Going astray?

Infidelity doesn’t just happen, it’s a choice you make

Most people who engage in infidelity believe that they are justified in doing so. They provide a long list of reasons to back their claim. Those who feel they have wronged their partner, claim that they were helpless or could not resist the lure—as if they had no choice.

At every step in life, you are faced with a choice. The choices you make then, determine the next set of choices that become available to you. Mature individuals know this.

Let us examine some reasons of infidelity we have come across in our practice of counselling couples. We realised that far from feeling regret, many people, in fact, feel deserving of a relationship on the side.

I deserve it

Dev had a mistress in Switzerland. She had been his interpreter cum secretary when he started his business there. He claimed that when he got married, he had an inferiority complex as back then he was a ‘nobody’.

This prevented him from objectively evaluating if he would be compatible with his wife. He was now a successful business man and felt that he deserved to have true love and the pleasures of life with an attractive and compatible woman.

After all, he had worked hard to be where he was. He asked his wife to deal with this reality and accept the status quo for the material comforts he provided, or agree for divorce.

Then, there are also men who abuse the religious sanction they receive for more than one marriage, by getting involved with other women. Some men even claim they have ‘royal blood’ in their veins. They feel this gives them the right to have a mistress like their ancestors. Yet others see it as a sign of wealth and prosperity if they can materially look after many women.

Such people do not feel the need to resist post-marriage attractions, and they permit themselves to think about and engage in more than one relationship at a time.

A word of advice: Those who justify their infidelity need to engage in the light-shedding process of counselling. This will help them evaluate the validity of the cause, and objectively examine the reasons for the same in their marital relationship or their individual pasts.

It is only through such a process that the individual can be helped to understand one’s own attitudinal and behavioural patterns, and heal.

Entitlement issues

Kalpana had grown up seeing both her parents engage in infidelity. Her father justified his behaviour as a need for a mentally stimulating company of an educated woman, which his wife didn’t provide. Her mother reasoned it as the need for emotional support and companionship, which Kalpana’s father didn’t provide.

As a child, at one level Kalpana was confused and upset with the estrangement of her parents, and their subsequent justification of their respective affairs to her. At another level, there was a need to accommodate her parents’ conduct. This was an attempt to overcome her own feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth due to her lineage.

As a result, Kalpana herself engaged in a string of extra-marital affairs, each one lasting briefly. She explained her own behaviour each time, saying that her husband was making a big thing out of nothing.

She saw her marriage as an arrangement, which she was willing to continue, provided that she be allowed to find ‘happiness’ wherever she found it. Kalpana was re-enacting the script her parents followed when she came to us.

A word of advice: Those who are repeating history by living a life of promiscuity like their parents, should examine the deep pain they experienced as a child of such parents.

They should ask themselves if they felt that the parents should have exercised another option, such as attempting a mutually fulfilling relationship through counselling, or having a respectable and friendly separation, where the interest of the child is kept in mind. This could help them with insight into their own options today.

Cult culture

Mohan belonged to a spiritual cult that encouraged open marriage as a more evolved form of relating between man and woman, under the guise of discouraging dependency. You can well imagine his marital life.

He had convinced his wife of living this life, and had dumped several of his post-marital girlfriends saying that he was discouraging dependency in them, thus doing them a favour. He would sell the same spiritual jargon to them and move on to his next affair. Two of his ex-girlfriends, who were almost his daughter’s age, came to us for counselling, nursing their wounds. They were confused about relationships.

A word of advice: Those who condone an open marriage because of a cult, could evaluate the credentials of those who propagate it. They should ask themselves whether they are using this concept as a ‘cop out’ to avoid being in a committed relationship, in which partners exchange constructive feedback for personal growth.

Rebel trouble

Those who grow up in authoritarian households with an extremely moralistic upbringing, often have a deep desire to rebel. They might rush into marrying out of caste or marry early, to adopt a lifestyle that is completely different from their parents’.

They develop an attitude of rebelling against any form of binding whether of the family or of being in a committed relationship. Sona was one such person. She married a foreigner, had a baby, and was done with the rebellion against her parents.

However, the rebellious streak remained and manifested when her husband asked her to participate in a family tradition. She rebelled against being told to do so and threw a fit. The conflicts soon began. She looked for someone who would humour her and let her do as she pleased, and subsequently left her husband and child to live with a younger man.

A word of advice: The indiscriminate ‘rebels without a cause’ need to examine their automatic reactions and consciously break free from them. They need to decide with their partners, and with the help of a counsellor, if the marriage can be saved in a fulfilling way. Together, they could start afresh, or separate amicably and maturely.

For kicks

Some married women claim that getting attention from a male colleague gives them a high. They are curious to see how far this can go and to what extent they can keep the attentive male on a string. They justify their affairs by saying that their husbands are unattractive, incommunicative or insensitive men, and if they can get it elsewhere, they deserve to enjoy it.

A word of advice: Those who take what they have for granted, and experiment with post-marriage attractions for the kick of it, obviously have no other creative outlet. We all know that an empty mind is a devil’s workshop, and therefore they should engage in some creative pursuit to channel their energies, so that they can feel the joy of what they have i.e. the positives in their partner and their relationship.

Office spouse

There also is an increasing trend of having ‘work-husbands’ and ‘work-wives’. This happens because of the long hours people spend at work.

A man and woman working together can communicate better with each other and empathise, especially if both are having issues at home. In such a case, there is a strong chance of the work relationship becoming more attractive and taking precedence over the marital relationship. Although it is termed as good friendship by the one engaging in such a relationship, it is labelled by the married partner as emotional infidelity.

Professional environments like a call centre that demand long working hours in close proximity with colleagues are a breeding ground for such emotional attractions. There is a possibility of physical intimacy as the relationship gets more intense with time.

A word of advice: To counter work attractions, it helps to consciously maintain work-life balance. Increase communication time with your spouse and create pleasant memories. Whenever possible take a vacation, and iron out all differences through constructive dialogue to find a win-win situation.

Before you leap

Most people who give in to post-marriage attractions do so because they think that ‘the grass is greener on the other side’. However, that illusion is soon broken.

The truth is, you are the same person, and you carry yourself into every relationship. Therefore, unless you fully understand your own motivation and behaviour you will perpetually be looking for ‘greener pastures’.

Finally, if you have truly found the love of your life even after marriage, then have the courage to end the previous relationship and live the life of your dreams. But, if you want to have your cake and eat it too by continuing adulterous relationships, remember, this decision has far-reaching consequences. It affects not just your own emotional well-being, but also lives of your children.

Reverse infidelity

There are also those who go ahead with the extra-marital relationship such that this relationship then becomes the primary relationship. They feel more committed to their lovers than to their spouses and start feeling that engaging with the married partner is adulterous. They feel guilty for being in the marriage and not with the new partner.

Chandni had married her much older mentor, who she respected and felt safe and secure with. She had come from a home where her father was a jobless alcoholic, who died a painful death, and her mother was finding solace with another married man.

Thus, her parents were unavailable to materially or emotionally nurture her. Chandni was badly in need of a parent figure and married a mature and stable man without any vices.

However, she soon realised that she could not feel like a lover towards him, and could only see him as a parent, or a mentor. It was not a relationship of equals for her as he guided, coached and told her what to do and how to mould her life and career.

Chandni met an attractive man at her workplace who completely swept her off her feet. She felt committed to this man as she had experienced a mutual ‘man-woman’ attraction for the first time, and felt guilty for being with her mentor husband and not her lover.

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Minnu Bhonsle
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
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

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