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.
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 bad at sex. This can overlap with the first category if adulterer wants someone who doesn't treat that 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 s/he has the wrong "parts."
- 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!
- 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.
- In Naruto Vengeance Revelations, this can be considered to apply to Sakura cheating on Ronan with Naruto, although she doesn't see Ronan as evil and defends him to Naruto.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In The Draughtsman's Contract, Mrs. Herbert has an affair with Mr. Neville, at his 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; what little we see of Mr. Herbert establishes him as kind of a dick, especially to his wife.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Titanic (1997). Rose cheats on her fiancé, but he is evil (supposedly) and she was engaged to him against her will, making her objectively sympathetic.
- 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.
- 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 she and her mother are freeloading off of him, it's a loveless relationship, and she goads him into trying to sell out a notorious hitman for money. And that's just what he knows about her. She also calls in a hit on him as her real goal is to get his life insurance money. Naturally, the audience has no sympathy for her.
- Played for Laughs with the hitman himself, played by Bruce Willis, who is also the husband of the woman Perry cheats on his wife with. Willis is planning to murder his wife for money, but he also is adamant that adultery is sinful and is furious with Perry for sleeping with her when he finds out even though it is clear that he doesn't love his wife. He eventually realises that he is just being a hypocrite and decides to let both of them live and be together however.
- Hank Rearden from Atlas Shrugged. Hank's wife Lillian is shown to not care about her husband. This is made clear when she trades a bracelet Hank made her for their anniversary for a random flashy bracelet that the book's protagonist Dagny Taggart is wearing, showing how little she values their relationship. Hank hooks up with Dagny later.
- 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.
- In Dorothy L. Sayers' Clouds of Witness, Mrs. Grimethorpe is in an abusive marriage, while the Duchess of Denver is a shrew.
- 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.
- 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.
- Subverted in Frasier: Niles being attracted to Daphne is sympathetic because his wife Maris is a frigid, manipulative, emotionally abusive control freak — but he still never cheats on her, even though no one would condemn him very much for it.
- 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?
- Alfred Hofstadter in The Big Bang Theory, as illustrated by the page quote.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In the manga/anime Chobits by CLAMP, cram school teacher Ms. Shimizu starts a relationship with Shimbo, one of her (adult) students after her husband becomes completely engrossed with their persocom. The turning point comes when she gets locked out of their house because he simply forgot about her. When Hideki finds out he is at first not sympathetic and accuses Shimbo of being a homewrecker until he finds out the real circumstances behind it.
- 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.
- 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...
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Scandal: President Fitzgerald Grant, who cheated on his wife and First Lady Mellie Grant. Mellie, who was raped by her father-in-law, which suddenly stopped the Sickeningly Sweethearts, Happily Married face of their relationship, is a cheater, too.
- On ER, when Peter begins an affair with the married Jeanie Boulet. Viewers have watched the relationship develop over the past season, so we already know that it's not some sleazy fling, but that she's genuinely torn between him and her husband. When we later learn that her husband has been cheating on her left and right throughout their marriage and has given her HIV, she becomes even more sympathetic.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Creep by TLC plays with this trope. The singer is cheating on her boyfriend because he is cheating on her. Yet she doesnt 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.
- 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).
- Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War: Cigyun was the wife of Lord Victor of Velthomer, a philanderer who has several other mistresses and, in one instance, raped one of Cigyun's favorite maid. She cheated on him with Prince Kurth, heir of Grannvale, which angered Victor as he denounced the two and committed suicide. She eventually ran away back home to the Spirit Forest in Verdane, where she died giving birth to Kurth's daughter, Deirdre.
- 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.
- 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 minds, the nail in the coffin is when Peter mentions that Bonnie already had an affair years before. However, it's revealed that Bonnie never went through with the affair but everything else still stands. Joe's affair then is portrayed as something wrong, but sympathetic.
- Robin Series: 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.
- John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda is not at all reluctant to step out on his icy wife for Jamie Lee Curtis.
- Played With in True Lies; super-spy Harry Tasker thinks his wife is having an affair in part because she thinks he is only a boring computer salesman, a cover ironically he actively cultivates even at home - he might even take pride in how boring it is. Turns out the truth is a bit more complicated; she does find him boring, but the guy Harry thinks she is having an "affair" with is a used car salesman who is trying to get in her pants by posing as a super-spy who wants her to be his fake-wife. In the end, she actually refuses to have sex with him precisely because she is married and loyal to her husband... which comes to bite Harry in the ass when he recruits her for a fake mission to seduce a French arms dealer (really Harry himself, hidden in the shadows) and she beats up him as well, not knowing it is her husband. Needless to say, she is not remotely amused when she finds all this out (and even Harry kind of realises that what he is doing is really messed up), but eventually they sort out their differences and she even becomes his partner in the field.
- Lisa in The Room cheats on her boyfriend Johnny with his best friend, because she considers Johnny boring. Then again, we're not meant to find Lisa very sympathetic, but given that it's Johnny, this can backfire with audiences.
- 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.
- 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 Well and makes him a classic example of this.
- Sarah Caudwell's The Sirens Sang of Murder: the Contessa di Silvabianca, although ironically when her husband suspects infidelity, he nearly always suspects the wrong people of being involved.
- Nearly in The Scarlet Pimpernel, as Marguerite is unaware of her husband's double life and considers him a tame bore.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Gladys Mitchell's The Saltmarsh Murders: the vicar's wife is sexually repressed (the psychiatrist character refers to her condition as 'inverted nymphomania'). Her husband fathers an illegitimate child on their maid; the wife snaps when she learns the father's identity and kills the maid.
- Connie Chatterley's characterization in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Her husband was paralyzed from the waist down in World War I, thus he's impotent.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- You've Got Mail combines this with "Boring". Joe and Kathleen, the protagonists, are essentially carrying on an emotional online affair behind their respective partners' backs (the fact that each takes great pains to hide it implies that they know it's wrong on some level, so it just avoids Protagonist-Centered Morality), but this is treated as excusable since they're clearly unhappy in their respective relationships. Their paramours might be completely wrong for them, but they certainly don't seem to be bad people deserving of such treatment.
- Gwen Cooper in Torchwood. She sleeps with her bad boy colleague Owen due to her forcing to juggle normal life and life with a group of alien hunters.
- In the second season of Friends, the long-drawn-out Will They or Won't They? relationship between Ross and Rachel takes a step forward with their first kiss, in an empty Central Perk. We are supposed to cheer for that kiss, but Ross is, in fact, committed to Romantic False Lead Julie at that point. Played completely straight.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In the movie Being There, the dying Ben Rand is not only fine with his wife's attraction to Chance, he encourages it because he wants her to be happy and taken care of when he's gone.
- In 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.
- 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.
- A quirky subversion in War and Remembrance. Natalie offers herself to a Nazi camp guard in order to protect her child, but the guard refuses. In this case, her husband Byron would certainly not have been "fine with it" as such, but he never held it against her, presumably because he understood the desperate circumstances.
- In the historical fantasy The Granite Shield, a woman plans to seduce an enemy monarch in order to free her god, since It is trapped in the body of an unbeliever and can only be released into his heir. She convinces her fiancee that this is a good idea and he joins her in the scheme, helping her to consummate it.
- 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.
- 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.
- A first season episode of Friends has Joey discover that his father has been having an affair. Joey's father is portrayed fairly sympathetically, since he says that he can't help but love the other woman, loves his wife just as much, and is willing to end the affair over how much distress it's causing Joey. Joey's mother then tells him off, saying that she knew about the affair the whole time (Joey Sr. wasn't exactly the best liar) but tolerates it because it makes him a better person and a more attentive husband. Joey eventually gives his blessing to his father, who remains oblivious to his wife's knowledge.
- 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.
- Game of Thrones:
- Stannis Baratheon cheats on his wife Selyse with Melisandre. Later, Stannis confesses to Selyse and begs her forgiveness, but she's perfectly okay with it because Melisandre was able to give him a son, while all of her children were stillborn or deformed. Also, Selyse is The Fundamentalist, who believes that the Red God ordered Stannis and Melisandre to sleep together.
- Later Tyrion marries Sansa, but maintains the relationship with his lover/whore Shae. The marriage is arranged (or rather forced onto both of them) and Sansa, absolutely horrified of the prospect of having 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.
- 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.
- In Law & Order: SVU, 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.
- Blacksad has a complex case in the second album. Jezebel Karup is sleeping with Huk, the Number Two of the local KKK knockoff, while refusing her husband Hans sex, knowing that she's pretty much a status symbol for the WASP police chief. 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Film — Live-Action
- 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 gay; thus, they're not in love with their wives, and they were more or less forced to marry due to the circumstances.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Crazy Rich Asians
- Rachel's mother Kerry had a child out of wedlock because her husband was abusive. Rachel's birth father had helped the latter 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.
- 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 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 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.
- 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.
- Fresh Off the Boat: When we first meet Honey Ellis, we find out that she was her husbands 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 friends 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 that 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 friends son, Tommy Hart. Despite the fact that shes 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 Karls 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.
- 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.
- 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".
- In Greek Myth, unless you read the version of the myth where Zeus decided whom she would marry, you would see Aphrodite as an unsympathetic cheater for poor Hephaestus; but in Smite, the circumstances can make her sympathetic instead. The thing is, Hephaestus (here known by his Roman name, Vulcan) became so consumed with his bitterness of Hera/Juno's treatment when he's an infant (getting tossed from Olympus to sea because he's ugly) that after his marriage to Aphrodite/Venus, he ended up abandoning her in his forge to quench his bitterness (in vain). This has a side effect of Aphrodite thinking that she's unworthy of being a wife and a very lonely individual that she started cheating to compensate.
- In King Arthur, 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. 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.)
- An Unintentionally Sympathetic example is Therese from For Better or for Worse, who according to a pair of Gossipy Hens was seeing someone before divorcing her husband Anthony. However, this gossip is the only time her having an affair is ever mentioned. Even if one accepts it as truth, it can still be viewed as Pay Cheating Unto Cheating, as Anthony spent most of his marriage lusting after Liz, and the most obvious effort he ever put into making things work with Therese was pressuring her to have a child before she was ready, because Babies Make Everything Better.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Big Mouth deconstructs this. Jessi's parents' romance died years ago and they are now stuck with each other in a miserable marriage, constantly fighting because Greg is an apathetic stoner while Shannon is constantly working to keep the family afloat as he can't give any help at all. As a result of this, Shannon starts an affair with another woman. This is deconstructed because no matter how valid her reasons for starting the affair may be, Shannon still cheated on her husband and destroyed her family - Jessi is heartbroken over watching the dissolution of her parents' marriage and sides with her father in this, and Greg is hurt how Shannon can't honestly say she is still in love with him, leading to what's implied to be a very turbulent and emotionally damaging divorce to all involved.
- 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.
- 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.