"(reading aloud) OHMYSHIT WTF ASSHOLES Y R U BEING EVIL CHEATERS! (commentary) Becaause you're a douche."Alice and Bob are a married couple, but Alice is growing dissatisfied with the relationship. Maybe Bob isn't as attractive now as in the past. Maybe Bob doesn't appreciate Alice's friends and hobbies. Maybe the passion's just gone from the marriage. Either way, Alice meets Charlie, who's everything Bob isn't, and starts an affair. Now we all know cheating is A Bad Thing, so it follows that we aren't supposed to side with Bob, right? Wrong. There are many reasons why someone who cheats might be portrayed sympathetically:
- Pay Cheating Unto Evil: Their partner's a hateful bastard who stifles or abuses the cheater.
- Pay Cheating Unto Cheating: Their partner is cheating themself, in which case the cheating is a form of Laser-Guided Karma.
- Pay Cheating Unto Boring: Their partner is boring and they want a more exciting lover, or the marriage has gone on for too long and they want a change.
- Pay Cheating Unto Bad Sex: Their partner is asexual, impotent or just bad at sex.
- Pay Cheating Unto Normal: Their partner is a Nice Guy or Romantic Runner-Up who just can't compete with the cheater's One True Love
- Pay Cheating Unto Various: More than one of the above
- Pay Cheating Unto Fine With It: For one reason or another, the partner knows about the adultery and is perfectly okay with it. If this goes really far, it turns into polyamory instead.
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Pay Cheating Unto Evil
- Hank Rearden from Atlas Shrugged. Given the nature of the book, go ahead and guess what his wife is like...
- A commercial advertising an internet service that connects lovers... who happen to be married to other people. The commercial shows a woman on a horrible date (with her husband, we're clearly meant to assume). After acting like a Jerkass, the husband excuses himself and the wife makes eyes with a handsome man across the restaurant.
- In Jill Paton Walsh's A Piece of Justice, "Giddy"'s wife ironically stifled him in her attempts to try to force him into achieving professional fame. He valued his long-time mistress more as an old friend who wouldn't nag him about his work than anything else.
- In Dorothy L. Sayers' Clouds of Witness, Mrs. Grimethorpe is in an abusive marriage, while the Duchess of Denver is a shrew.
- In the Lost episode "The Other Woman," Goodwin cheating on Harper with Juliet is depicted sympathetically, partly because Harper's a shrew, but also because Juliet is a main character and Harper is not. Goodwin also mentions that he had already been sleeping on the couch for a year before Juliet arrived.
- In the movie Waitress, the main character cheats on her husband and is portrayed with sympathy, mainly because the husband is an abusive jerk. Her lover, whose likability shouldn't be condoned as his adultery, however, who is also married, is given less sympathy in the end when we finally meet his wife, who seems to be a very nice person who has no idea that her husband is cheating. Rightfully, the protagonist gently breaks up with him, telling him his wife has "so much trust".
- The book Ethan Frome portrays Ethan's wife Zeena as a hypochondriac shrew who stifles him, making his attraction to her sweet, vivacious cousin Mattie extremely understandable. Although it must be noted that the narrative is from Ethan's perspective so it's possible he's not being entirely honest about just how horrible Zeena is (especially since there are a few hints that he wasn't entirely understanding of Zeena either) and also that he suffers HARD for trying to escape with Mattie.
- The Whole Nine Yards: Matthew Perry's character cheats on his wife but she and her mother are freeloading off of him, its a loveless relationship, and she goads him into trying to bring a notorious hitman to justice And thats just what he knows about her. She also calls in a hit on him as her real goal is to get his life insurance money. Naturally, the audience has no sympathy for her.
- Amores Perros. The affair between Octavio and his brothers wife Susanna is portrayed very sympathetically because his brother is a Jerkass of the highest order who abuses his wife
- Titanic (1997). Rose cheats on her fiance but he is evil and she was engaged to him against her will, making her objectively sympathetic.
- The Last King of Scotland. The protagonist having sex with Idi Amin's wife was problematic due to the danger of angering a sociopathic tyrant rather than presenting any moral issues.
- Subverted in Frasier: Niles' attraction to Daphne is sympathetic because his wife Maris is a frigid, manipulative, emotionally abusive control freak — but he still never cheats on her even though no one would condemn him that badly for it.
- In Naruto Veangance Revelations, this can be considered to apply to Sakura cheating on Ronan with Naruto, although she doesn't see Ronan as evil and defends him to Naruto.
- On the Only Fools and Horses Prequel Rock And Chips, Reg is neglectful, crude, abusive, and all too happy to sit at home, watch Joan bring home the bacon and then waste her meagre wages down the pub. Is it any wonder she jumps into bed with Freddie Robdal - debonair and attentive, if somewhat unreliable and immoral - the first chance she gets?
- In Tomorrow Never Dies, James Bond sleeps with Paris Carver, an old girlfriend who is now married to the Bond villain Elliot Carver. Paris comes to him to warn him that her husband is onto the fact that he is a spy, and the next morning gives him information even over his protests, despite believing that her media baron husband will find and kill her wherever she goes if she doesn't go back to him. Unknown to her, Carver has already decided to have her killed for not telling him that she knew who Bond was, and when Bond gets back to his hotel room she has already been murdered by one of his assassins.
- Blacksad has a complex case in the second album. Jezebel Karup is sleeping with Huk, the Number Two of the local KKK knockoff while refusing her husband Hans sex. Then it turns out that she was doing it to manipulate Huk into lynching Hans for suspected pedophilia. Then Dinah is found murdered, and Huk soon after. Hans was in fact Jezebel and Dinah's father, who'd abandoned them and their black mother when the racism went to his head. Killing him was Jezebel's revenge, and she murdered Huk when he killed Dinah when she might go to the cops about Hans' murder.
- In It Could Happen to You, wife Muriel is a greedy, selfish, materialistic shrew, leaving not only the viewers, but the entire city of New York to fall in love with the film's love story of Charlie (her husband) and Yvonne. To their credit, they don't consummate their relationship until after Muriel kicks him out, but they're still legally married, and until that point, it has certainly been an emotional affair at the very least.
Pay Cheating Unto Cheating
- Janet Weiss from the Rocky Horror Picture Show decides to cheat on Brad by sleeping with Rocky after discovering Brad slept with Frank. Though, Frank did seduce Janet before going to Brad...
- In the Korean film April Snow, the lead male and female found out their wife/husband was cheating on them, with the other. Early in the movie, when the two leads were sitting together and discussing the relationship between their spouses, one of them joked wouldn't it be funny if they cheated on said spouses for cheating on them. Guess what happens?
- Derek aka "Dr. McDreamy" from Grey's Anatomy cheated on his wife Addison with Meredith, but only because she cheated on him with his best friend (although she isn't without her sympathetic traits), and the audience is expected to root for Derek and Meredith to end up together.
- The Countess in Il Muto (The Phantom of the Opera's pastiche of opera buffa) is cheating on her husband with a mute male servant. The Phantom comments that the role of the Countess must be played with charm and appeal, while the husband is not only a bore but a lech who takes a shine to the 'maid' (the Countess' lover in disguise).
- In the manga/anime Chobits by CLAMP, cram school teacher Ms. Shimizu starts a relationship with Shimbo, one of her (adult) students after her husband becomes completely engrossed with their persocom. The turning point comes when she gets locked out of their house because he simply forgot about her. When Hideki finds out he is at first not sympathetic and accuses Shimbo of being a homewrecker until he finds out the real circumstances behind it.
- Scandal: President Fitzgerald Grant, who cheated on his wife and First Lady Mellie Grant. Mellie, who was raped by her father-in-law, which suddenly stopped the Sickeningly Sweethearts, Happily Married face of their relationship, is a cheater, too.
- On ER, when Peter begins an affair with the married Jeanie Boulet. Viewers have watched the relationship develop over the past season, so we already know that it's not some sleazy fling, but that she's genuinely torn between him and her husband. When we later learn that her husband has been cheating on her left and right throughout their marriage and has given her HIV, she becomes even more sympathetic.
- Soaps trot this one out quite frequently, but The Young and the Restless ends up subverting it when Nick sleeps with Grace to get back at wife Sharon for her cheating on him with Diego. Problem is, the marriage was already rocky as they were struggling to deal with their grief over the death of their infant daughter and Sharon ran to Diego when she found Nick canoodling with Grace, whom he'd already had an affair with several years prior, ultimately making Sharon the example of this trope.
- In The Testament Of Jessie Lamb, when Jessie is upset because her mother has an affair, her aunt tells her that some years ago, Jessie's father had an affair, and they got back together, and that Jessie shouldn't worry too much. Jessie's mother also mentions that her husband doesn't seem to notice her anymore.
- “Creep” by TLC plays with this trope. The singer is cheating on her boyfriend, because he is cheating on her. Yet she doesn’t cheat out of revenge, but rather because she needs the emotional support in order to stay in the relationship, because she believes it would break his heart if she left.
- Family Guy at one point, Joey is interested in a younger new policewoman. He doesn't think he should cheat on Bonnie, but Bonnie's constantly shoving Joey away, ignoring his achievements and being far more interested on how she comes off to the other wives rather than how Joey is feeling puts doubt in his minds, the nail in the coffin is when Peter mentions that Bonnie already had an affair years before. However, it's revealed that Bonnie never went through with the affair but everything else still stands. Joey's affair then is portrayed as something wrong, but sympathetic.
Pay Cheating Unto Boring
- Sarah Caudwell's The Sirens Sang of Murder: the contessa di Silvabianca, although ironically when her husband suspects infidelity, he nearly always suspects the wrong people of being involved.
- Katrina in Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District cheats on her husband for a variety of reasons: frequent absence of her husband is probably the number one, plus an abusive father-in-law, and the seduction by a sexy hunk.
- John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda is not at all reluctant to step out on his icy wife for Jamie Lee Curtis.
- Nearly in The Scarlet Pimpernel, as Marguerite is unaware of her husband's double life and considers him a tame bore.
- Played With in True Lies, super-spy Harry Tasker thinks his wife is having an affair in part because she thinks he is only a boring computer salesman, a cover ironically he actively cultivates even at home- he might even take pride in how boring it is. Turns out the truth is a bit more complicated- she does find him boring, but the guy Harry thinks she is having an "affair" with is a used car salesman who is trying to get in her panties by posing as a super-spy who wants her to be his fake-wife. In the end, she actually refuses to have sex with him precisely because she is married and loyal to her husband...which comes to bite Harry in the ass when he recruits her for a fake mission to seduce a French arms dealer (really Harry himself, hidden in the shadows) and she she beats up him as well not knowing it is her husband. Needless to say, she is not remotely amused when she finds all this out (and even Harry kind of realises that what he is doing is really messed up), but eventually they sort out their differences and she eventually even becomes his partner in the field.
- Lisa in The Room cheats on her boyfriend Johnny with his best friend, because she considers Johnny boring. Then again, we're not meant to find Lisa very sympathetic, but given that it's Johnny this can backfire with audiences.
- The Obituary Writer features two examples with its leads Claire Fontaine and Vivien Lowe, who become the mistresses of two married men, partially by impulse and partially by a desire to feel something with their lives (especially the former, given her loveless marriage). Of course what makes them sympathetic is the guilt, grief, and sad life experiences that follow their liaisons.
- French film The Earrings of Madame de...: Andre isn't mean or abusive to Louise. In fact he's quite friendly, and he maintains her in a grand style. But he obviously doesn't love her, theirs is a Sexless Marriage, and he's cheating on her. So it's romantic when Louise finds love with Donati.
Pay Cheating Unto Bad Sex
- Gladys Mitchell's The Saltmarsh Murders: the vicar's wife is sexually repressed (the psychiatrist character refers to her condition as 'inverted nymphomania'). Her husband fathers an illegitimate child on their maid; the wife snaps when she learns the father's identity, and kills the maid.
- Connie Chatterley's characterization in Lady Chatterley's Lover. His husband was paralyzed from the waist down in World War I, thus he's impotent.
Pay Cheating Unto Normal
- Embarassingly common in various Fanfiction set after the series in question but centered upon the Fan-Preferred Couple. Starting with Die for Our Ship is far from unknown, but there are quite a few writers who do not even bother with an excuse beyond "My True Love Is X", whereupon the partner gets ticked and we are supposed to hate the poor Cuckold for it.
- Gwen Cooper in Torchwood. She sleeps with her bad boy colleague Owen due to her forcing to juggle normal life and life with a group of alien hunters.
- In The Notebook, novel and movie, Noah and Allie cheat on their partners, one of whom is even engaged. But we're supposed to root for them because they're Star-Crossed Lovers. Not to mention that Allie's fiance treats and loves her well.
- In the latest Nicholas Sparks offering, The Choice, where the heroine cheats on her boyfriend with the hero (and he technically cheats on his on-again, off-again paramour with her), even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with him or the relationship. She carries on with the other guy for roughly a month and not until her boyfriend returns to town does she even seem to realize that there was anything wrong with her behavior.
- Daisy in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button cheats on her husband with Benjamin after he reappears after several years, because Benjamin is her One True Love and her husband is just a nice guy with no development. Also, it was explicitly a one night stand that they both knew would probably be the last time they had sex, since Benjamin had aged down so far its not even clear he was legal at the time.
- Amelia Earhart in Amelia. In this case the reason she is "sympathetic" was because she is obviously remorseful and goes back to her husband who is willing to forgive.
- Julia in Vikram Seth's novel An Equal Music.
- In the second season of Friends, the long drawn-out Will They or Won't They? relationship between Ross and Rachel takes a step forward with their first kiss, in an empty Central Perk. We are supposed to cheer for that kiss, but Ross is, in fact, committed to Romantic False Lead Julie at that point. Played completely straight.
- Taro Namatame of Persona 4. Once a secretary of the Yasogami city council, at the start of the game his affair with news reporter Mayumi Yamano is a hot topic around Inaba, and ultimately costs him his job. While he knows his affair with Mayumi is wrong, he genuinely loved her, and his relationship with his wife was often troubled for unspecified reasons.
- The Boku No Hero Academia fanfic Halcyon, this happens to both Midoriya and Uraraka. They get married soon after high school, and it leads their relationship to troubles when they drift apart due to Midoriya slowly developing PTSD, as a result, Midoriya starts to look for comfort in Todoroki, who understands him better, while Uraraka slowly falls for Bakugou, who is her partner in hero work. In the end, both understand they are not right for each other and get a divorce, deciding to start their new relationships.
Pay Cheating Unto Various
- Jerry and Cassie provide an unusually early example of this trope in 1932 film Three Wise Girls. Jerry and Cassie are One True Love. Jerry and his wife might never have loved each other but definitely aren't in love anymore in the movie; they've agreed to divorce but have right of veto on their partner's new partner. Jerry's wife is the antagonist for refusing to grant a divorce and it's a Happy Ending when she finally does and Jerry and Cassie get together.
- Not really fitting with any of the above, but Yuri in Doctor Zhivago is a deeply sympathetic character who maintains his relationships with his loving and beloved wife, and the lonely and sad Lara.
- The protagonists of Brokeback Mountain are gay, thus, they're not in love with their wives, and they were more or less forced to marry due to the circumstances.
- The pairing of Joan Holloway and Roger Sterling in Mad Men is a fan-favorite because it combines two versions of this. On Joan's end, it's "Pay Cheating Unto Evil", as her husband Greg is a rapist, and on Roger's end, it's "Pay Cheating Unto Boring", as he isn't truly happy with either his first wife Mona or his second wife, Jane. Roger and Joan make each other crazy, but happier than anyone else makes them.
- This is the central premise of the play and film Same Time, Next Year. Both parties meet once each year for a tryst, because both have fallen in love with the other. We never meet their partners, but what is shared about their respective wife and husband doesn't make them out to be particularly deserving of being cheated on consistently. For what it's worth, the two leads are well aware that the whole arrangement is pretty messed up.
- An Unintentionally Sympathetic example is Therese from For Better or for Worse, who according to a pair of Gossipy Hens was seeing someone before divorcing her husband Anthony. However, this gossip is the only time her having an affair is ever alluded to. Even if one accepts it as truth, it can still be viewed as Pay Cheating Unto Cheating, as Anthony spent most of his marriage lusting after Liz, and the most obvious effort he ever put into making things work with Therese was pressuring her to have a child before she was ready, because Babies Make Everything Better.
- Fire Emblem: Genealogy of Holy War has Cigyun, who cheated on her husband Duke of Velthomer Victor with Prince Kurt of Grandbell, because Victor was a violent drunk who had many mistresses and mistreated her. The guy even has raped under the influence of alcohol Cigyun's personal maid (who has a result gets pregnant with what who'll be Azel, one of the main playable characters). Kurt was at first sympathetic with Cigyun's situation and was supporting her, but along the way they fell in love with each other.
- King of the Hill:
- Nancy has been cheating on her husband Dale for years with John Redcorn. This is partly Normal (Dale is very average, Redcorn is a charming stud), partly Boring (Nancy at one point says she loves Dale "in a lights-on kinda way" and only sleeps with him on his birthday), and partly something that doesn't quite fit (Dale's a Conspiracy Theorist and Gun Nut and his antics require a lot of time and stress to clear up). Whoever's truly sympathetic Depends On The Writer, but all three are shown to be good people, if quirky in their own ways. The affair ends in the fourth season when Nancy and Redcorn begin feeling guilty about betraying Dale's honest trust (which is extremely hard to come by) after Dale shows his real love and devotion for Nancy and uses his knowledge of the U.S. government to help Redcorn recover his tribe's lands. And though Redcorn quite obviously to everyone except Dale fathered Nancy's son Joseph, Dale is his father.
- One episode had a subversion of Pay Cheating Unto Cheating, when Dale worked with an attractive female exterminator who was obviously into him. Nancy even admitted that as much as it hurt her, she had no right whatsoever to complain after everything she'd done. However, Dale ended up rebuffing the other woman out of loyalty to Nancy.
- In the first season of Total Drama, Trent got voted off after Heather tricked the entire camp into thinking he was cheating on his girlfriend, Gwen. During Total Drama World Tour, Gwen started a real romantic relationship with Duncan, who was dating Courtney at the time. While the two suffered a bit from their actions (Gwen had Courtney on her back for the rest of the season and the only thing that spared Duncan from elimination was Chris wanting to extend the drama of the situation), it was nowhere near as bad as the backlash suffered by Trent or Heather.
- In A Brother's Price, STD Immunity is so thoroughly averted that cheating and possibly catching diseases to spread around is seen as traitorous and irresponsible. It's also a world where, thanks to their rarity, men have little power or say in their marriages. Jerin mentions adventure novels in which the heroines rescued their true loves from abusive wives, and when he meets another male, Cullen mentions an adulterous man with sympathy.
- In Ace Attorney fanfic Dirty Sympathy, Klavier cheats on Daryan with Apollo, but Daryan is a vicious Domestic Abuser who uses his connections as a Dirty Cop to trap him and constantly makes death threats. Although unusually, Daryan is perfectly ok with Klavier sleeping with female groupies (Daryan also does that himself), but is ready to kill Klavier when he finds out he's having a romantic and sexual affair with a man.
- There are countless cases of a woman becoming a stripper or escort to provide for her family, much to the annoyance of her boyfriend/husband.
- Common in Danielle Steel's novels. It is almost always Evil, Boring, and/or Cheating. Usually it starts out as one and then is revealed to be the other. Also common is for the couple to be technically separated but still legally married.
- Also common in erotic literature and pornography, where the cheater (who can be either a man or a woman) is portrayed as being justified in their adultery because their partner was leaving them unsatisfied in any of the aforementioned ways.
- In Fire Emblem Awakening fanfic By Bonds We Are Bound portrays both Chrom, who is cheating on his wife Olivia with male Avatar and Olivia, who is cheating on her husband Chrom for Lon'qu. Both regret their whirlwind romance and marriage as the passion burned out after a while and have to stay married to not cause a massive scandal and try to find emotional and sexual fulfillment with others without the other knowing about it.
- In Greek Myth, unless you read the version of the myth where Zeus decided whom she would marry, you would see Aphrodite as an unsympathetic cheater for poor Hephaestus, but in Smite, the circumstances can make her sympathetic instead. The thing is, Hephaestus, here known in his Roman name, Vulcan, became so consumed with his bitterness of Hera/Juno's treatment when he's an infant (getting tossed from Olympus to sea because he's ugly) that after his marriage to Aphrodite/Venus, he ended up abandoning her in his forge to quench his bitterness (in vain). This has a side-effect of Aphrodite thinking that she's unworthy of being a wife and a very lonely individual that she started cheating to compensate.
- In Deathless, Koschei the Deathless claims to be fine with Marya having affairs with other men, as long as they aren't named Ivan. She can tell he's lying about it not bothering him, but he's also incredibly controlling, neglects her, keeps his previous wives as slaves in a factory to make paper soldiers, and isn't exactly a faithful husband himself. Marya eventually runs away with a soldier named Ivan because he's a Nice Guy and she wants a healthy relationship. She genuinely loves both Koschei and Ivan, which leads to her tying Koschei up and locking him in the basement for her pleasure (he consents to this) while living in the house as Ivan's wife. When she ends up trapped in a dream world, it being a utopia means that the Koschei she's married to is a Composite Character of the real Koschei and Ivan. Much of the book is about power struggles between husbands and wives in marriage, and Koschei and Marya's fidelity to one another reflects this.
- Braveheart: The film portrays William Wallace having an affair with Princess Isabelle of France, wife of the heir apparent Edward II.note Wallace is a Crusading Widower whose wife was murdered by an English lord. It's portrayed sympathetically in a twofold manner for Isabelle, first because she's in a loveless Arranged Marriage with her husband, strongly implied to be homosexual. She also uses the fact that it was Wallace, not her husband, who impregnated her with the future King of England to taunt the evil Edward Longshanks, who arranged her marriage to his son in the first place.
Pay Cheating Unto Fine With It
- A first season episode of Friends has Joey discover that his father has been having an affair. Joey's father is portrayed fairly sympathetically, since he says that he can't help but love the other woman, loves his wife just as much, and is willing to end the affair over how much distress it's causing Joey. Joey's mother then tells him off, saying that she knew about the affair the whole time (Joey Sr. wasn't exactly the best liar) but tolerates it because it makes him a better person and a more attentive husband. Joey eventually gives his blessing to his father, who remains oblivious to his wife's knowledge.
- A quirky subversion in War and Remembrance. Natalie offers herself to a Nazi camp guard in order to protect her child, but the guard refuses. In this case, her husband Byron, would certainly not have been "fine with it" as such, but he never held it against her, presumably because he understood the desperate circumstances.
- In the historical fantasy The Granite Shield, a woman plans to seduce an enemy monarch in order to free her god, since It is trapped in the body of an unbeliever and can only be released into his heir. She convinces her fiancee that this is a good idea and he joins her in the scheme, helping her to consummate it.
- In Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Lucretia, Batiatus' wife, has been carrying on a "secret" relationship with Crixus, a gladiator. However, she is still very much in love with her husband, and he reveals late in the series that he knew about the affair and was okay with it because it made her happy.
- In the movie Being There, the dying Ben Rand is not only fine with his wife's attraction to Chance, he encourages it because he wants her to be happy and taken care of when he's gone.
- Game of Thrones:
- Stannis Baratheon cheats on his wife Selyse with Melisandre. Later, Stannis confesses to Selyse and begs her forgiveness, but she's perfectly okay with it, because Melisandre was able to give him a son, while all of her children were stillborn or deformed. Also, Selyse is The Fundamentalist, who believes that the Red God ordered Stannis and Melisandre to sleep together.
- Later Tyrion marries Sansa, but maintains the relationship with his lover/whore Shae. The marriage is arranged (or rather forced onto both of them) and Sansa, absolutely horrified of the prospect of having an intercourse with Tyrion, is quite glad that he's taking his business elsewhere, though she doesn't know the specifics, only that her husband "has whores."
- "Genetic Eunuch" Hasimir Fenring is not entirely "fine" with his Bene Gesserit wife breeding with other men, but he shares her conviction that her activities are necessary to the evolution of mankind, and he is comforted by the fact that she enjoys it no more than he does.
- In the original Emmanuelle trilogy, Jean openly encourages Emmanuelle to carry on affairs, and frequently leaves her alone for extended periods in the specific hope that she will seek out new sexual partners. Presumably, he does this to assuage his own guilt over the fact that he's always cheating on her.