Extramarital affair: Why do we stray?

Two relationship experts shed light on the meaning of marriage and the real reason behind extramarital affairs

Man with two women on the beach — extramarital affair concept
Extramarital Affairs—representational pic

“Extramarital affair” is an entity that came into existence at the very time that the institution of marriage was formed. Only when there is marriage, can there be a relationship outside marriage! However, marriage by itself is not the cause of extramarital affairs. It is only when one fails to understand the true meaning of marriage, and enters into matrimony as a social custom, convention or a duty, that it can become the cause of an extramarital affair. Marriage is ugly when it is merely an arrangement to fulfil the needs of each other. It cripples individuals, killing all possibilities of love, creativity and spiritual growth. Such a loveless tie destroys both the partners, cutting the wings of both, leaving them empty, unfulfilled and spiritually stunted.

The meaning of marriage

To understand the dynamics of an extramarital affair, we need to first understand the true meaning of marriage.

Marriage is much more than an institution to enhance physical survival and ensure continuity of life. It is not just a bond between the male who is the provider and protector, and the female who bears children and raises them. If that were only the purpose, both roles would have fitted perfectly, but it is much more. Marriage is a spiritual partnership between two equals, instituted for the purpose of spiritual growth; and today, no marriage will last until the partners share such a relationship. This spiritual partnership is the vehicle for personal growth, and is invaluable for this purpose.

The Upanishads [Hindu scriptures] talk of marriage as a beautiful relationship, which—even as the needs of the partners are fulfilled—creates an ideal atmosphere for inter-personal growth, where both partners have a golden opportunity to evolve and grow towards their own higher selves. This happens because the intimate relationship makes us vulnerable and provokes us to bring to the surface our true selves, otherwise kept hidden under a social mask. Our partner, in turn, mirrors this face, and creates a perfect opportunity to honestly see and admit to ourselves what we see, introspect, accept, transform, and finally be in harmony with ourselves.

Marriage as a mirror of self

In a deep and intimate relationship, the mirroring of one’s true self is most accurate. Some individuals are uncomfortable with the truth about themselves. They have kept their true face carefully hidden under a social mask from others as well as from themselves, and have convinced themselves that their mask is their true face. Such individuals feel threatened when there is too much intimacy because, in intimacy, there are unguarded moments when the mask slips, and your partner instantly reflects your real face to you. This whole process frightens them, so they shy away from an intense relationship. They do not want to face their own reality and therefore, justify their actions. Whenever the closeness feels threatening to them they get uncomfortable and escape to another relationship—in other words, they have an extramarital affair.

Escape from problems

The escapist reacts in these two ways instead of seeing their problem of discomfort with reality.

  • They blames the partner point-blank for creating a conflict
  • If they can’t find something obvious to blame the other, they justify the escape under the guise of wanting so-called “freedom” in marriage.

The escapists can never be committed to anyone unless they see this “escapist” pattern of life, and want to transcend it truly. The truth therefore remains unchanged, that is, the escapist mind wants the comfort of being an irresponsible child at all times, and cannot and will not stand the truth; therefore it is anti-truth, anti-love, anti-commitment and thus anti-life.

What one gets from an extramarital affair

Today it is considered trendy, liberal and even being with the times if you have an extramarital affair. Flirting between married couples is rampant in the elitist society, and if you do not have a taste for it, you are considered square and primitive.

How do people react to having such an experience? Some people find exactly what they are looking for:

  • the reassurance that they are not really getting old
  • that they still have sex appeal
  • escape from boredom
  • a release of pent-up tensions
  • a means of getting even with their spouse for something
  • a way of satisfying their curiosity
  • a change of pace from their ordinary sexual diet
  • a temporary form of escape.

Others find the experience to be empty, guilt-provoking, awkward, frightening and psychologically de-stabilising.

Man as a polygamous animal

Those who indulge in extramarital affairs very often justify their actions by saying that man is a polygamous animal, and that it is natural for them to have multiple partners. They compare themselves to animals and say that they too, like animals, function with biological instincts, cleverly restricting the comparison to polygamous animals in the sexual arena only. Here, we would like to ask all those who want to live like animals [in accordance with the Law of the Jungle], why they are not living like them in other areas of life? Animals don’t have the security of banks, secured jobs, a secured meal, a secured partner tucked away at home to indulge if none other is available outside. They do not have ambitions of name, fame, prestige for themselves. They do not go after exotic varieties of foods, nor do they overeat. They do not live to eat like man; instead they follow their biology faithfully and merely eat to live. They do not stimulate themselves with pornographic literature or movies. So, in effect, we see that man does everything that animals don’t do in every other sphere of life. He follows the law of man in other areas, but wants to follow the law of the jungle in the sexual sphere only. Animals never over-indulge—they are true to their biological nature—but man does.

Sexual Evolution

But as therapists we can understand the statement “Human being is a polygamous animal” in a deeper context. It is part of the sexual evolution of human beings. Yes, human species is polygamous to begin with. However, we are born with a capacity to evolve as a higher being—from animal-man to man-man to ultimately God-man.

We are all born autosexuals—it means “in love with ourselves”. If you observe carefully, every child is in love with himself. Every child is utterly self-centre; it is concerned only with its own body, its own needs and its own pleasures.

But by the age of seven, very naturally, the child transcends this stage and goes into the second stage of evolution. The second phase is homosexual. Homosexual means “in love with someone just like you”. Boys make friends with boys and girls make friends with girls. If the child has lived his first autosexual stage properly, and has loved himself completely, very naturally he starts loving those who have similar bodies.

When a man is really out of autosexual and homosexual phases, he is capable and mature to fall in love with a woman—to be in a true heterosexual stage—which is a totally different world, a different chemistry, a different psychology, a different spirituality. He is able to play with this different world, this different organism. They are poles apart, but when they come close, interpersonal growth occurs. To love a woman or to love a man, a new kind of being is needed, which can accept the polar opposite.

It is clear that extramarital relationships occur only in the autosexual stage of sexual evolution. This is, as seen above, an out and out “taking” state. If one evolves to a heterosexual stage of sexual evolution, he/she will be in a “giving” state. Here, the commitment is between two opposites for the purpose of spiritual growth. And thus extramarital affairs do not exist in such a relationship.

What is love?

A meaningful life can result only from the experience of love in our life, and this implies a commitment and dedication to another. Love does not ask the question, “What am I getting out of this?” as the criterion of fulfilment. Love understands by direct experience that it is in giving that we receive. Love takes time, demands a history of giving and dying; it never promises instant gratification, only ultimate fulfilment. Love means believing in someone, in something; it supposes a willingness to struggle, to work, to suffer and to join in the rejoicing. There has not been even one recorded case of deep and lasting fulfilment by a person whose basic mindset and only question was, “What am I getting out of this?” Satisfaction and fulfilment are the by-products of committed and dedicated love. They belong only to those who can reach beyond themselves, and to whom giving is more important than receiving.

Do you want love?

Sometimes, we are tempted to confuse good times with a good life. A successful pursuit of endless good times is something that can never really exist, and can only result in the inevitable sadness and disappointment of unfulfilled expectations.

If you don’t want to:

  • Break the fixation with self and give up your self-centeredness
  • Learn how to care about and be sincerely dedicated to the satisfaction of another,
  • Postpone personal gratification to meet the needs of another
  • Get in touch with your deepest feelings and most hidden thoughts
  • Share your most vulnerable self as an act of love
  • Get honest feedback from someone who really knows you through your own self-disclosure
  • Work at the delicate art of communication and shared decision-making.

If you don’t want these things, then obviously you don’t want love.

The choice is yours!

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Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre