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Plot-Inciting Infidelity

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So, you're writing a story and you need your character to be both immediately sympathetic to the audience and motivated to suddenly change their life in a dramatic way. How about you have them learn their significant other is cheating on them early in the story? Witnessing this infidelity shows the protagonist as down on their luck and implies that their personal life was unhappy and/or unfulfilling, paving the way for the drastic change that comprises the work's gimmick. It also establishes them as single, just in time for the introduction of the work's Love Interest.

Works that use this trope rarely focus on the ex or the causes of the affair (if they do, the ex is rarely portrayed as a Sympathetic Adulterer, since the audience needs to root for the protagonist, and may become a villain with this trope as an Establishing Character Moment), and generally do not try to salvage the previous relationship after it has served its purpose. On the scale of Good Adultery, Bad Adultery, it usually falls on the bad side.

The protagonist might find out through a Bedroom Adultery Scene. In romance works, doomed relationships that survive further than the film's beginning might be Disposable Fiancé instead. A similar trope is Out of Job, into the Plot.


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  • Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Diamond Is Unbreakable begins with the revelation that its protagonist, Josuke Higashikata, is the product of an affair between Joseph Joestar and a Japanese woman back in 1983. After this news comes to light in 1999, he's met by his 28-year-old nephew Jotaro Kujo, who travels to Morioh to explain the situation to him, only for them to get caught up in the sudden rise in Stand-users across town.
  • In Little House with an Orange Roof, Natsumi's side of the story begins with her and her daughters coming home from a trip, only to discover a strange woman in the house, who runs to Natsumi's husband shouting "Your wife and kids are home early!" Cue Natsumi getting a divorce and moving into the eponymous house with an orange roof.

    Comic Books 
  • The Silent Hill comic book series Sinner's Reward gets kick-started this way, as the mob boss, Jack's employer and Jill's husband, was unaware of the love affair between Jack and Jill until they left together. Once he found out, he decided to have them brought back to him, leading to everyone eventually ending up in Silent Hill. This is still part of the Silent Hill franchise, however, so they're not portrayed as sympathetically as some other examples of this trope are — for starters, Jack was employed as a Professional Killer, and at least one other character isn't as willing to let bygones be bygones for them so easily.
  • Subverted in Wanted. Wesley Gibson is cuckolded by his girlfriend and best friend, but he's too much of a push-over to confront either of them about it. It takes a Call to Adventure from the Fraternity before he jumps into action, and Wesley's revenge on them (a "The Reason You Suck" Speech for the former and off-screen dismemberment for the latter) is treated as an afterthought.

    Fan Works 
  • Cabin Fever: Parting Shot recreates the affair that takes between Paul and Marcy in Cabin Fever. The difficulty with this being that Paul is hopelessly infatuated with his friendzone crush, Karen, at the start of the story. His journey of decadent, meaningless sex with Karen's hot friend, and self-discovery begins when he inadvertently catches Karen having a drunken, impulsive fling with their friend, Bert.
  • He Can Only Blame Himself opens with Marinette being let go from her job after discovering that her boyfriend Adrien was cheating on her with Lila. Gabriel justifies his decision to fire her by claiming he thought it would be too painful for her to stay, but still attempts to make her sign an NDA.
  • Love at First Sight (Once Upon a Time) starts with Regina catching her boyfriend Robin Hood cheating on her. This causes her to break up with him and she meets Emma the next day, which leads to the whole main plot kicking off.
  • Delia arrives home early in the fourth chapter of Mended's prequel Torn to find her new husband Will in bed with his ex-girlfriend. Her boss Samuel finds Delia crying in the gardens and comforts her, which is when he realizes that he's attracted to her. When Delia arrives back home, she finds a note from Will saying he's left her for his exe. This situation allows Delia to enter a Love Triangle with her co-worker Spencer and her boss Samuel.
  • Synépeies - A Collection Of NTR Consequences: Each fanfic centers on the discovery of the male lead's girlfriend cheating on him with the antagonist, and the efforts of either him or an acquaintance to deliver retribution.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Along Came Polly starts with Reuben's newlywed wife cheating, while on their honeymoon, to make room for the titular Polly.
  • At Midnight (2023): The plot starts with Sophie having a mental breakdown after she caught her boyfriend and co-star Adam cheating on her, derailing her love life and her acting career.
  • In Bad Moms, Amy walks in on her husband having videochat sex with a woman webcamming from halfway across the country. She kicks him out of the house. This is just one in the long line of straws that finally cause her to snap. They do try counseling at one point, but even the therapist admits that they're probably better off on their own. This frees her up for a very attractive widowed dad at her kids' school.
  • Begin Again: Gretta being cheated on by her musician boyfriend Dave prompts their breakup, leading Gretta to cross paths with Dan, the struggling label executive who takes a chance on her music.
  • In Body Double, Jake Scully comes home early to the apartment he lives in with his girlfriend. He walks in to see his girlfriend in bed with another man. Since she owns the apartment, Jake is now left without a place to stay, leading to his acceptance of a house-sitting offer at a luxury home in the Hollywood hills.
  • Dear Zindagi: Variation in that it's the protagonist Kaira who cheats in the beginning, but it doesn't work out with the guy she left her boyfriend for either. The one-two punch of that and her landlord evicting her sets up the emotional arc of the film.
  • Dying Young starts with Hilary O'Neil (Julia Roberts) catching her boyfriend cheating, moves out their apartment and becomes a live-in nurse to a rich, 28-year-old man with leukemia.
  • EDtv: Ed's reality show struggles in the ratings until the camera crew catch Ed's brother Ray cheating on his girlfriend Shari. The fallout, including Ed and Shari finally admitting their feelings for each other, provides enough drama to draw an audience and turn the show into a massive hit.
  • Head Over Heels (2001): Amanda walking in on her boyfriend cheating on her is what leads her to moving in with her friends, and eventually, start spying on her neighbour.
  • Hope Floats begins with Birdie being brought to a talk show under the guise of a free makeover, only to find out her husband has been Two-Timing with the Bestie. She moves back to her small southern hometown to deal with the grief and build a new life with her daughter.
  • Las Vegas Bloodbath is kicked off by a man coming home to find his wife in bed with another man, causing him to snap and proceed to go on a mass-murdering rampage, targeting mainly women in particular.
  • Love Actually: Jamie (Colin Firth), a dissatisfied writer, walks in on his girlfriend cheating on him with his brother. This makes him go to France to write for some time, where he meets his love interest Aurelia.
  • Lucky Number Slevin: Slevin is staying at Nick's place because he walked in on his wife cheating on him. This leads him to being mistaken for Nick and asked to Work Off the Debt that Nick had with a mob boss. Subverted by the fact that it turns out Slevin was lying about this story, but still an in-universe example since it's part of the story Slevin tells to endear himself to Lindsey.
  • Marry Me (2022): Kat impulsively marries a complete stranger because she learned her fiance was cheating on her minutes before they were supposed to get married.
  • Mr. Right: Martha begins the film by breaking up with her boyfriend after catching him cheating on her. This conveniently leaves her free to start dating ex-hitman Francis.
  • In Nothing to Lose, Nick comes home and finds his boss's cufflinks on the kitchen counter. He hears a woman moaning upstairs, so he walks up and spies his wife riding a man. Devastated, he leaves, goes for a drive, and a carjacker named T-Paul tries to rob him at gunpoint. Not caring what happens to him anymore, Nick puts the pedal to the metal, ignoring T-Paul's gun in his face. Later on, when they resolve their differences and become friends, Nick decides to rob his boss, since, as a loyal assistant, he knows the boss's safe code. He later confronts his wife about the adultery, and finds out that her sister is visiting them with her husband. Apparently, they decided to take advantage of the owners not being home and screwed in their bed (and Nick only saw the woman from the back). The cufflinks were left by his boss the last time they invited him for dinner.
  • Old School opens with Luke Wilson's character coming home early from a business trip to find his girlfriend watching pornography. He initially thinks this is actually a turn-on and gets excited... until several naked people enter the room and her cheating becomes apparent. And then he goes and moves out and begins a frat for old people.
  • Pitch (2009): The story opens with a man discovering that his wife was cheating on him, and everything else follows from that.
  • The Room (2003): Johnny has everything at the start of the film: wealth, a large group of friends, and his engagement to Lisa. If not for her infidelity with Johnny's friend Mark, there wouldn't be a plot to speak of.
  • Sliding Doors: While the two timelines split with Helen missing the titular doors, the more important catalyst for divergence is when the Helen who caught the train walks in on her boyfriend cheating on her.
  • Something to Talk About: Grace finds out her husband is cheating on her, which causes her to move into her parent's ranch.
  • This Is Where I Leave You: Judd's (Jason Bateman) misfortunes begin with him finding out his wife is cheating on him... with his boss, leading him to lose his job.
  • Under the Tuscan Sun: Frances being cheated on by her husband precipitates their divorce. The split leaves Frances heartbroken and depressed, prompting her best friend Patti to lend her a plane ticket so she can go on a vacation to Italy.
  • You Stupid Man: Owen walks in on his girlfriend, Chloe, sleeping with her co-star, prompting their break-up and him soon meeting Nadine, his new love interest.

  • In the first Bigtime novel, Carmen Cole learning that her fiance is a superhero, her best friend is his ubervillain nemesis, and that they're sleeping with each other - on her wedding day - is what kicks off her quest to unmask every hero and villain in America.
  • In The Bone Clocks, teenage Holly Sykes catches her boyfriend in bed with her best friend at the beginning of the book. In response, she leaves town to wander aimlessly in the countryside. In her wanderings, she is exposed to a major conflict between the Horlogists and Anchorites (the conflict at the heart of the book's plot) and inadvertently makes a choice that proves crucial to the outcome of the conflict. She also meets several characters that become life-long friends and recurring characters throughout the rest of the book.
  • The Stranger Times: Hannah only starts working for the Stranger Times because she needs a job to support herself when she splits from her serial-cheating husband.
  • The Suitcase Kid: It's all but stated outright that one of the main reasons Andy's parents got divorced is because her father had an affair with his current wife Carrie; Andy mentions that her parents would argue about her father staying out late to see Carrie and although the divorce wasn't finalized that long ago, Carrie is already pregnant with Simon's baby. It's possible that Carol also had an affair with her current partner Bill, as Andy says they met when Bill came over to do decorating at Andy's old home, Mulberry Cottage, and Carol has also moved in with him quite quickly.

     Live Action TV 
  • Crashing: Semi-autobiographical, this series stars Pete Holmes As Himself. After walking in on his wife (played by Lauren Lapkus) cheating on him, Pete decides to try his hand at Stand Up comedy and must crash on the couch of his comedian friends as he no longer has anywhere to live.
  • Friends: Joey's plotline in "The One With The Boobies" begins when he discovers the woman his father is speaking affectionately to on the phone isn't Joey's mother but a mistress. After Joey pushes his father into ending the affair his mother shows up and reveals she knew the whole time and was ignoring it as the guilt made Mr. Tribbiani more attentive to her.
  • She isn't the protagonist, but Jane the Virgin's convoluted plot is kickstarted when Luisa walks in on her wife cheating on her. The fragile state of mind this puts her in leads to Luisa making the crucial mistake of accidentally artificially inseminating Jane instead of Petra. Luisa herself takes the split badly - she returns to her former alcoholism, goes soul-searching in some temples abroad, and hooks up with her ex-girlfriend/stepmom.
  • The entire plot of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is kicked off by Joel announcing to Midge that he's leaving her for his secretary. Midge gets drunk and stumbles into the Gaslight Club, where she gives a comedic rant onstage that launches her comedy career. Over the next couple seasons, they reconcile, though they eventually decide to formally divorce again.
  • Me, Myself, and I: The series follows the events of Alex's life following three separate life-defining incidents that occurred in 1991, 2017 and 2042. The middle storyline follows Alex's life after he walked in on his wife sleeping with a paramedic.
  • Necessary Roughness: Dani finds out that her husband has been having affairs right under her nose. She promptly kicks him out of the house, files for divorce, and gets a job as a therapist for a professional football team.
  • Nevertheless: Na-bi is reluctant to fall in love after she caught her shitty ex-boyfriend cheating on her in the opening scene of the show; the plot is about her getting over this reluctance.
  • Already disillusioned with her glitzy plastic surgery practice in Los Angeles, Dr. Sydney Hansen decides to return to her family in Providence after walking in on her boyfriend in the shower with another man.
  • New Girl: The series begins with Jessica Day coming home early to surprise her boyfriend while wearing nothing but a trench-coat (and a ribbon). Unfortunately for her, he's cheating on her with another girl and she winds up moving out, leading to the Roommate Com premise of the show.
  • The Orville: The series opens with Ed walking in on his wife Kelly having sex with an alien. The subsequent breakdown is why his career is so far off track for the rest of the pilot. It is revealed at the end of the pilot that the entire series can be traced to this event, as it is Kelly's guilt that led her to pull the strings to get Ed his post as Captain of the Orville. Unlike a typical example of the trope, Kelly does, in a way, appear as a Sympathetic Adulterer, and even Ed admits later that him working too hard and ignoring her probably played a part in it, although he doesn't absolve Kelly of the responsibility (and neither does she). He even thanks her at one point (albeit in a slightly sarcastic manner) for cheating on him, thus sparing them both a marriage that was clearly not working. A woman Ed hooks up with does ask him why his wife didn't simply file for divorce, if she wasn't happy with him. Later on, the alien Kelly slept with shows up aboard the ship, and it's eventually revealed that his species secretes pheromones once a year, with effects very similar to a date rape drug. Both Kelly and Ed end up sleeping with him because of that (not at the same time), while Dr. Finn ends up doing... something with Yaphit, whom she normally wouldn't even date. The ending leaves it ambiguous whether the original infidelity was willful on Kelly's part or under the influence of the pheromones.
  • Shtisel: Giti's storyline starts with her husband Lippe vanishing after he went overseas for work, and her having to raise five children on her own. He eventually regrets his actions and comes back, but we never see the other woman.
  • The Soap Opera Sunset Beach kicks off with the heroine Meg pulling a Runaway Bride on her fiance after finding out that he's been sleeping with her maid of honor. . .to flee to the titular town to meet the man that she's been having an online affair with.


    Video Game 
  • Vincent's affair with Catherine is what kicks off both his relationship issues and pulls him into a deadly nightmare where he must climb a tower, or die by falling or occasionally his various fears personified as monsters.
  • Subverted in Grand Theft Auto V; one of Michael's first missions starts with him finding his wife with their tennis coach. However, it's mentioned multiple times that Michael cheated on her first and that they have an open relationship - he's okay with her sleeping around, but using their bed for it was too much ("If I have to use a motel, so does she!"). The mission then instead showcases Michael's Hair-Trigger Temper, impulsiveness and fondness for Disproportionate Retribution, and implies that his shitty life is caused by his barely-contained instability, narcissism and selfishness instead of his family.
  • The events of The Letter all stem from an affair back when Luxbourne City was just founded. Lady Charlotte Ermengarde, the founder, got caught cheating on her fiancée Eduard by her maid Takako, and tortured the maid to punish her. Eduard found out and tried to call off the engagement, so Charlotte killed Eduard and framed Takako for it, getting her executed for the crime. Takako came back as a Vengeful Ghost and tormented her murderer until she was Driven to Suicide, but the two spirits fused to become The Ghost who would haunt Luxbourne as the Anslem Butcher all the way up to the modern era where the main story takes place.
  • The main plot of Life Is Strange: Before the Storm is kicked off by Rachel pulling Chloe into her investigation of a secret her father appears to be keeping, which turns out to be an affair with a mysterious woman.

     Visual Novels 
  • Choices: Stories You Play:
    • Rules of Engagement: Katie catches her then-fiance Trent cheating on her with a waitress named Sabrina and breaks up with him on the spot.
    • Bachelorette Party: Mandy catches her then-boy/girlfriend Kyle cheating on her with a woman who invited a man dressed in a banana costume to join in on the fun and breaks up with him/her on the spot.
    • Getaway Girls: Teyana finds out her then-fiance(e) Kamali has been cheating on her with his/her boss and breaks up with him/her on the spot.

    Web Original 
  • Referenced in an episode of Cracked's Obsessive Pop Culture Disorder. In the episode "6 Bizarrely Specific Scenes Hollywood Won't Quit Using, this trope is covered and examples from several works are given and reasoning behind it is explored. The basic conclusion is that it's often used as an excuse for the (almost invariably male) lead to leave his old life behind and start anew.