Are you cheating on your partner?
Apparently, we aren’t monogamous by nature. Infidelity, the act of being unfaithful to your partner, is more common than most of us think. It can be shattering. Pranav Dixit tells you more.sex and relationships Updated: Mar 13, 2010 16:35 IST
Shilpa Sharma was happy. At 28, the petite interior designer had it all – a three-year-strong marriage with Amit, a well-placed business professional, a job with a leading design firm and a two-storey house in Pune. But one evening, Amit returned home, red-eyed. He’d been having an affair with Shilpa’s best friend for almost a year, and couldn’t stand the guilt any longer. He had to tell Shilpa.
“My first reaction was sadness, pain,” says Shilpa. “But that soon became intense hatred.” Six months of counselling later, the couple divorced. “I knew it was never going to be the same again,” Shilpa says. “I wanted out.”
An affair to remember
Infidelity, the act of being unfaithful to your partner, is more common than most of us think. If you’re unlucky, your exploits will be exposed and rip your marriage apart. (If you are Tiger Woods, they will receive saturation coverage all over the world and your spouse will hit you with a golf club.) Even if you decide to patch up your differences, you live with the scars for life.
Experts say that if nature had its way, no one would be monogamous. “Every human being is polygamous by nature,” says Dr Kamal Khurana, a New Delhi-based marriage and relationship counsellor. “The concept of marriage was constructed to perpetuate the ideas of commitment and belonging.”
The root cause of infidelity may be an imbalance in one of three needs – emotional, social and physical. “A mismatch in one or more of these needs may cause a person to seek them outside his or her marriage,” says Aditi Srivastava, CEO of
, a relationship counselling website. “If a person cheats on his or her spouse, whether it’s a one-night stand or a long-term affair, it is important to remember that the root cause is in one of these three needs. Infidelity is just an outcome.”
Emotional needs are the ‘conversation’ or the ‘communication’ part of a relationship. “It is important for both partners to be able to share their thoughts and emotions freely,” says Srivastava. “Lack of communication leads to frustration and can have disastrous results.”
If you’re constantly wondering about things like: ‘Can I take her out with my friends?’ ‘Will he be respectful to my relatives when he meets them?’, it’s a sure sign of a mismatch in social needs.
A person may look for someone else outside the marriage to compensate for a boring sex life. “Creativity is a must in any relationship, even in sex,” says Dr Khurana. “You must ensure that physical needs are being met.”
People who have been happily married for years will tell you that the key to a good marriage is always adjustment. “Sure, we have differences in the beginning, but I think that as a couple, it is your duty to work on those differences together to overcome them,” says Sameer Kumar Jha, a Delhi-based marketing professional who has been married to his childhood sweetheart, Anamika, for 12 years. But if the couple doesn’t work on their marriage, it could lead to infidelity.
Isn’t infidelity extreme? “That is subjective,” says Srivastava. “For example, if your partner always interprets what you say in a completely different way, you will seek to fulfill your social needs somewhere else. You’re probably not even looking for someone to have an affair with, just someone to talk to. But one thing leads to another and suddenly, your partner is not part of your thought process anymore.”
Stand by your (wo)man?
Learning that your partner has been seeing someone else is a huge emotional blow. “I would be lying if I said that the relationship is not damaged forever,” says Srivastava. “There will always be scars.”
The basic principle of any relationship is commitment. This calls for priority and concern and these cannot be one-sided. So having an affair outside your marriage automatically renders it null and void. “It shakes trust, which is the pillar of any relationship,” Srivastava says.
“After my husband confessed, my head used to buzz with thoughts,” says Shilpa Sharma. “I thought, ‘What’s wrong with me? Am I not good enough for him that he had to look for someone else?’ I nearly drove myself crazy!”
This, says Srivastava, is common when something like that has happened. “You get into a self-doubting mode,” she says. “You not only blame your partner, you also blame yourself and stop respecting yourself.” However, she adds, it’s crucial remember that it is not you who are to blame. “A compromise should not come at the cost of your self-esteem. Also, you should understand that there’s a fine line between pride and self-esteem,” she says.
Mostly, the partner who cheats ends up feeling guilty about the affair. “At that point,” says Dr Khurana, “He or she should remember that honesty is the best policy. It is best to let your partner know what has happened rather than have him or her find out about it later from someone else.”
Something to talk about
Let’s imagine a worst-case scenario. You find a suspicious message on your partner’s phone and confront him or her about it. Your partner confesses. Then?
“The first reaction will be rage and tears,” says Dr Khurana. “At that point, seeking professional help is the last thing on anyone’s mind.” But this initial eruption is important because it is a bout of negative energy that should get out.
“To counsel yourself at that point is extremely difficult,” says Dr Raman Girotra, consultant psychiatrist at the Artemis Health Institute, New Delhi. “Also, your partner may try to justify his or her actions and may even blame you.”
But whether or not you continue in the relationship, you should always go to a counsellor once things have cooled down a little. A counsellor is a neutral third party who will listen to both of you. The counsellor will never provide you with a readymade solution but will force you to think and make the right choice yourself.
So do you patch up? Or do you part ways? “There are a lot of factors which influence this decision,” says Dr Girotra. “Your age, your family setup and of course, the fear of what people might say.” In a lot of cases, parting ways seems like the only choice, but there are a number of reasons why couples hesitate: the time and energy invested in the relationship, financial reasons and children.
“But if ‘the children’ is your reason to stay together, it is better to divorce and contribute in a positive way to your child’s life rather than live in a compromised relationship for the child’s sake,” says Srivastava. “For me, a success story is two happy individuals. If they have to part ways for that to happen, then so be it.”
Cheated on? Here is your cope sheet
Don’t leave your partner – yet. That should be the last resort. Now, stay with him or her to keep an eye on things. Also, as long as you are still together, you have a chance to work things out.
Don’t tell the world about your partner’s infidelity. It’s natural to want to confide in somebody. But be cautious about who you tell. The friend you confide in could turn out to be the ‘other woman’ or ‘other man’, or worse, she or he may take advantage of your vulnerability.
Don’t pretend it’s not happening. Denial will make matters worse. Ignoring the infidelity gives your partner the go-ahead to continue the affair.
Don’t confront your partner without the 3 Ps: Proof, Plan, and Purpose. You should confront your partner about his or her cheating. But choose the time and place carefully so you can discuss the affair without interruption. Present the evidence you’ve gathered that proves she or he is having an affair.
Don’t waste your time and energy on the other woman or man. It’s natural to be curious, but repeatedly questioning your partner about him or her puts the spotlight on that person instead of on the real issues.
Small screen cheats
Temptation Island (Star World): Several couples agree to live with a group of singles to test the strength of their relationships. The American reality show was controversial in India for its skin-show and public displays of affection.
Splitsvilla (MTV): Ten hot singles try to break apart five hot couples.
Emotional Atyachaar (Bindass): Think your partner’s cheating on you? Call the Emotional Atyachaar crew and they’ll follow him / her around with spy cams. They’ll even arrange for someone to flirt with your partner – and then broadcast his or her ‘loyalty’ on national TV.
Types of infidelity
One-night stand: “Most marriages survive a one-night stand,” says Aditi Srivastava, CEO of merilife.org, a relationship counselling website. “But it’s not a trivial thing and you need to re-examine your bond with your partner and ask yourself whether this was one stray incident or the first in a series of one-night stands.”
Social Philanderer: Some men will have short, sexual relationships with many women at a time. “There’s no marriage then,” says Dr Raman Girotra, consultant psychiatrist at the Artemis Health Institute, New Delhi. “Sadly, in our country, it is still okay for a man to have multiple relationships but not for a woman.”
Finding love at the wrong time: This is common, says Srivastava. But most people think about the consequences. “Is this worth destroying my married life for? This is what most people wonder,” she says.
Leading a second life / having a mistress: This is generally observed among older men. “Sometimes, a man may want to flaunt sexual partners at the age of 50 just to prove his masculinity,” says Srivastava.