The prevalent hedonistic culture in the world today, convinces people that the pursuit of personal pleasure outstrips all other considerations. Fidelity in marriage has become a casualty. Marriage which was considered the building block of society and bound two people together in a physical, mental and emotional oneness, is now merely a minority concept.
A good marriage doesn’t happen automatically. It involves commitment, acceptance, and mutual respect bonded together with love. Spouses set themselves apart from all others, and give themselves exclusively to each other. A good marriage is based on the “reciprocity principle.” Partners, who have pledged to love each other ’till death do us part,’ must work at it actively and continuously. There is no casual leave or vacation written into the contract.
What do we mean by Fidelity? It is the quality of reliability and trustworthiness to one’s partner.
“To be faithful is not a favour you bestow on your spouse. It is a privilege to bless yourself with, says Michael Cohon.
The world is in the grip of a sexual revolution. Sex, sexual exploits, sexual prowess are recurring themes that bombard us through both the print and electronic media. Personal pleasure and self fulfillment are characteristics of the New Morality. Infidelity is glamorized.
“Do what you want to,” is the slogan of Individualism.
A recent study done in the US, shows that 30% of women and 40% of men have been unfaithful to their spouses at some point in their marriage.
The weakening of religious and social restraints, the easy availability of sex, permissive legislation have all contributed to the rise in infidelity.
Temptation is a gradual process, which first begins in the mind. Suggestive articles, movies, books or magazines initiate lustful thoughts. Thoughts turn to desire and desire to action. Even a one-night stand doesn’t happen suddenly. It is preceded by unworthy thoughts.
“An affair may be an indication of marriage malfunctioning,” says Linda Wolfe.
There are three main reasons for malfunction. The first is Emotional Immaturity. In a stable marriage, spouses honour and validate who the other person is. When one partner is selfish and self centred, and unwilling to make a total commitment, the marriage becomes unstable. Someone who has lived a very pampered life, doted on by parents, and used to having his own way, never really grows up. He is incapable of giving or receiving love or trusting others. Such a person may flit from one affair to another. The “Paris Hiltons” of this world are examples of such emotional immaturity.
James Goldsmith (Jemima’s father) was also one such, who had countless affairs. Even after marriage to Lady Annabel his third wife, he did indulge in an extramarital affair.
“When you marry your mistress you automatically create a job vacancy,” he said.
Many young people enter marriage with all kinds of expectations. They believe that marriage will meet all their needs, and is one long state of love and romance. They anticipate no quarrels or disagreements; that sexual pleasure is an indication of the stability of marriage; or that children will create an inseparable bond between parents. But when they realise that the practical realities of every-day living are quite daunting, they look elsewhere for the fulfillment of their needs.
Unmet needs bring about frustration and disillusionment. When couples don’t enjoy each other’s company, don’t like doing things together, or going out by themselves, boredom sets in and life gets stuck in a rut of ordinariness. Lack of communication or mental stimulation leads to emotional dissatisfaction. A woman feels let down when she receives no emotional support from her husband. He never compliments her on her looks or attire, and does not thank her for the food she has prepared. This may spill over into the bed room. Sex is not merely physical. There is psychological and emotional involvement too. When her needs are not met, sex becomes an unpleasant chore.
Husbands too can be put off by nagging wives, or ‘clinging vine’ types who lack initiative.
The basic needs of every human being are Affection and Appreciation. It can be conveyed through a glance, a word, a smile or a kiss
Acceptance of the spouse as a person is important. Many problems arise when one partner tries to change the other, and squeeze him /her into a mould of one’s choice. Even in marriage it is important to maintain one’s own identity and values.
“When a man and a woman are able to respect and accept their differences, then love has a chance to blossom,” says John Gray.
Husbands and wives should also be each other’s best critics. Tactful and loving criticisms done in a non-judgemental way are sure to strengthen relationships.
Admiration is a big ego booster. Appreciating the virtues, achievement and capabilities of the partner in his role as husband or father, his patience, his courage and dependability, makes a man want to do better.
“I can live for two months on a good compliment,” said Mark Twain.
Similarly a woman’s self confidence depends to a certain extent on her husband’s estimate of her. She needs to be nourished and cherished with praise and appreciation.
Sexual appetite they say is second only to hunger. J. Robert Whitehurst wrote in the Journal of Sexual Behaviour that “All men from the first day of marriage think about the possibility (of extramarital encounters)………..Although these tendencies diminish in later middle life and beyond, they never entirely disappear or vanish in normal men.”
Sexual dissatisfaction is a symptom of marital discord. One partner may be frigid, or the other may suffer from erectile dysfunction. Sex may become so routine when partners refuse to acknowledge each others needs. As Esther Pirot says, “Bedroom familiarity breeds contempt.”
While a woman is stimulated in an emotional environment, a man’s interest is more about sexual excitation. Romance just fades away, and the entire exercise becomes mechanical and devoid of feeling. Dr. Albert Ellis describes this as “Healthy Adultery.”
A prominent Divorce lawyer says that in 90% of cases, divorce begins in the bedroom.
When one partner turns down a mate for sex, it is a painful experience. The partner feels rejected. Men especially begin to look elsewhere to satisfy their unfulfilled desires. Dissatisfaction is a preliminary to infidelity. The “trapped syndrome” makes them want to flee the boring marital bed.
Even the Bible counsels, “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband; the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, except for prayer. Then come together again so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self control.”(1Cor 7:4.5.)
Long distance marriages also lead to infidelity. Prolonged absence does not make the heart grow fonder. It may drive them apart.
The term “Managed Monogamy” is a new word added to the Manual of Infidelity.
Here spouses have extramarital affairs while being in a marriage, by mutual consent. There’s nothing clandestine about it. They even discuss their affairs and have a laugh.
Unresolved Conflicts can also lead to infidelity.
Careers and jobs today are so demanding that couples don’t find time to speak to each other. Instead they form relationships at work. A wife who is housebound feels neglected when her husband is preoccupied with his career. Her loneliness and frustration may goad her into an affair.
A husband unemployed for long period can be nagged at or belittled by his wife. This may drive him into the arms of another sympathetic woman.
Financial Problems either due too poor salaries or extravagant life styles, or large families lead to constant bickering and dissatisfaction in the home. It could trigger infidelity.
In-laws can sometimes drive a person to desperation especially when there is no support from the partner. The aggrieved spouse might look for support elsewhere.
Domestic Violence, repressive husbands, nagging wives or wives obsessed with order and cleanliness are also causes for infidelity.
Economic freedom of women has given them power and opportunities to have fun elsewhere.
A newspaper item said that women are more inclined to cheat in love than men. The ratio stands at 40% as against 34% males.
Unfulfilled goals in life often create frustration and irresponsibility, which can also lead to infidelity.
There are three types of infidelity.
- The one night stand or the one-time affair, like Boris Becker’s quickie in the broom cupboard in a London restaurant. It cost him his marriage and a chunk of his fortune.
- It may be a short term relationship. But too many of these short affairs could destroy one’s marriage and lead to depression, say psychologists.
Others have parallel marriages with two wives and two families. Many of the Bollywood (Mumbai) actors are into such relationships.
The common reaction of aggrieved spouses when confronted by the infidelity of their partners is almost similar to what one experiences when a partner dies. Surprise, denial, anger, disappointment and eventually acceptance follow.
Denial is a defensive mechanism by the aggrieved spouse even when the signs are glaringly evident. Husbands sometimes purposely leave clues like hotel receipts or lipstick on the collar because it brings them relief from guilt. But many wives pretend that all is well and refuse to confront them. This “ostrich syndrome” is a way of coping. But it eventually leads to depression, insomnia and sometimes suicidal tendencies. A wife, who has no other economic means of support covers up a partner’s guilt, thereby condoning his infidelity.
Anger is a common reaction. Angry words, refusal to do normal domestic chores, withdrawal of conjugal rights, or running off to Mother, are some of the ways women show their anger. Sometimes fights ensue. The husband is angry with his wife for driving him to infidelity. The wife who is betrayed is angry at being let down. There is a breach of trust which psychiatrists call ‘psychic injury.’
At times a woman may retaliate by saying “If he can do it, I can do it too.” Imitating the wrong doer is like being controlled by the errant spouse and is counter productive.
Anger can sometimes be directed at one’s self for not being able to make a success of marriage, or at the spouse for not meeting her needs, or at God for allowing such a situation.
Revenge is a fatal reaction. Inflicting physical injury or throwing acid on a lover’s face is becoming quite common these days.
When Peter the Great discovered the affair his wife was having with William Mons,
(Gentleman of the Bed Chamber) he had the man decapitated. The head was preserved in a bottle full of alcohol and kept in the Queen’s bedroom.
Many women with poor self image blame themselves for their husbands’ infidelity. They feel they have not lived up to their husbands’ expectations and have driven them into the arms of other women.
Some like to force a solution immediately, without waiting for any explanation from the errant spouse. The decision to split is taken immediately, leaving no room for reconciliation.
Marriage is a relationship that has to be built over the years, with love and deep commitment to each other. Infidelity is a breach of trust that leaves the offended spouse deeply hurt and betrayed. An affair is a crisis that must be tackled calmly. Facts must be sorted out from rumours or suppositions. It is possible for wrong conclusions to be drawn from innocent gestures.
Partners who communicate well with each other and periodically conduct a marital audit will be able to sort out major or minor conflicts. No one is infallible. Mistakes are possible but confession must come quickly, and remorse should be rewarded with forgiveness. The incident thereafter should be laid to rest and not recycled with every argument. Spouses must love “in spite of” the other’s faults.
“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers,” says Robert Quillan.
Ogden Nash sums up the secret of a happy marriage in verse.
“If you want your marriage to sizzle,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong admit it,
Whenever you’re right shut up.”
Spouses who love each other deeply and have pledged to be faithful till the end, will not compromise even on small temptations. They will be able to resist them. Mutual respect, concern for the other’s needs, and the ability to continually fall in love with each other, will keep the marriage bed inviolate. Of course it goes without saying that Divine help is imperative.
“Couples who stay married develop the ability to not lose sight of the love in their relationship and to express it,” says Robert Levenson.