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Sympathetic Adulterer
"(reading aloud) OHMYSHIT WTF ASSHOLES Y R U BEING EVIL CHEATERS! (commentary) Becaause you're a douche."
gubgub434's Dramatic Reading of Narutoveangance Revelaitons

Sam and Alex are a married couple, but Sam is growing dissatisfied with the relationship. Maybe Alex isn't as attractive now as in the past. Maybe Alex doesn't appreciate Sam's friends and hobbies. Maybe the passion's just gone from the marriage. Either way, Sam meets Chris, who's everything Alex 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 Sam, 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. A form of Acceptable Targets.
  • 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.

But whatever the reason, if they cheat and are portrayed sympathetically then it fits the trope, making it fall more on the "Good" side of Good Adultery, Bad Adultery.

Compare My Girl Is a Slut. The Unfair Sex is a Subtrope dealing with a Double Standard to do with this.

Contrast Ethical Slut, where cheating usually isn't considered okay or sympathetic at all - but affairs are not considered cheating as long as the communication/relationship is open.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    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.
  • AmoresPerros. 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. Rose cheats on her fiance but he is evil
  • 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?

    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 is a cheater, too.

    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.
  • 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.

    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 New York Four, Frank is in a relationship with Riley's big sister, but he's secretly in love with Riley.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Pay Cheating Unto Various 
  • 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 both his first wife Mona and his second wife, Jane. Roger and Joan make each other crazy, but happier than anyone else makes them.
  • 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 obivous 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.
  • On 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, thanks to Dale's honest love and devotion to his family winning Nancy back over, and because his efforts to help Redcorn recover his peoples' lands makes Redcorn feel guilty for betraying Dale's trust (which isn't easy to come by). And though Redcorn quite obviously to everyone except Dale fathered Nancy's son Joseph, Dale is his father.
  • 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 for 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 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.

    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 ok 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.
  • In 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 ok 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.


Sycophantic ServantCharacters as DeviceSympathetic Murderer
Sweeps Week Lesbian KissGender and Sexuality TropesTampon Run
Surrounded by Smart PeopleExample as a ThesisTactical Reminiscence

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