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Sympathetic Adulterer

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Beverly: You do understand our marriage ended because he had an affair.
Leonard: I know, and there— there's no excuse for that.
Beverly: He claimed I was cold, emasculating, and hadn't shown him any physical affection for years.
Leonard: [mutters] Well, I was wrong; there's three excuses for that.
The Big Bang Theory, "The Convergence Convergence"

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 Alice, 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 plain bad at sex. This can overlap with the first category if the adulterer wants someone who doesn't treat them as a sex object or is flat out raping them.
  • 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 Incompatible Orientation: Their partner is great, it's just that they are the wrong gender.
  • Pay Cheating Unto Absence: Their partner is, for whatever reason(s), out of the picture. They may have been deployed overseas, moved across the country to "find themselves," had to move for work and couldn't take their spouse/SO with them, they're "on a break," or what have you.
  • Pay Cheating Unto Arranged Marriage: Their partner was forced upon them by family and politics, not someone they actually love or want to be with. It may be that, in this setting, spouses are for keeping money and titles within the family and producing heirs, while lovers are for pleasure, and the two are mutually exclusive.
  • 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. Otherwise, it might just be because the partner is too neglectful and inconsiderate to care.
  • Pay Cheating Unto Impossible Divorce: The adulterer doesn't want to cheat but for whatever reason, divorce isn't an option so cheating is the only way to have a happy relationship.
  • Pay Cheating Unto Various: More than one of the above.

Exactly how many of these reasons actually are that sympathetic depends on how much the audience goes along with the writing; in most Real Life cases it would be pretty wretched to find out your partner was cheating on you just because you are boring/normal/not good in bed. 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. In a straight relationship, Alice is more likely to be portrayed sympathetically than Bob; The Unfair Sex is a Subtrope dealing with a Double Standard to do with this. Mal Mariée is a specific subtrope when a young woman is unhappily married to a jealous older man and she often falls in love and cheats on him with a young lover.

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.

This trope is subjective, so No Real Life Examples, Please!


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  • A commercial advertises 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.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Assassination Classroom: Justified. Before Aguri Yakimura met the original Reaper and later fell for him, she was engaged to Yanagisawa. However, Koro-sensei describes that she couldn't bring herself to love her fiance due to his abusive nature. It also doesn't help that he was a Control Freak, treats her as a tool, and doesn't even bother hiding the fact that he was seeing other women behind her back and does so in front of her, as shown in the manga.
  • In 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.
  • Domestic Girlfriend: Played with. Shuu is cheating on his wife with Hina, one of the main female characters of the story, and is in an unhappy marriage where his wife is insufferable and controlling, in addition to him only marrying her because he was indebted to her professor father. And in-person he doesn't come off as a bad or antagonistic person and eventually steps aside when it's clear Hina has chosen Natsuo. However, while Shuu does have his chance to present his side of the story, both Natsuo and Rui don't sympathize with him in the least or feel he's justified in his adultery.
  • Very common among French nobility in The Rose of Versailles: they all have Arranged Marriages out of sheer convenience, so as long as they have a heir and a spare of unquestionable descendance nobody really cares of faithfulness. The Duchess of Polignac even points out she and her husband not only have multiple lovers, but one of hers is her husband's brother, to get Marie Antoinette to act on her feelings for Fersen (and get more easily manipulated), while Girodelle flat-out tells Andrè that if he married Oscar he'd have no problem with her keeping him as lover. In fact there's a total of four married nobles, namely Oscar's parents, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette, who are confirmed to have no lovers, and Oscar's parents and Louis XVI are openly thought to be weird for it and many don't believe Marie Antoinette kept things platonic with Fersen.

    Comic Books 
  • Blacksad has a rather complex case in the second album. Jezebel Karup is sleeping with Huk, the Number Two of the local KKK knockoff and underling to her husband Hans, while refusing her husband sex, well aware that she's mostly a status symbol for the WASP police chief and Grand chief of the KKK knockoff. She tells Huk that Hans was ignoring her and instead is screwing their black maid, Dinah, making this appear to be a reasonably straight case from Huk's perspective (with the added unsympathetic motivation that Huk sees Hans as a Category Traitor). 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 because he killed Dinah when she might go to the cops about Hans's murder.
  • In one Red Ears strip, a European guy living with his wife in some African city is introduced having sex with one of the locals who teaches him a particular technique they use (pulling the woman's hair for a more intense orgasm). He then goes home to have sex with his wife, but when he tries it out it he's perturbed to find out that she's already familiar with it.
  • Robin:
    • John Grayson had an affair with Tony Zucco's first wife Meili Lin before he married Mary Lloyd. Tony Zucco was an abusive control freak and Meili had run away from him to Haly's Circus. This resulted in Dick's half-sister Melinda Zucco but he never found out about her before Tony Zucco murdered him because John fathered Melinda instead of him.
    • Ariana cheats on Tim several times, but their relationship is fairly bad with Tim constantly blowing her off to go do superhero stuff without ever telling her his secret and him spending most nights running around Gotham with a girl he's got a crush on, though he never cheats on her in turn and doesn't admit his feelings to Steph until he and Ari have already broken up. There's also the fact that Ariana's father was brutally murdered right in front of her right before she and Tim started dating so her emotional state is not her norm.
  • In Starman, Ted Knight's brief relationship with Dinah Drake Lance, when they were both married, is treated sympathetically, but not condoned. It was an overspill of their crimefighting partnership, since it felt like they had more in common with each other than Doris Knight and Larry Lance, but at no point is it suggested that they were really in love with each other, rather than their spouses, and eventually they realise this.

    Fan Works 
  • best served cold (Nyame): During Oliver's "Get out of Jail" party while he's under house arrest, Laurel cheats on Malcolm with him after an emotionally charged moment. It's played sympathetically, as Laurel is only married to Malcolm so she can be in a position to take him down and stop the Undertaking, and is quite clearly still in love with Oliver. As further proof, when people learn that Oliver is the father of Olivia and not Malcolm as a result of this, many either brush it off or even express outright relief over it.
  • 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 the Ace Attorney fanfic Dirty Sympathy, Klavier cheats on Daryan with Apollo, but Daryan is vicious and commits Domestic Abuse who uses his connections as a Dirty Cop to trap him and constantly makes death threats. Although unusually, Daryan is perfectly okay 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.
  • The My 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.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender fan comic How I Became Yours features Zuko impregnating Katara while he was engaged to Mai, later assaulting Mai when she gets upset about it. Not only is the audience meant to sympathize with Zuko due to their marriage being retconned as arranged and Zuko declaring he never loved her, but it is also intended to be a Pay Cheating unto Evil sense, as Mai is the comic’s major villain.
  • The infamous Amphibia fanfic Loyalty Among Worlds has the main protagonist, Darrel Loyalitat, dance, confess his love to and kisses Anne whilst he's still in a relationship with Sasha. Whilst the fanfiction portrays Sasha as not being a nice partner to Darrel, it still counts as him being a cheater.
  • In Naruto Veangance Revelaitons, 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.
  • Marina in TheNamelessDoll's Mercy cheats on her best friend and crush Odette with her new boyfriend Thrax. Marina is confused and desperate for affection, while Thrax is an abusive manipulator. Eventually, Odette finds out about the infidelity after Thrax stabs Marina for trying to leave him. Odette doesn't care about what Marina did and instead attacks Thrax for manipulating them both.
  • A Northern Dragoness: When challenged by his son over his near-constant philandering, Aegon defends himself by pointing out that Naerys doesn't even want to have sex with him (the only reason he continues to have sex with her at all is because, thanks to Baelor's refusal to either dissolve or consummate his sham-marriages, he and Naerys are the only source for the legitimate Tagareyn heirs the realm so desperately needs), and asking whether he can be blamed for seeking out women who do want to be with him.
  • The Secret has two lovers unfaithful to their official partners portrayed sympathetically, and with good reason:
    • Emma technically cheats on her husband Frederick with Thorin, but considering what an utterly horrible person he is and that the marriage was forced on her, Emma is definitely this trope and is not portrayed negatively. The only thing Emma worries about in this regard is that Thorin doesn't know she's married, and she's concerned she will lose his affection or be forced to part from him once it becomes public knowledge.
    • Thorin is technically cheating on Leena with Emma, as he's betrothed to her at the time he begins a relationship with Emma, although he (reluctantly) remains faithful to her throughout the duration of their marriage despite his feelings for Emma. He is largely portrayed sympathetically given his love for Emma and Leena's villainous nature, though some characters, such as Dís, do express concern about the potential political ramifications.
  • In Mistakes We've Made, Naruto and Sakura are both frustrated dealing with their failing marriages. Sakura because her's is loveless as Sasuke is never around and Naruto because Hinata never does anything to make herself happy and too quiet and reserved. Their past feelings for each other rekindle via a chance meeting as both admit they still have feelings for the other

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 13 Minutes: Elsa has an affair with Elser when she's already married. It's not hard to sympathize with her, though, as her husband is an abusive pig whom she only married because he got her pregnant.
  • 28 Hotel Rooms: The man and woman had a one night stand which became a long-running affair while both were with other people. It continues even after the woman's gotten married, with her becoming pregnant from the man and passing off their daughter as really being her husband's. They retain some sympathy as both are likeable people who feel very guilty as a result, the woman continually resisting leaving her husband because she'd gone through her parents' divorce which she doesn't want to inflict on her daughter.
  • Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong is about an emotional affair between two people who meet and spend a night together (non sexually). Both are presented sympathetically.
    • Josh has a girlfriend who's implied to be neglectful - he's introduced alone and bored outside her birthday party while she's said to be flirting with other guys inside. She also hasn't introduced him to her parents, and they don't even know about the relationship when they've been together well over a year.
    • Ruby is revealed to be engaged to her boyfriend Daniel, but admits they've been on and off over the years, with other implications that she's with him more out of obligation.
  • Amelia Earhart in Amelia. In this case, the reason she is "sympathetic" is because she is obviously remorseful and goes back to her husband, who is willing to forgive.
  • Amores Perros. The affair between Octavio and his brother's wife Susanna is portrayed very sympathetically because his brother is a jerkass of the highest order who abuses his wife.
  • In the Korean film April Snow, the lead male and female discovered that their spouses were cheating on them with each 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?
  • Aquaman (2018): Atlanna was already married to King Orxav when she escaped to the surface then had a relationship with a human who rescued her, which resulted in them having a son. This is sympathetic though as the marriage was arranged against her will.
  • 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.
  • Blockers: Hunter is reviled throughout the film for having cheated on Sam's mother, leading to their divorce, but eventually he angrily explains that their marriage had fallen apart long beforehand, Brenda had already cheated on him, and had started being physically abusive to him in public.
  • 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, in part because she's in a loveless Arranged Marriage with a man who is 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.
  • The protagonists of Brokeback Mountain are bisexual; but find greater satisfaction with each other opposed to their wives. However, given the time setting, an openly gay relationship was out of the question.
  • Casino Royale (2006): James Bond seduces Solange Dimitrios, the Trophy Wife of suspected terrorist Alex Dimitrios, whom he later kills when the man attempts to blow up an airplane.
  • Cassanova Was A Woman: Cassanova cheats on Lola and Jose by dating them simultaneously without telling either. She feels remorseful about it and it's born from her struggle over accepting that she's bisexual. Lola angrily breaks up with her over it nonetheless, as you'd expect.
  • In another Nicholas Sparks offering, The Choice, 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.
  • Crazy Rich Asians:
    • Rachel's mother Kerry had her out of wedlock because her husband was abusive. Rachel's birth father had helped Kerry escape from that life.
    • Zigzagged with Michael. Astrid, who is shown to be an otherwise loving spouse, initially treated him with baby gloves and Michael was the one to storm off despite being the cheater and having sympathetic motives. But at the end of the film, Astrid called him out that under no circumstances, his reason for cheating was bad and he was just an insecure coward looking for excuses.
  • Harry and Becky from the Creepshow segment "Something to Tide You Over". Becky's husband Richard isn't explicitly said to have been abusive, but it's very heavily implied by how she's desperate to escape their marriage (Harry even tells Richard she isn't after his money and just wants out), and by how Richard punishes them for it: Arranging their prolonged and sadistic deaths by burying them up their necks at the beach to drown when the tide comes in, while setting up a camera and monitor for each so they can see their lover's suffering. What makes it extra cruel on Richard's part is that he didn't snap out of heartbreak or anything; he barely cares that his wife wants to leave him, but chose to kill the two in such a horrible way because, as he puts it to Harry, "What's mine is mine."
  • 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 that it's not even clear he was legal at the time.
  • Not really fitting with any of the above, but Yuri in Doctor Zhivago is a deeply sympathetic character who maintains his relationships with both his loving and beloved wife and the lonely and sad Lara.
  • Deconstructed in The Descendants. The main character learns that his wife was having an affair shortly after she's left in a coma that she's unlikely to come out of, and their eldest daughter knew, as did two of her friends. The friends try to justify Elizabeth's cheating with the "she was lonely" excuse, but Matt shouts them down. Elizabeth was at least revealed to have been intending to leave Matt for the guy, who in turn says he saw it as a fling. Brian is played somewhat sympathetically, but the hurt to his Nice Girl of a wife Julie isn't glossed over, and they're only trying to work through it after Brian made it clear how much he regretted the affair.
  • In The Draughtsman's Contract, Mrs. Talmann has an affair with Mr. Neville, at her insistence. She is portrayed, if not in an outright positive light, at least in a non-negative one owing to the flaws of her husband; Mr. Talmann is a complete jerkass, as well as implied to be impotent.
  • 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.
  • Elena Undone: Elena is treated sympathetically for her cheating with Peyton, as her husband Barry's a homophobe and not very understanding of Elena's needs. They get divorced after he finds out.
  • 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.
  • Feast of Love: Kathryn is portrayed with sympathy for seeing Jenny while she's still married to Bradley, as he doesn't really get her and she had seemingly only just realized she's into women.
  • Florence Foster Jenkins: Florence chooses to remain happily oblivious to her Second Love St. Clair's mistress because Florence is struggling with the long-term syphilis she contracted from her first husband, and has a celibate relationship with St. Clair as a result.
  • John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda is not at all reluctant to step out on his icy wife for Jamie Lee Curtis.
  • Girls Like Magic: Maggie cheats with Jamie eventually after lots of sexual tension. She remains sympathetic as she's apologetic about it to Jacob for this and gently tells him they had been drifting apart for some time, while their engagement was a huge mistake, along with being very sweet overall.
  • Laura Lyons in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983), who is beaten by her drunken brute of a husband, and who found solace in the arms of Sir Charles. The killer used a letter from her lure Sir Charles to his doom. (The equivalent character in the novel is not married, and so is not an adulterer).
  • 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.
  • Kiss Me (2011): Frida and Mia are both portrayed as very guilty after having sex together, torn between their existing partners and each other. Before confessing she cheated to her partner Elin, Frida can be seen watching an old video of herself saying she would never cheat and loathes it with a guilty expression. Mia later also does the same with her fiance Tim. Neither he nor Elin are sympathetic at all though about this, as you might expect, but the film's narrative is on their side since the pair are portrayed as right in finding happiness together.
  • 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.
  • Maggie & Annie: Annie is portrayed sympathetically over having an affair with Maggie due to her never feeling attracted to a woman before and also feeling quite guilty at cheating. Even her husband Bill is sympathetic to a degree when he finds out.
  • In The Notebook, novel and movie both, Noah and Allie cheat on their partners; Allie is in fact engaged, and her fiancé loves her and treats her well. But we're supposed to root for them because they're Star-Crossed Lovers.
  • Now, Voyager's male lead is trapped in an unhappy marriage with an abusive shrew for a wife, who is also abusive to their youngest daughter (and in the book it's based on, he's just come off a nervous breakdown similar to the protagonist). Jerry and Charlotte's emotional affair is played very sympathetically, but the context of the time (The '40s) means Jerry couldn't just divorce Isabelle to be with Charlotte.
  • Ondine: It turns out Ondine is married after she's slept with Syracuse, but she stays sympathetic because her husband's a ruthless, abusive criminal.
  • Janet Weiss from the The Rocky Horror Picture Show decides to cheat on Brad by sleeping with Rocky after discovering Brad slept with Frank. Then again, Frank did seduce Janet before going to Brad...
  • Lisa in The Room (2003) 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.
  • In A Royal Affair, Caroline is treated very sympathetically for her affair - her marriage to Christian is miserable and loveless and Christian treats her very poorly (including brazenly cheating on her with prostitutes), whilst her lover Struensee treats her as an equal and loves her. Her punishment for the affair also comes off as extremely harsh by modern standards, including never being able to see her children again.
  • A Royal Night Out depicts a fictionalised story where Elizabeth II has a brief affair for VE Night with a bomber boy helping her track her sister down. There is mention of her fiance when she asks Jack to have a drink with her, mainly as something to entice him to help her, but she jokes "overseas doesn't count". She's portrayed very sympathetically at wanting to give up her privileged royal life full of duty and obligations, with one kiss being framed as OK by the narrative because of the understanding that they would never see each other again.
  • 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.
  • In Saw, Lawrence is a haughty oncologist who puts his work above his family. Over the course of the film, it's revealed that he'd planned to have a fling with a med student, but decided, at the last minute, not to go through with it. This, in conjunction with his experiences in Jigsaw's trap, makes him desperate to return to his family and be a better husband and father.
  • Shadow in the Cloud: Maude cheated on her husband with Quaid, and had a baby by him, but she remains sympathetic since he was abusive.
  • Sunshine Cleaning: Rose is having an affair with her high school boyfriend, who is already married with a daughter. His wife is shown to be something of a shrew, making Mac seem somewhat sympathetic here, though refusing to leave her diminishes it since he's kept Rose and their son a secret for years (with no solid relationship because of this). Rose ends the relationship after getting a reality check that he will never leave his wife.
  • Tales of Terror: In "The Black Cat", Isabel is married to the abusive, boorish drunkard Montressor who has not worked in 17 years. It is only her sewing work that keeps them in food, and she has to hide the cash to prevent him spending it on booze. Small wonder she begins an affair with the aristocratic Fortunato when Montressor makes the mistake of introducing them.
  • Jerry and Cassie provide an unusually early example of this trope in the 1932 film Three Wise Girls. Jerry and Cassie are one another's 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 each other'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.
  • Titanic (1997). Rose cheats on her fiancé, but he is verbally abusive and she was engaged to him against her will, making her objectively sympathetic. When she breaks off the engagement, he tries to kill her, further justifying her position.
  • 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.
  • Played With in True Lies. Harry Tasker is a covert operative who keeps his job a secret from his own family. He does this so successfully that his wife, Helen, is deeply bored with their life, and is drawn in by a lothario who claims to be a spy (though this is all a scam he uses to pick up women). She's ultimately unwilling to actually consummate the affair, and (after a series of misadventures), learns the truth about her husband.
  • In the Lifetime Movie of the Week Unanswered Prayers (based on the Garth Brooks song), a man is tempted to stray with his First Love (his high school sweetheart) when she returns to town—although he's Happily Married, he's clearly never stopped caring about her nor wondering What Could Have Been. None of the three parties is ever portrayed as a bad person or at fault for the situation and despite things never going beyond a kiss—which sparks a Heel Realization—the man realizes his behavior is wrong and breaks things off with the other woman, acknowledging—much like in the page description—that while he may always have lingering feelings for her, he belongs with his wife—he accepts hers and their son's anger and commits to repairing his marriage.
  • 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, 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 Whole Nine Yards:
    • Matthew Perry's character cheats on his wife, but it's clearly a loveless relationship, his wife and mother-in-law are freeloading off him and constantly verbally abuse him, and she threatens him into trying to sell out a notorious hitman. And that's just what he knows about her. She's also actively trying to have him killed for the insurance money. Naturally, the audience has no sympathy for her.
    • Played for Laughs, as his affair partner is married to hitman, who not only has cheated on her constantly, but also plans to kill her (since he believes divorce is a sin). This clearly makes her highly sympathetic, but her husband is enraged when he finds out, since adultery is also a sin (but apparently only for women).
  • You've Got Mail combines this with "Boring". Joe and Kathleen, the protagonists, are both clearly unfulfilled in their relationships, and are essentially carrying on an emotional online affair behind their respective partners' backs. Their relationship is never explicitly romantic or sexual, but both keep the relationship secret from their partners and plan to meet in real life. Ultimately, they both break up with their partners before deciding to pursue the relationship fully.

  • The Age of Innocence. While it's only an emotional affair, Newland Archer's pining away for Ellen Olenska while trapped in a loveless marriage to the superficial socialite May Welland makes him a classic example of this.
  • Atlas Shrugged: Hank Rearden's wife Lillian doesn't share his values or interests, and doesn't seem to care much about his feelings. This is made clear when he makes her a bracelet out of a revolutionary alloy he'd created as a gift, and she proceeds to mock it to her friends, and trades it to Dagney for a flashier diamond bracelet. This is intended to make the later affair between Hank and Dagney seem sympathetic.
  • 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 Black River Orchard, Emily cheated on her wife Meg, felt horrible about it, and immediately confessed. Where it crosses into sympathetic adulterer territory is that Meg uses Emily's transgression as an excuse to emotionally abuse (and eventually physically, although to give Meg some credit that only happens after she eats the cursed apples) her—and it eventually becomes clear that Meg was already concerningly controlling even before she found a "justification" in Emily's cheating, making it pretty obvious why Emily would do that in the first place.
  • 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.
  • Older Than Print: In The Divine Comedy, Francesca gives a powerful and romantic lament of her damnation that moves Dante to faint in sympathy. As the first of the evil damned to speak (and even then, "evil" might be too strong a word), this sets up the conflict Dante goes through about the justice of damnation. The lament and pity that she arouses, attributing their affair to feelings over which she and Paolo have no control, ultimately makes their sin half-excusable.
  • Dune: "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.
  • Happens a lot in the works of Ken Follett, typically with a woman cheating on her Jerkass husband with the protagonist, who's actually a decent guy.
  • 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.
  • Guardians of the Flame:
    • Walter is a habitual lady's man, and continues to sleep around after he marries. He remains sympathetic as he's just so charming to everyone and truly does love his wife.
    • Kirah, his wife, begins having sex with Bren Adahan as she can't bear Walter's touch increasingly due to it reminding her of being raped by slavers (they met afterward, having Rescue Sex when he freed her). Walter is not happy with this, but resignedly accepts it and won't place a double standard on her as he had repeatedly cheated already.
  • Hilary Tamar, in 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.
  • Kate Chopin didn't think very highly of the institution of marriage, and her works frequently showed adulterers portrayed as sympathetic and understandable, if not outright justified. (In her time, marriage was still basically a business arrangement and it was very hard to escape an abusive or unhappy union without facing social ruin, so you can see why she didn't think having an affair was inherently an immoral thing.) Many of her heroines are saddled with uncaring and sometimes outright emotionally abusive spouses, and seek happiness elsewhere, and this is never shown as making them bad people. "The Storm" implies that the main characters' affair is actually the best arrangement for everyone. The man's wife is out of town with their children when his affair begins, and the story ends with him writing to her and encouraging her to continue her trip for as long as she'd like. She's very pleased to receive this letter, as she's enjoying being away and finds married life suffocating; her husband isn't cruel or even unpleasant to her, but she's not exactly eager to rush back into being a stay-at-home wife and mother. Even if he is trying to keep her away so he can keep cheating on her, she's genuinely glad to be given more freedom than most wives at the time.
  • Lady Chatterley's Lover: Connie Chatterley's characterization. Her husband was paralyzed from the waist down in World War I, thus he's impotent.
  • Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart (a Arthurian Legend story from the 1100s) is the earliest text to feature an affair between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, King Arthur's wife. Later versions of the mythos credit Guinevere and Lancelot's affair as part of the ultimate downfall of Camelot, but that's completely absent from this version. The fact that this is adultery goes almost entirely unremarked upon. Neither Lancelot nor Guinevere experience any guilt or conflict about it. Lancelot has internal struggles about other aspects of honor, but cuckolding his king? A complete non-issue. This was probably an Enforced Trope. The Knight of the Cart was written by Chrétien de Troyes under the patronage of Countess Marie de Champagne. The book begins with a forward where Chrétien credits Marie for the basic story. It's thought that Marie (a noblewoman) was into the idea of a noblewoman having an affair with her knight and nobody suffering any consequences. The forward, then, is to clarify this is an Enforced Trope and not Author Appeal, lest anyone think it was Chrétien who was into adultery. He is theorized to have been uncomfortable with this topic. His other works are pro-marriage. He didn't even complete The Knight of the Cart and had his clerk, Godefroi de Leigni, finish it instead. The text's baffling silence on what's seemingly its central topic begins to makes sense if Chrétien didn't know how to justify adultery, or have them feel conflicted about it but still go ahead and have the affair despite that, so he just omitted it entirely.
    Forward: I will say, however, that her command has more to do with this work than any thought or pains that I may expend upon it. Here Chretien begins his book about the Knight of the Cart. The material and the treatment of it are given and furnished to him by the Countess, and he is simply trying to carry out her concern and intention.
  • The Lord Peter Wimsey book Clouds of Witness: Mrs. Grimethorpe is in an abusive marriage, while the Duchess of Denver is a shrew.
  • The Malloreon: The Queen of the Murgos is revealed to have had an affair with Silk's father that produced the new King. As the old King was a violently insane Blood Knight with no redeeming qualities, nobody who finds out holds it against her — the new King is relieved not to be a blood descendant of the man — and everyone agrees to keep it a secret to avoid a Succession Crisis.
  • In Memoirs of Twaddler and its Perspective Flip Letters to a Sleeping Brother by Andrey Desnitsky, Nadezhda starts an affair with a married man (it doesn't go too far physically, since both she and her partner in the affair are devout Christians and try to pass the whole thing as Just Friends to everyone, including themselves), since both of them feel bored and unsatisfied with their respective marriages. Unusually, all of the involved parties are depicted as flawed but sympathetic people who just want to feel love in their life but don't really know how it happens. While Nadezhda is dying of cancer, she reconciles with her husband, and it's shown that their marriage can work perfectly if only they actually put some effort into it. However, she still loves the other man who, it turn out, really does love her and invokes I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, and neither of them is vilified for it (especially since this detail is revealed in Letters to a Sleeping Brother, narrated from the point of view of a kindly soul in Heaven who doesn't vilify anyone). Her husband and her lover become good friends, bonding over their love for her, and when she dies, she goes to Heaven.
  • 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.
  • Of Fire and Stars: Dennaleia cheats on her fiancé Thandilimon by having sex with his sister. However, she's sympathetic as a result of their engagement being arranged when both were just children, so this really wasn't a commitment she chose, plus Dennaleia is a lesbian so she'd never truly be happy with him regardless.
  • 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 longtime mistress more as an old friend who wouldn't nag him about his work than anything else.
  • The Reluctant King: Jorian and Estrildis cheat on each other due to their separation. She falls for another man and gets pregnant. Jorian, as a result, understands and accepts, letting Estrildis go. Instead he marries her maid, Margalit.
  • 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.
  • Nearly in The Scarlet Pimpernel, as Marguerite is unaware of her husband's double life and considers him a tame bore.
  • The Silerian Trilogy: Mirabar cheats on Baran with Tansan, though since he's dying and they only married to ally their factions, it's portrayed as okay. He might not have minded anyway.
  • In the historical fantasy Tales of the Branion Realm, in the book 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 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.
  • Terra Ignota: Bryar Kosala is revealed near the end of the first book to be cheating on her husband Vivien Ancelet with the Anonymous, an anonymous political commentator who is likewise married. The narrator doesn't make any moral judgements regarding anyone involved in the affair aside from noting that "nothing stokes the fires of love like sweet adultery", which may be because the Anonymous is Vivien Ancelet — Kosala is cheating on her husband with her husband. They're basically using the trappings of an affair to spice up their love life. Nonetheless, they thought they were cheating on each other at first, as they only met anonymously in circumstances where they never spoke verbally or saw each others' faces; this lasted seven months until they realized who each other was, then just kept it going.
  • 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.
  • Discussed in Wax and Wayne. Wax and Steris arrange a marriage because his house is broke but prestigious, and hers is rich but new. Steris wrote an extensive marriage contract, allowing a clause for paramours. She's fine with any mistresses he has, and she'll have a dalliance if he does, but she'll wait until an heir is produced to prevent succession problems. This is because her 'cousin' Marasi is actually her half-sister by her father's mistress, and Steris is insecure about her ability to keep a loving marriage.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Accused (2023): Morgan begins dating Kashir after growing very unhappy with Jason, her very cold husband. As he's a colossal jerkass who'd cheated on her in the past, it's hard not to sympathize. Later, he proves himself even worse by having her framed on drug dealing charges when they get divorced.
  • The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem: Gabriel is stuck in a loveless Arranged Marriage, and even his own mother supports him getting a mistress as long as he's discreet.
  • Alfred Hofstadter in The Big Bang Theory. His ex-wife Beverly is a genuinely terrible person who never showed him or their kids a scrap of affection, so it's easy to take his side despite the cheating.
  • In Black Sails, Thomas and Miranda are happily married and are both sleeping with James and both are okay with it, Miranda's only reservation being about Thomas and James's safety.
    • Abishola herself. When the series begins, she's still married to Tayo, which is part of why she initially is hesitant to accept Bob's affections. But after some time getting to know Bob and realizing how much she likes him, she eventually says "screw it" and starts dating him. This is portrayed as being a good thing by the narrative, because Tayo is emotionally distant and dismissive, and hasn't even lived on the same continent as Abishola and their son in years—he moved back to Nigeria while they stayed in America. Plus, he's started a second family with another woman. Abishola's marriage is treated mostly as a technicality, as it's a lot of hassle to divorce someone in another country. She does finally demand a divorce when Bob proposes to her and makes it clear he thinks marrying her is worth the trouble.
    • Abishola's mother, by the end of the third season, has started what is at least an emotional affair with the new pastor at church. Given that her husband is unloving and apparently barely even talks to her and never shows her physical affection, to the point where she breaks down in tears at the thought of returning to Nigeria to live with him again, this is very understandable.
  • Subverted in Breaking Bad season 3. Walter tries to put the moves on Principal Carmen after Skyler sleeps with her own boss, Ted Beneke, out of spite at Walter for his drug manufacturing. However, while Ted and Skyler already had Unresolved Sexual Tension between them, there wasn't even a hint that either Walter or Carmen were attracted to one another, so his out-of-the-blue attempt to seduce her just comes across as weird and pathetic. Rather than turning the cheating into a mutual affair to get back at Skyler, he is fired from his job as a teacher.
  • Played with in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Xander and Willow develop feelings for each other while with Cordelia and Oz respectively, and both happy relationships too. Neither of them want to act on their feelings, and Willow tries to cast a spell to get rid of them, with them only kissing once in the heat of the moment. Their bad luck is Cordy and Oz walking in just as they do. Although Cordelia refuses to take Xander back, Oz eventually forgives Willow and they resume their relationship.
  • The Confessions of Frannie Langton: Marguerite is unfaithful to her husband by having an affair with Frannie, while she'd done this before with Hepzibah as well. She's sympathetic as society forces her into a loveless opposite-sex marriage with a cruel man who cares nothing about her, only wanting Marguerite to give him children (she can't).
  • Conversations with Friends: Nick, who's married, begins seeing Frances. He says his wife Melissa cheated on him multiple times before, and this convinces Frances that it's okay to start their affair. After she finds out Melissa confesses that she deserved that, since she'd had an affair with his best friend before, portraying this as revenge by Nick and saying Frances even made him better by their relationship.
  • In Doom Patrol (2019), Larry Trainor/Negative Man cheated on his wife with one of his fellow soldiers. It's not portrayed as a good thing per se but he's portrayed sympathetically. He was a gay man trapped in a homophobic time period which kept him from truly being open about himself and he feels immense guilt over using his wife as The Beard rather than admitting the truth.
  • 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.
  • A similar plot on Family Ties had Alex becoming attracted to a music student he was tutoring, despite his love for his girlfriend Lauren. Once again, no one is the villain and Alex settles things by breaking it off with both girls, realizing that neither is "The One".
  • Subverted in Frasier: Niles moons over Daphne for years, but it's at least somewhat sympathetic because his wife Maris is a frigid, manipulative, emotionally abusive control freak. He remains with Maris, until he learns that she's been cheating on him, at which point he moves out and pursues a relationship with Daphne. He's still technically married when he does so, but in the process of divorce, and so remains sympathetic.
  • Fresh Off the Boat: When we first meet Honey Ellis, we find out that she was her husband’s mistress before he left his wife for her. Sadly, this has made her an outcast among the neighborhood wives, who blame her for breaking up their friend’s marriage. In later episodes, however, we find out that Sarah, the ex-wife, had drug addiction issues and conflicts with her sexuality that was killing her marriage long before Honey came along. Sarah even openly admits that Honey is not the cause of her marital woes, but the result of it. So, not exactly Pay Cheating Onto Evil, but not exactly Pay Cheating Onto Boring, either.
  • Friends:
    • A first season episode 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.
    • In the second season, 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. To be charitable, Ross's next step is to decide to break up with Julie to be with Rachel.
  • Jean Horsefall in The Full Monty (2023) becomes this when we learn what motivated the affair: she and Dave lost an infant son and they never spoke about it.
  • 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 male children were stillborn or deformed (their only child, Shireen, is a girl who Selyse is, at best, cold towards). 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 intercourse with Tyrion, is quite glad that he's taking his business elsewhere; she doesn't know the specifics, only that her husband "has whores." For his part, Tyrion absolutely refuses to so much as touch Sansa without her explicit permission, not least because she's only fourteen years old, and in largest part they have a friendly relationship.
  • Ghosts (US): Pete is initially okay with it when he finds out his widow got married to his best friend after he died, since he wants her to be happy and is glad she has someone, but he's understandably furious when it comes out that the relationship started while he was still alive. However, Pete's widow Carol is still presented sympathetically, despite the show never excusing her cheating. Carol is shown to have carried the guilt of the affair for decades, especially since Pete died before she got up the nerve to tell the truth and ask for a divorce, and she obviously still cared for Pete. It also helps that she and Pete's best friend are still together even forty years later, meaning they really were in love and not just screwing around. The show presents Carol as having done a bad thing, but not as being a bad person, and Sam (with Pete's blessing) encourages her to finally forgive herself.
  • In Gilmore Girls, Rory and Dean sleep together even though Dean is married to Lindsay. Dean does it because Rory is his first love and he married Lindsay even though he wasn't over Rory yet. Rory does it because she likes the adoration Dean gives her, which feels safe and dependable in comparison to her experience with more worldly college boys who don't think she hung the moon. The town scapegoats Dean but is very sympathetic towards Rory. For the audience, it led to a Broken Base, with some feeling like it was a one-time mistake for a naive Rory and others feeling like it was the first sign that Rory was would do extremely selfish things, not caring who got hurt, as long as she got what she wanted.
  • 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 Handmaid's Tale: Both June and Emily have sex with other people while forcibly separated from their spouses. They are sympathetic given these dire circumstances, as neither knew whether they'd ever see their spouse again, plus they're likely desperate to have some intimacy rather than the ritual rape they suffer.
  • How I Met Your Father: Discussed in "The Jersey Connection": Jesse and Drew's coworkers lambast Sophie for cheating on Drew with Jesse and then not even staying with Jesse, so it wasn't even 'good' cheating.
  • Zigzagged in the sixth season of How I Met Your Mother. Ted falls in love with Zoey, the Trophy Wife of a wealthy older man who doesn't care much about her. However, he recognizes that his feelings are inappropriate and breaks off his friendship with Zoey, but becomes involved with her after learning she's left her husband because of her feelings for Ted. Ted later learns Zoey's ex-husband's side of the story. He was under the impression that his marriage to Zoey was a happy one before a scoundrel (who he doesn't know the identity of) "stole" his wife. Ted convinces him that he and Zoey just weren't meant for each other, but becomes worried that he is the "bad guy" in the story of Zoey's divorce. After talking with Zoey, she clarifies her own thoughts on the situation:
    Ted: Listen, Zoey... I gotta ask something. Did I steal you?
    Zoey: Well... yeah? You did, by being the kind of sweet, thoughtful guy who'd never even think of stealing someone. You stole me.
    Ted: So I'm the bad guy. Great.
    Zoey: Well, the story isn't over, Ted. It'll be years before we know who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. I mean, yes, divorce sucks. But sometimes things need to fall apart to make way for better things.
    Ted: If you say so.
    Zoey: I'm just saying the eggs are already broken. Let's make sure we get a pretty good omelet out of it.
  • Law & Order: SVU:
    • In one episode, the wife of a victim tells Benson and Amaro that she was well aware of her husband sleeping with other men, but clearly states that she would only have been hurt if he had cheated on her with women.
    • "Choreographed": Naomi Cheales, in stark contrast to her lover Wesley Masoner. She reveals while confessing to her husband Glenn that her affair was motivated by her feeling smothered by Glenn's paranoia that Naomi would cheat on him with one of her fellow dancers.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In the Masterpiece Mini Series Reckless, a woman enters into an affair with a younger man in response to discovering her husband's infidelity. The trope is played so straight that while his affair is "bad", hers is the central love story!
  • Miracle Workers: Zeke and Prudence kiss at the end of "Independence Rock" despite both being married to other people. Both are sympathetic characters who have been friends for years, and their spouses are emotionally neglectful or abusive. However, once they have sex God at least does not approve.
  • Mohawk Girls: Caitlin and Bailey cheat on their partners, but remain sympathetic as a result of the guilt they feel along with the pressures they have.
  • On One Life to Live, despite dearly loving his wife Cassie, Reverend Andrew Carpenter becomes attracted to Marty Saybrooke while counseling her. What makes them sympathetic is that they've both been through hell over the past year—her gang-rape, the stillbirth of his son—and that Andrew is determined to resist the temptation, even explicitly praying for the strength to do so. They finally break things off after a few intense kisses, realizing that they love Cassie too much to hurt her like this.
  • In 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 meager wages down at 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?
  • This is Kelly's justification for cheating on Ed at the beginning of The Orville. She claims that he spent too much time at work, ignoring her. His rebuttal is that he was working hard for both of them. At the same time, Kelly is clearly feeling guilty about her affair and the devastating effect it had on Ed (he used to be the fleet's golden boy, then his career went sharply downhill). Eventually, both admit that they made mistakes, and the marriage was likely doomed anyway.
  • Queen of Swords: Tessa's closest "society" friend Vera shamelessly sleeps around whenever her husband's not looking — usually with Captain Grisham. The show rarely comes close to condemning any of this.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Strange Empire: Rebecca cheats on her husband with Morgan Finn, though given their marriage was just so he could remain her guardian and he initially has no apparent desire for her, she's sympathetic. It's indicated the marriage was unconsummated, so by the laws of the time might not even have fully counted. By the time he's interested in sex with her (due to feeling his manhood was threatened by her affair) he's unable as a result of a leg injury.
  • Taken:
    • In "Beyond the Sky", Sally Clarke quickly forms a bond with John, eventually leading them to have sex and conceive Jacob, because she is lonely and he treats her with respect, in stark contrast to her husband Fred.
    • In "Maintenance", Becky Clarke and Eric Crawford's affair is partly motivated by the fact that they are both trapped in loveless marriages. Her husband Ronnie is rude, neglectful, and has no appreciation for her needs or desires while Eric only married Julie, the first girl that he slept with, because she became pregnant with Mary the first time that they slept together. Eric's other motivation for beginning an affair with Becky is that he thinks that it is his last, best chance to become a better man rather than a copy of his father Owen.
  • Irene in the Tales from the Crypt episode "The Trap" fills this role. Since Lou, her husband, is a Lazy Bum who can't hold a job, gets by by fleecing his mother's retirement fund, is abusive to her, both physically and verbally, insists that she Stay in the Kitchen despite their financial woes, and has cheated on her himself, it's no surprise that she would develop a romantic relationship with Lou's brother, who treats her with kindness and encourages her to get a career, soon after Lou hatches a scheme to fake his own death (with help from Lou's brother, who works as a coroner, albeit reluctantly) in order to collect on his own life insurance policy.
  • 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.
  • Velvet: Alberto acknowledges that it isn't fair to Cristina that he is only marrying her for her money and that he doesn't really love her. He even tries to tell himself (and is told by others close to him who know the situation) that Cristina is a wonderful woman and that he could love her. But he just can't let go of Ana and by the end of season 2, he decides to end the farce and openly devote himself to Ana. Cristina does not take it well.
  • We Are Who We Are: Maggie and Jenny both cheated on their spouses together, but were portrayed sympathetically by the narrative. In both cases, it seems it's partly a result of neglect by their spouses or dissatisfaction. Jenny adds the fact that she's a closeted lesbian or bi woman.
  • Why Women Kill: In 1984, socialite Simone finds out her third husband, Karl, has been cheating on her...with men. Later, she laments on the lack of affection she has received from her previous husbands to her best friend’s son, Tommy Hart. Despite the fact that she’s in her middle years while he just became a legal adult, he is smitten with her and offers to start an affair. At first, Simone refuses, but after she finds out his mom, her best friend Tammy, has known about Karl’s extramarital affairs (though believing them to be with women) and never warned Simone, she takes Tommy up on his offer, and they start an affair. Over time, Simone develops genuine feelings for Tommy, and they plan to start a new life together, only to then break up because Simone insists on being there for Karl when he contracts AIDS.
  • While not outright "evil", the wife of the Victim of the Week in a Without a Trace is a classic Rich Bitch Ice Queen, making it completely understandable that he's not only cheating on her, he's been married to the other woman for two years. His disappearance turns out to be step one of a plan to run off with the second woman.
  • Subverted in Yellowjackets, where Shauna decides to have an affair with Adam, a guy she gets into a car accident with, after she sees her husband going to a hotel with another woman. They play up the 'bored housewife with an inattentive husband' angle, but then subvert it by having Jeff defend Shauna's brilliance to other people and reveal he wasn't having an affair, and all to highlight just how messed up Shauna actually is as a person. She previously tried to play that card as a teenager, as Jeff was originally her best friend's boyfriend, but it's clear she's full of shit.
  • The Young and the Restless: Subverted 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, with whom he'd already had an affair several years prior, ultimately making Sharon the example of this trope.

  • "She's Not The Cheating Kind" by Brooks & Dunn, in which a woman goes out on the town to cheat on the boyfriend she found out ("the hard way") is cheating on her. The chorus implies she was driven to this, after being cheated "one too many times," and that she's usually not this way, but needs the catharsis.
  • Charming Disaster:
    • "Little Black Bird": The song is about a prince who fell in love with a woman who was already married, but her husband is shown to be cruel and abusive, so her cheating on him with the kind and romantic prince is treated as sympathetic. When her husband finds out, he uses his magic powers to transform her into a bird and her lover into a fox, setting up the story's tragic ending.
    • "A Glow About Her" is from their Concept Album about Marie Curie, detailing Curie's affair with a married man after her own husband died. The song details that her lover was already unhappy in his marriage when the affair began, and mentions that his wife once beat him with a wooden chair leg, so the affair is portrayed as sympathetic.
  • Justin Timberlake's single "Cry Me a River" is a "Pay Cheating Unto Cheating" Take That! against his ex-girlfriend Britney Spears. In the music video, he breaks into her mansion, films himself making out with some random girl, and leaves the evidence for a Britney look-alike to find.
  • Patty Loveless' "Lonely Too Long" is told from the mistress' POV, where she says the male in the relationship shouldn't feel bad for his one-night stand because both of them have been in boring relationships and just want to spice things up: "We ain't done nothin' wrong / We've both been lonely too long".
  • Pink's wife in The Wall is cheating on him, though given Pink's decaying mental state and the heavy use of the Rule of Symbolism, it's tricky to piece together why she did so. "Don't Leave Me Now" suggests he was abusive to her, "One of My Turns" has him attempt to sleep with a groupie (suggesting he's cheated on her himself), and "The Trial" has an imaginary representative of her call him out for not talking to her, crediting it to him being emotionally distant, and reaffirms the "cheating" accusation. Given the events on display, it could be all or none of the above, though the album's throughline suggests that he was almost certainly emotionally distant at the very least. Tellingly, of the three witnesses in "The Trial", the Wife is the only one to be actively vengeful towards Pink.
  • Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover" is sympathetic by default to the central cheating couple and doesn't attempt to justify it other than it "feeling so right". But when the last verse has the singer discover his wife is also having an affair he appears to shrug it off on the basis of Pay Cheating Unto Cheating.
    I guess that two can play the game
    Of part-time lovers
    You and me: part-time lovers
    She and he: part-time lovers
  • "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.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Arthurian Legend:
    • Guenevere's affair with Lancelot isn't always presented sympathetically but when it is, it's generally Pay Cheating Unto Boring (because Arthur is too busy running the kingdom) or Pay Cheating Unto Fine With It (Arthur officially Doesn't Know, and works really hard to keep things that way, because he wants Guenevere (and possibly Lancelot) to be happy.) It's sometimes also Pay Cheating Unto Cheating, as some versions (most notably the Lancelot-Grail cycle) have their affair begin when Arthur has gone off with a sorceress he was mean to be at war with (although he may or may not have been enchanted).
    • In Tristan and Iseult, Isolde's affair with Tristram is Pay Cheating Unto Evil and Arranged Marriage, since not only did she not want to marry Mark, but Mark's kind of terrible. Other versions have Mark be understanding since Tristan was hit with a Love Potion intended to make Iseult love Mark.
    • This was a common trope in courtly literature in the High Middle Ages, with many, many stories about noblewomen in loveless, political marriages carrying on affairs with handsome younger men, and this being presented as a beautiful, passionate romance rather than as a sin or crime. Notably, the stories where it's presented negatively, such as the Sang de Graal, also tend to have a more overtly religious theme and thus are less tolerant of adultery. Both versions have a degree of Values Dissonance for modern audiences.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • For Better or for Worse offers an Unintentionally Sympathetic example in Thérèse; according to a pair of Gossipy Hens, she was seeing somebody before divorcing her husband Anthony. While there's no further mention of this, even if one accepts this bit of gossip as truth, it can still be viewed as Pay Cheating Unto Cheating, as Anthony spent most of their marriage lusting and yearning after Elizabeth. The most effort he ever put into making things work with Thérèse was pressuring her to have a child before she was ready, under the belief that Babies Make Everything Better... and although he promised that he would handle all the childcare once she'd recovered from the birth, he openly admits to Liz that he never intended to keep that promise, having assumed her "maternal instincts" would kick in once their daughter was born and she'd give up her career to become a full-time housewife. Followed by blaming Thérèse for expecting him to keep his promise.
    • Anthony himself was meant to be a Downplayed example, with Anthony begging Elizabeth to "wait for him" while still married to Thérèse. Between that and how he made his impassioned plea right on the heels of saving Liz from her "going after", his timing seriously could have used some work...

  • 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.
  • Discussed in Othello, where Desdemona and Emilia have a conversation about women cheating. Desdemona is innocent enough that she doesn't seem to understand why anyone would cheat, while Emilia (who's married to the abusive Iago) comments that women tend to be driven to cheating because of the inequality in marriages; women couldn't divorce abusive, cheating, or neglectful husbands, so naturally they'd seek love elsewhere.
  • The Phantom of the Opera: The Countess in the Show Within a Show Il Muto 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's lover in disguise).

    Video Games 
  • In Catherine, many of the main characters are cheaters, and all are various degrees of sympathetic. Protagonist Vincent was both being pressured to moving forward with his legitimate relationship when he didn't think he was quite ready, and how willing the affair was on his part depends on the player (he will always at one point resolve to quit cheating and make up with his original girlfriend Katherine, which may or may not work out). Todd and Archie both have Freudian Excuses (Todd is a "Well Done, Son" Guy whose dad happens to be an abusive cheating jerk, and Archie has issues with women because his mother raped him when he was a kid), and if given encouragement, will sort their issues out and quit cheating. Steve is cheating on his wife, but he really does love his mistress (Catherine) and suffers Sanity Slippage when he thinks she doesn't love him back.
  • Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the 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 as a result gets pregnant with the future 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. This angered Victor as he denounced the two and committed suicide, and Cigyun eventually ran away back home to the Spirit Forest in Verdane, where she died giving birth to Kurth's daughter, Deirdre.
  • 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.
  • Smite: Hephaestus became so consumed with his bitterness of Hera's treatment when he was an infant (getting tossed from Olympus to sea because he's ugly) that after his marriage to Aphrodite, 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • Those stories in Choices: Stories You Play that revolve around affairs feature the Pay Cheating Unto Cheating variant, with some other reasons mixed in. More specific examples:
    • The Billionaires Baby: Daphne and Stone's marriage is clearly falling apart, but Daphne's mother won't let them divorce.

    Web Animation 
  • In Helluva Boss, Stolas cheats on his wife Stella with Blitzo, an Imp. Their marriage was arranged when they were children purely for the purpose of producing an heir, and even before the affair, Stella was downright emotionally abusive and made the marriage miserable no matter how much Stolas tried to make things work. Stolas even goes as far to say he would regret cheating on her, but they both know she wasn't actually hurt beyond her pride and ego. Stella also goes Axe-Crazy after she finds out and tries repeatedly to have Stolas killed, only calling off the assassination after her brother points out that since their daughter Octavia exists, Stolas's whole estate would go to her and Stella would get nothing.

  • 180 Angel: Xavier cheats on Sam because of the fact that he is gay and can't have feelings for her. Sam is also cheating on Xavier with Lilith because Sam is demisexual and doesn't have feelings for him either. Both Xavier and Sam know about each other's affairs and don't mind because they are both forced into an arranged marriage with each other against their will.
  • Alfie (2010): Vera and her husband Derrick cheat on one another. While Derrick's affair with his "fishing buddy" is not treated with any particular sympathy, Vera's only comes about due to years of resentment towards Derrick and the other man. When she finally starts sleeping with someone else, Derrick is actually happy for her, which only frustrates her more. After Vera leaves her village she starts sleeping with her guide, Cillian. As the two open up about their failed relationships, Vera finally acknowledges that even though she can't have the ideal family life she planned with Derrick, she can be happy with someone else, and starts a proper relationship with Cillian.
  • Homestuck: Beyond Canon: Rose had a strictly physical affair with Jade for the sole purpose of being a surrogate for Jade's child. Her wife doesn't care about the sex, only that Rose and Jade (who was a mutual friend) deceived her and kept the child's existence secret for fifteen years, and makes it clear that despite her anger their marriage is in no way jeopardised by the reveal.
  • Marionetta: Dotty, when she was alive, cheated on her husband with Bob. She didn't actually like her husband, he was just the least bad of the candidates she had to pick from when she was twenty.
  • Ménage à 3: Angèle is a married woman, and there's more than a suspicion that Zii took the opportunity to seduce her as a way to mess with the head of her son, who's an annoying troll with "I Banged Your Mom" in his online signature. However, it's then revealed that she knows that her husband has been cheating on her for years, and the incident inspires her to leave him, which (it's later revealed) leaves her much happier.

    Web Video 
  • We don't know a ton about what took place before the fateful poker night in Who Killed Markiplier? but Celine cheating on and eventually leaving Actor Mark is probably a case of this. Considering the aforementioned Actor is also known as Asshole Mark, he can't have been a very caring husband and based on how he behaves for the entirety of the first part, he's also a self-centered person who only pays attention to his own needs. Also, he literally murders her over it, making it hard to not see her in a sympathetic light.

    Western Animation 
  • Big Mouth deconstructs this with Jessi's mother Shannon. She's stuck in a miserable marriage with a useless partner (as in, he's an apathetic and jobless stoner who spends his days getting high all the time) who can't give her what she wants or needs and is completely lost about who she exactly is, driving her to start seeing another woman. But no matter how valid her own unhappiness is, and despite none of her acts coming from a place of malice, the choices Shannon made still destroyed her family and left an especially deep emotional wound on her daughter.
  • Family Guy: At one point, Joe is interested in a younger new policewoman. He doesn't think he should cheat on Bonnie, but Bonnie's constantly shoving Joe away, ignoring his achievements, and being far more interested in how she comes off to the other wives rather than how Joey is feeling puts doubt in his mind, 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. Joe's affair then is portrayed as something wrong, but sympathetic.
  • 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 would 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.
  • Deconstructed on Moral Orel with Bloberta Puppington, the titular character's mother. Her husband Clay is a Jerkass who abuses their children, drinks heavily, and is generally a terrible human being, gradually Jumping Off the Slippery Slope into monster territory when he drunkenly shoots Orel in the leg during a camping trip, then leaves him to rot for two days straight. Furthermore, Clay is gay and suffers from horrific childhood trauma that's permanently warped his views about sex. As such, when Bloberta tries to find someone else to sleep with in Season Three's "Numb," our sympathies are meant to lie with her; she's also had an affair with Coach Stopframe in the past, resulting in the birth of her son Shapey. However, Bloberta herself is no saint, as she forced Clay to marry her through trickery because of her own traumas of being unloved and unwanted by everyone in the whole town, including her family. It's clear that Bloberta and Clay are absolutely horrible for each other and need to divorce to keep themselves sane and alive—but due to living in an extremely fundamentalist town, they can't, and so have to seek out other people just to make it through their collapsing marriage.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Last Temptation of Homer", both Homer and Mindy are portrayed sympathetically for considering cheating on Marge, because neither of them actually want to do it. Homer feels like the entire universe is bending over to tell him he should cheat—he's met a beautiful woman, his attempts to learn more about her lead to the realization that she's his Distaff Counterpart, him trying to rekindle his feelings for Marge happens right when she's sick with a gross illness, his attempts to get his mind off his feelings only lead to further reminders, and when he has a brief, likely-imagined It's a Wonderful Plot where he sees a world where Marge never married him, the result is "Madam President, your approval ratings are soaring!" Even a fortune cookie tells him to go through it. Meanwhile, while Mindy clearly has some interest in Homer, she also sees how uncomfortable he is with the whole thing, and tries to talk him out of it when he finally starts outright bringing it up.
  • 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 addition, Courtney was also shown to be abusive towards Duncan, while Gwen was kind to him and respected him.


Video Example(s):


TLC, "Creep"

T-Boz stands by her lover despite him cheating on her. She copes, though, by cheating on him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / SympatheticAdulterer

Media sources: