The David Beckham sex scandal that rocked British tabloids recently, blasted the footballer’s professed fidelity to his wife. It also tarnished his image [he was the recipient of the ‘Father of the Year’ award] and raised several questions: is promiscuity natural in humans? Are women as promiscuous as men? Should you kiss and tell about your infidelity?
Is man a polygamous animal?
Before we talk about infidelity, it’s important that we address polygamy. Because, adulterous individuals often justify their actions by saying that man is a polygamous animal, and that it is natural to have multiple partners. They compare themselves to animals and say that they too, like animals, function with biological instincts.
This comparison is wrong. Because animals don’t have the security of bank accounts, a job, assured meals and a woman tucked away at home to indulge, if none other is available outside. They do not aspire for name, fame, and prestige. They do not go for gourmet meals, overeat, and indulge—they do not live to eat like man, but follow their biology faithfully and merely eat to live. They do not stimulate themselves with pornography.
So, we see that man does everything that animals don’t in every other sphere of life but in the sexual arena. He follows the law of man in other areas, but wants to follow the law of the jungle in the sexual sphere only.
But as therapists we understand the statement, ‘man is a polygamous animal’ in a deeper context. Yes, man is a polygamous animal to begin with. However, he is born with a capacity to evolve as a higher being—from animal-man to man-man to ultimately a God-man. He is much more than just biology. He has been given the ability to love, to nurture, to discriminate, to evolve and to actualise himself.
There are three levels of functioning in a person—the level of ‘experience’, the level of ‘awareness of the experience’ and the level of ‘decision’. If you experience a biological attraction and are aware of what you are experiencing, it is okay up till that point. But when you nurse and nurture this attraction in your fantasies and then translate your fantasies into reality, you consciously decide to respond only to the biological man and not to the nurturing, discriminating and evolving aspect of yourself. Thus, you are not integrated in yourself. The biological man in you is attracted to a biological woman. That is a natural biological occurrence. But a human being is not just confined to his biology. He has been gifted with ‘discrimination’, something that animals do not possess. Thus, if you do not integrate sex and love, it can only leave you psychologically de-stabilised, dissatisfied, with psychological scars.
Social double standards
Now let us address the issue, whether promiscuity is more prevalent in men than in women.
Women are as prone to engage in trysts outside matrimony as men, because the same rules of biology apply to them too. However, there are social double standards, where men who have sex outside marriage are ‘studs’, but women who step out are ‘sluts’. Patriarchal structures give men more freedom to cut corners and violate prohibitions without remorse. The same double standards also exist while viewing sexual escapades of powerful and glamorous demigods. The ‘rich and famous’ tend to get away with eccentricities and moral irregularities. In fact, their deviations add exotica to their personality, whereas the ‘ordinary middle-class citizens’ have to explain and be accountable for the passions of their mind and body.
Breeding grounds for infidelity
The other question the Beckham escapades throw up is should you ‘kiss and tell’? Should you disclose your extra-marital affairs?
Firstly, infidelity in a marriage is not confined to a sexual tryst alone. Shirley Glass, USA’s godmother of infidelity research, and author of Not Just Friends, says, “One doesn’t have to have sex to be unfaithful. Secret emotional attachments outside a marriage can be just as great a betrayal as extra-marital sex.”
It is important to mention here that extra-marital affairs are not always a sport, or an indiscriminate indulgence of biological urges. Often, the marriage is in troubled waters for other reasons, which are not being resolved through healthy communication. Instead of finding a solution within the marriage, one starts finding the solution outside, such as in extra-marital affairs.
Sudhir was developing an attraction for his colleague. He was married to Seema, who carried a lot of ‘baggage’ from her unfulfilled and unresolved relationship with her parents. This made her into a very demanding, needy and clingy wife, who gave her husband no room to grow as a person. His need for an adult and mature companion made him step out of marriage to seek such a companion.
Priyal felt alone in her marriage with Aditya, who was a wealthy businessman, and the dutiful son of a widowed mother. Aditya expected Priyal to be a daughter-in-law and companion to his mother, and a wife to him in between his business trips. She felt lonely raising her son, with no one to share her joys and sorrows. Her need for emotional closeness and warmth made her transcend the threshold of marriage to fulfil her yearning body-mind.
Karan was an executive officer in his wife Bina’s father’s company. He was asked to fit in with her family at all times irrespective of his opinions, feelings or needs. His anger took the form of withdrawal from intimacy in the marriage and an extra-marital affair.
If you have lost a needle in your house, you don’t try finding it outside under a streetlight just because it is dark in your house. You cannot find outside what you have lost inside. What is needed, is lighting a lamp in the house, and finding the lost needle where it is lost —within the house.
All the above cases could have been resolved through humble introspection, and open and healthy communication between the partners, instead of infidelity. The choice of stepping out, of course, comes with a heavy price.
Repercussions of disclosure
The consequences of ‘kissing and telling’; disclosing your extra-marital affairs too, can be quite different in different cases.
The disclosure can either end up in a legal separation, or it could end in an ‘emotional divorce’ where the couple remains locked in a painful relationship for the sake of the children, finances, or family and social circumstances. Surprisingly though, the disclosure also sometimes, acts as a catalyst in setting right all that was wrong in the marriage, with both doing some introspection and growing up.
A legal separation is usually the option chosen by the aggrieved party if s/he has a good alternative available in terms of parental and family support, financial stability, no children and therefore the higher possibility of another intimate relationship. Couples also resort to this when either or both, do not want to introspect into their own contribution to the relationship problems. And when they allow their hurt, anger and pride to dictate their decision to separate. Bina took the option of legal separation when Karan disclosed his affair, because of the above reasons.
An ‘emotional divorce’ is riddled with pain where there is depression and guilt in the partner who has confessed to an affair, and aggression in the form of constant taunts about the affair from the ‘righteous’ one, as in the case of Priyal and Aditya. Priyal was guilt-ridden and depressed after she disclosed her affair, and Aditya left no opportunity to rub it all in as often as he could. They opted to remain ‘technically married’ because of their very young son, Priyal’s lack of finances, Aditya’s need for a caregiver for his ageing mother, and his need for a wife ‘to show off’ at social occasions.
When Seema got suspicious of Sudhir’s late working hours and confronted him one day, he said that he had grown increasingly fond of his colleague; a woman who understood and empathised with his problems, who valued and appreciated his creativity, who was a source of support and strength, and where he felt he was accepted and could relax and be himself. This was a ‘wake up call’ for Seema. She almost instantly identified how she was contaminating her marriage by only ‘taking’ and not ‘giving’, and got her act together. She got into individual therapy for herself, healed her past, and got down to ‘giving’ in the relationship. They got into couple counselling, there was free and frank communication, a lot of tears of repentance, and a step-by-step reconnection process that both of them went through—the result—an authentic mutually satisfying and fulfilling relationship.
So if you ‘kiss and tell’, there is no telling what the result might be. Then the question remains, ‘Should you?’
To tell or not to tell
The answer is, if you are in a troubled marriage, and having an affair, you need to seek help for the marriage through counselling, so that the root of the problem is addressed. If there is to be a self-disclosure, then the partner is emotionally prepared by the counsellor to receive the information constructively and to process it in a healthy manner.
If you have previously had an affair and now have realised your folly and have no intention of repeating the same behaviour, then you are not the same person who transgressed. You need to forgive yourself and work on establishing a healthy relationship with your partner. It is not imperative that you discuss your past if you are truly not the same anymore.
However, the decision to disclose or not is a very personal one. The concept of facilitative genuineness can help you decide whether or not to ‘kiss and tell’. If you feel that your disclosure could help and be beneficial for your partner and facilitate a better, more ‘real’ relationship, then you should disclose. However, if you feel that your disclosure will in no way help but in fact harm your partner, and the relationship, then you need to keep the information to yourself. Facilitative genuineness of course, should in no way be used as a guise for withholding or sharing information to serve your own best interest. Therefore, the decision to disclose or not, requires a whole lot of integrity in a person.
Gautama, the Buddha was giving a discourse in a village under a tree, when a man came up to him, spat on his face, abused him angrily and walked away. Buddha wiped his face and continued the discourse. The next day the same man came up to Buddha, fell on his knees, cried and begged for forgiveness. Buddha said, ‘You are not the same person. Whom should I forgive?’
This was published first in the June 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.