“This is his third affair. The women keep getting younger and he keeps getting bolder!” K says, adding that the worst part this time is that it was her 22-year-old son who told her about the affair her husband is having with an employee. Married to a Delhi based businessman, K runs a successful design startup of her own. On all three occasions he has denied the affair when confronted. This last one was particularly harsh as he accused her of being an inadequate wife.
Reflecting an attitude more prevalent in an earlier generation, K’s parents advised her to ignore the affairs, saying that they are commonplace. An affair isn’t reason enough to break a “successful” marriage. Her friends advised her to walk out of the marriage, indicating that this pattern will not change. Even her children asked her not to tolerate their father’s behaviour.
As much as K wanted to leave, she couldn’t. It was not for the security that money offered, it was not for love for this man, and it was not for the children. She is unable to reconcile herself with the feeling that the effort and hard work she has put in for the past 26 years in making a home and raising a family will be all for naught if she leaves now.
K tried having affairs herself twice but realised that she was too emotionally shattered to go through that experience. The approach of revenge was not for her. Over the last few months, the couple seems to have fallen into a rhythm of being nice and nasty to each other. She finally admits that his infidelity is something she is willing to live with for now and not question him.
K’s self-worth is at an all-time low. The emotional blows seem relentless—from her husband, her friends who voice their opinions about her not respecting herself and from her children who are upset with her for not being fair to herself. She’s now working towards rebuilding her self-esteem.
K believes that it takes more courage to stay back in the marriage than to leave. Trying to move on emotionally while living in the same physical space is much harder than if they were living separately.
T has a similar story. Except that it was she who cheated on her husband. A 37-year-old homemaker, T had a string of affairs for 6 years before her husband stumbled on a sexting banter she was having with an ex-lover. T describes her husband as a sensitive and emotional man. She says, “His first reaction was of shock, then came the tears. By the next day anger set in and a week later he became extremely vindictive.” The betrayal hurt him so much that he wanted to make sure that he hurt her too. Over the weeks, he withdrew all privileges she had as his partner. There was no more financial or emotional support. Expectedly, their physical intimacy fizzled out. She continued to apologise and even offered to leave. They mutually decided to give it some time as he did not want to disturb their 8-year-old daughter by separating at that time.
Months passed with hardly any communication. T was ridden with guilt and was diagnosed as being depressed. Her husband agreed with great reluctance to see a relationship counsellor. He declined to go back after a session where it was pointed out that often infidelity is a result of something missing in the relationship. T continued with her counselling, till she felt more settled mentally. They had made the decision to stay together for the sake of their daughter, though, for her, it was also driven by her financial dependence on him. It’s been two years since. They live on separate floors of their bungalow. Yet, they are trying to be like a “normal” couple. They go on date nights and vacations—but for now it feels fake. I am coaching her on rekindling the romance with her husband. He continues to refuse to go for coaching or counselling.
Instances like these are increasingly common and warrant deeper thought. In an earlier piece in Mint, Lata Jha pointed to data from a survey by Gleeden, India’s first extramarital dating app, that 55% of married Indians have been unfaithful to their partner at least once, of which 56% are women.
The data raises the question about monogamy not being “natural” in the human race. Some scientists view both social and sexual monogamy in humans as a societal structure rather than it being a natural state. Then should the partner who cheats be penalised if they break “societal norms” by following their natural instincts?
Infidelity is not a new phenomenon. But the privacy offered by technology has definitely made it easier to cheat. One can’t help but wonder if there’s a fundamental societal shift underway?
To stay or leave is a difficult choice, often driven by one’s circumstances. While the “innocent” partner feels betrayed, unloved, even belittled, the partner who cheated wants to justify what they did.
For now, both K and T have decided to stay in their respective marriages and so have their partners. K and I are working on building her self-esteem, to stop seeking external validation and learning to make peace with her decision. Currently, she is not interested in working on her marriage. Living in the same house is all that she is able to handle. In contrast, T wants to take a different path and is keen to work on her marriage. She wants a fresh start with no lingering guilt of her past actions. T is the one who seems to be putting hundred percent of the effort to make that happen. It’s very hard and she thinks of it as her penance. Every week we evaluate her husband’s reactions to her efforts of rebuilding their marriage.
Infidelity is amongst the toughest challenges in a relationship. The complexities of each couple’s relationship are unique. This fact is captured very well in the HBO series Scenes from a Marriage. What can help is taking as much time as you both need to decide the path each of you wants to take. Be kind to yourself and finally unapologetic about the choices you make to be able to move on effectively.
This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org