going on right in front of his facenote . Nancy is initially portrayed as the "bad guy" for cheating on her nutty but devoted husband (whom she says she loves in a "leave the lights on" kind of way, and she only sleeps with him on his birthday), while Redcorn acts quietly resentful of Dale. The season 4 episode "Nancy's Boys" marks the end of the affair when Dale's honest devotion to Nancy and friendship towards Redcorn cause them to feel guilt over betraying his very hard-to-earn trust and part ways amicably.
- The affair gets played around with in a lot of other ways over the course of the series. Everyone except Dale knows about it, but they have the discretion not to say anything, for which John Redcorn is immensely grateful. However, in one episode Hank has an erotic dream about Nancy, and Redcorn's reaction is to flip out as if Hank had actually slept with her, and then go tell Dale (who likewise flips out). Another episode has a beautiful female exterminator come onto Dale, and Nancy realizes she has no right to be upset, even viewing Dale's inevitable affair as Laser-Guided Karma for her own infidelity (except that Dale is ultimately loyal and rebuffs the other woman). Finally, in yet another episode, Redcorn quietly laments how Nancy left him for "that" (Dale), and Hank indignantly points out she didn't leave him, she was with Dale long before Redcorn entered the picture, a point which he rightly concedes.
- The trope also comes up as regards Bill's ex-wife, Lenore. In the past, she cheated on Bill and eventually divorced him, but Bill is portrayed as a victim who tried to be a good husband, while Lenore is portrayed as a cruel, manipulative bitch, who is largely responsible for Bill's life being as pathetic as it is. When Lenore finally puts in an appearance, she only shows up to destroy Bill's newfound happiness with former Texas governor Anne Richardson, who convinces Bill to finally tell her off.
- On The Simpsons, the wear and tear of raising eight children erodes Apu and Manjula's marriage to the point where Manjula won't let her husband so much as touch her. A desperate Apu is courted by a fetching Squishee delivery girl, and after the ensuing affair, Manjula pressures Apu to go to ridiculous lengths (as in, eating a light bulb) to restore the same cold, lifeless relationship that drove him to another woman in the first place. The fact that the two of them were an Arranged Marriage is implied to have been a factor.
- There was also an episode where Bart and Milhouse make it look like Marge is having an affair with Kirk. However, when Homer confronts Marge on it, Marge throws Homer out of the house, because he continued to press in spite of her repeated denials.
- In Family Guy, at least when it came to Loretta and Cleveland. Loretta had an affair, and though it was Played for Laughs, it was fairly even-handed as she had a reason (she felt Cleveland lacked any passion), but wasn't seen as very much in the right, especially when we see her again in a later episode. Even later, Loretta shows remorse for leaving Cleveland... then accuses Quagmire of ruining the marriage.
- Also from Family Guy, the time Lois cheated on Peter with Bill Clinton. Peter is clearly portrayed as the victim. Of course, Peter then goes and cheats on Lois... with Bill Clinton, since Clinton is just that persuasive (Peter: "Boy, you are good. You are REALLY good."), and neither Peter nor Lois would have done it under normal circumstances. This is also the same episode where Peter was given a pass to sleep with Lois's mother to even things out, but couldn't go through with it because he does genuinely love Lois.
- In the season eight episode "Go Stewie Go" Lois cheats on Peter after she gets tired of his constant insults towards her advancing age. She then seduces Meg's new (normal) boyfriend. While making out with him on the couch, Meg catches the two going at it. Eventually, Lois tells Peter about her affair. Cut to Peter telling her why he was making such a big deal about her age (because he himself was insecure about his weight). Lois then makes up with Peter. Their next door neighbor Bonnie's former cheating nature is also revealed.
- "Foreign Affairs" has Bonnie go to France with Lois with the express intent of having an affair, saying that the passion has gone out of their marriage. Lois is aghast, saying that Joe is a wonderful man and cheating on him will hurt everyone involved. Bonnie remains adamant about the affair up until the end of the episode, where Lois uses outright deceptionnote to convince Bonnie to stay faithful.
- "Internal Affairs" has Bonnie's Double Standard nature revealed when, after weeks of cold indifference from her, Joe cheats on her with a young female police officer and she screeches like a harpy upon finding out. Despite the fact that she has cheated on him at least once before and attempted to cheat on him in "Foreign Affairs."
- In the episode where Stewie seems to have finally killed Lois, it cuts to a year later, and Peter has been going out on dates with some women. One of those dates was apparently sex with Bonnie, with Joe's approval.
- Played with on Moral Orel, in which both Clay and Bloberta are unfaithful, but neither is show at all sympathetically, because they're shown to be at the root of their own unhappiness.
- In an episode of American Dad!!, Stan finds out his wife had tons of boyfriends before meeting him, so Francine gives him a temporary divorce to have as much sex as he wants with whomever he wants. She changes her mind, of course, and begs him to come back after seeing him on a date. He refuses, citing their original deal. He then comes back to her, and she is overjoyed that he didn't go through with the "affair". Stan cheerfully replies that he actually married the other woman and had lots of sex before divorcing her (apparently, in one day), shocking Francine.
- Another episode has nearly all women in town revealed to be members of the Ladybugs, a club for women who cheat on their husbands. They do this as a status symbol and for shopping perks (i.e. no good reason). Francine accidentally becomes a member after the women catch her in a Not What It Looks Like situation with another man. Apparently, all the husbands are clueless, while their wives believe that being a slut is a good thing.
- The Gosselin family, of Jon And Kate Plus Eight fame, sort of zig-zag around this - while Kate was originally blamed for making Jon miserable enough to seek happiness with another woman, she's recently began gaining more sympathy after Jon allegedly proposed to his new younger girlfriend.
- Part of this came from the media; Jon was proposed as the villian in the relationship, being weaker emotionally, while Kate was built up as the strong mother trying hold it together for her children. Rare was any story on them where her emotional abuse came into the center, instead it was all about how Jon cheated. When stories of her cheating came into play, it almost never was her fault for doing so, or as evil as Jon's betrayal.
- Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are even today regarded as not only the good kind of adulterers but one of the most enduring stories of Hollywood romance, despite Tracy having been married (and technically estranged since he wouldn't divorce her because he was a devout Catholic) to actress and fundraiser Louise Treadwell over the entire course of their relationship. The two never spoke publicly about their relationship, never appeared in public together when there wasn't a publicity reason for it, and Hepburn neither attended Tracy's funeral nor even spoke acknowledged their relationship until Treadwell had passed on.
- Funnily enough, Tracy danced into Bad Adultery territory during his affairs with actresses who weren't Hepburn.
- Ayn Rand drew a distinction between good and bad adultery. She had an affair with a prominent player in her Objectivist movement, Nathaniel Branden, a married man, and rationalized it by saying two people of their intellectual caliber were morally obligated to enter a relationship. However, Branden later had an affair with another woman, for which he was practically excommunicated from the Objectivist cause.
- When news of Prince Charles' affair with Camilla Bowles (now his wife) came out, there was a media frenzy over the gall the man had - compared to his wife, Diana, who had had a number of affairs behind his back as well. Then again he did cheat first...
- He did indeed, but it could be argued that the woman he (technically) cheated on first was not Diana, but Camilla as they were already seeing each other before he even met Diana.
- Popular opinion seems pretty split on which category Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's affair and subsequent (and ongoing) relationship fall under. Some consider it the good kind possibly due to the hotness, popularity, and humanitarianism of both stars. Others consider it to be the bad kind since it ended Brad Pitt's marriage, and because Angelina Jolie had previously been the other woman to Billy Bob Thornton while he was engaged to Laura Dern.
- During Cromwell's era, adultery was considered a capital crime in much of Britain. This trope is illustrated by the fact that, while the legal system condemned it all as Bad Adultery, the populace at large acknowledged that Good Adultery was possible and subverted this law via jury nullification.
- Dan Savage draws this distinction, for instance here.
- One episode of Oprah had a sociologist who pointed out the double standard of people demonizing the married men having affairs while neglecting to consider who they were having those affairs with: a large part of the time, married women.
- In her pictorial in the November, 1976 issue of Playboy, Miss November Patti McGuire said that she believes in a "reverse double" standard in which the wife is free to have casual affairs but the husband has to remain faithful.