Editor’s note: This story does not contain spoilers for episode 6 of “Big Little Lies” season 2, which airs at 9 p.m. on Sunday, July 14, 2019, on HBO.
- In season 2 of “Big Little Lies,” Ed learns that his wife Madeline had an affair.
- Throughout season 2, Ed seems to grow increasingly resentful toward Madeline. The ending scene in episode 5 suggests Ed may revenge cheat on her.
- According to relationship therapist and psychologist Tammy Nelson, revenge cheating can never repair a relationship. Instead, it deepens mistrust.
- While not all couples recover from infidelity, it’s possible.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
Season 2 of “Big Little Lies” delves into the complicated relationships between the show’s various characters, many of whom are embroiled in the murder case that took place during season 1.
One of those relationships is the marriage of Madeline (played by Reese Witherspoon) and Ed (played by Adam Scott). Madeline cheated on Ed in season 1, and he finds out about her infidelity at the beginning of season 2.
As a result, the relationship becomes strained and Ed is visibly perturbed and resentful toward Madeline any time they’re around each other. He’s also seen flirting with another woman in their circle, Bonnie (played by Zoe Kravitz), who is Madeline’s ex-husband’s wife.
Madeline and Ed attend a couple’s therapy session to address the infidelity, but it doesn’t seem to help, though that could be their therapist’s fault. Then, at the end of episode 5, a cliffhanger scene leaves viewers wondering if Ed may cheat on Madeline for revenge.
Ed is shown alone at a bar, when a woman he knows approaches. They begin to drink and chat, and the woman touches Ed’s back and shoulders. Ed has a daring look in his eyes, but the episode abruptly ends. Will Ed revenge cheat in episode 6?
If he does, it could end his and Madeline’s marriage, relationship therapist and psychologist Tammy Nelson told INSIDER. “When you feel betrayed, you think, ‘If I just betray my partner, we can move on,’ but in reality, you don’t just move on,” Nelson said.
Here’s what would likely happen if Ed, or anyone in a position similar to his, decided to cheat on a spouse who cheated on them.
Any revenge-based action will only make existing problems worse
The concept of revenge cheating implies that a relationship can be treated like a balance sheet, where if one person does something wrong, it can be “fixed” by the other partner doing the same wrong thing.
According to Nelson, however, relationships aren’t transactional, so taking the eye-for-an-eye approach will only exacerbate the distance partners feel between each other following an affair. She says couples can never go back to the way things were before the cheating simply because they’re “even.”
Revenge cheating is also likely to result in the end of a relationship or marriage because it signals that the revenge cheater is thinking, “You broke trust, so now it’s my turn to break yours.” But two people not trusting each other is worse than one not trusting the other. In fact, a trust-less relationship isn’t really a relationship at all, or at least not a healthy one, Nelson said.
Additionally, cheating for revenge can lead to feelings of guilt, rather than the desired effect of relief. “People think they can just get it out of their systems, but they have to live with their own infidelity and integrity then,” Nelson said.
It’s possible to forgive your partner for cheating without seeking revenge
Although it’s not easy, it is possible to recover from an affair.
The good news is that, while your old marriage is over, it gives you the opportunity to start a new one together, Nelson said.
Since affairs, by nature, break trust between two partners, building that trust again from the ground up is also essential, Nelson said.
Though painful, it’s also important for the cheater to candidly discuss the type of person they became during the affair if the couple wants to stay together. For example, a person might feel more young, fearless, or sexy when they were with the person they cheated with.
After the cheater determines how they felt while being unfaithful, they have to ask themselves why they felt they couldn’t be that person with their spouse or partner. Nelson calls it a “wake up or break up moment.” “If you are going to wake up and change your relationship and [yourself,] it could be an incredible moment,” she added.
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