Relationships - THE DILEMMA OF FORBIDDEN INTIMACY
by Sunil Mittal
She switched off the TV midway through her favorite serial and sat feeling anxious and confused. The heroine on the small screen had just made the decision to leave her husband.
of over ten years for another married man. A busy husband. A passionate lover. And her bold decision. Shweta felt a wave of guilt rise within her as she thought about her own marriage. The heroine had the courage, she thought, while here she was trying to balance her role as wife and mother with that of a woman in love with another man. A clandestine affair that gave her joy, yet was full of the pain of uncertainty.
Human beings have an innate need to form intimate and long-lasting relationships. Intimacy includes the ability to experience the other person's needs being as important as one's own. In young adulthood, there is a shift from sexual experimentation to intimacy. This is experienced as an intense loneliness resulting from the absence of committed love and companionship. Once a partner is chosen, there is a fusion of sex and love and the self is increasingly linked to the partner. This results in the alteration of one's ego ideal and life goals by including the partner's goals and desires. Obviously then, the essential ingredients are those of equality, mutuality, trust, honesty and respect, along with love.
THE DYNAMIC FLUX
All relationships are dynamic, ever-changing and evolve with time, just like the individuals in the relationship. In recent decades, the rapid rate of social and economic change has strained every dimension of human existence and the ability to adapt and relate. While tradition is under stress, what is modern is still unclear. Marriage, the most intimate of relationships, is no exception. Though marriage implies commitment for life, it is hardly static and evolves with every passing moment of a married couple's life.
INTIMACY, LOVE AND MARRIAGE
The bio-psycho-social need for completion of self through intimacy with another culminates in marriage. Two individuals may marry out of love and a desire to live together, to raise a family, to deal with loneliness, to have a sexual partner, or simply under family, social or religious pressures. What sort of parent one's partner is going to make may sometimes be an important consideration. The reasons for marriage define its quality at the outset.
As for love, it is important to be able to differentiate between infatuation, sexual attraction and the love that involves sharing and caring. Marriage is much more serious than just an affair of the heart. One is lucky if one marries the person one loves, but luckier if one loves the person one marries! Marriage is a question of the ability to settle into a mutually rewarding relationship. Both husband and wife should be able to share interests, care for each other and work towards common objectives.
MARITAL AND FAMILY FUNCTIONS
A good marriage forms the nucleus of the family. It must be able to fulfill as many of the following functions as possible:
These must adequately satisfy the partners' needs to form a family constellation. Mutuality again becomes important in mid-life when children have grown and moved away, leaving the couple face-to-face with one another.
This is important if the partners desire children.
This includes fulfilment of not just physical but emotional and spiritual needs as well.
These imply meeting the emotional-relational needs of the couple and children in a healthy way.
The partners and their children should be able to communicate openly, verbally as well as non-verbally. There should be a safe place for conflicts without hurting, dominating or exploiting.
The couple needs to continue growing as individuals to function independently as members of society.
For happiness, creative recreation like sports and celebrations (festivals, birthdays, anniversaries) need to be carried out. Religious and spiritual drives must also be satisfied for effective bonding and happiness.
Ultimately, the marriage must provide security, shelter, constancy and a chance to nurse the hurts one encounters while facing the world.
MARRIAGE VERSUS EXTRA-MARITAL RELATIONSHIPS
In the hunter-gatherer phase of human evolution when man lived in herds, all children belonged to the tribe. No one owned land or means of production. Only when society became organized along patriarchal lines did it become necessary to establish paternity. And so the institution of marriage evolved where a woman lived with one man and gave birth to his children. While men could have multiple partners (or wives), a woman could not.
Evolutionary-biologists have noted that few animals mate for life. For nature, we are only vehicles of gene pools to be passed on to future progeny. To ensure the mixture of genes, nature ensures that both the sexes mate with different partners.
In most animals, mating occurs only when the female is in heat and ovulates (which is a few times in a year). The sexual behavior of the male is then triggered by visual, olfactory or chemical cues that the female provides and reproduction is ensured. In animals, like man, where ovulation is covert, there is no way of knowing when the reproductive phase is, so these animals tend to mate for longer periods.
It is possible that this natural drive to be multi-partnered often comes in conflict with social mores that expect one to be with a single partner. Emotions like love, jealousy and possessiveness further add to the conflict.
THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION
Today's effective contraceptives allow sexual activity without the risk of pregnancy. Sex, therefore, may be for pleasure and recreation. This is one of the major factors that have caused a shift in sexual values resulting in greater sexual promiscuity.
Moreover, the changing roles and greater equality of both sexes, increasing opportunities to meet socially, spending less time at home, the possibility of finding willing sexual partners, stress on individualistic gratification, are all reasons for increasing extramarital sexual activity. More so, matters of the heart do not necessarily follow logic.
An extramarital affair needs to be differentiated from extramarital sexual activity. Whereas the latter may be just a one time or many episodic sexual escapades, the former refers to a more sustained and serious relationship with emotional and sexual dimensions. The causes and consequences of both may be similar or different.
WHY SOME DO
The reasons for indulging in an extramarital relationship may lie in a troubled marriage that does not fulfill its basic functions. Often, with the passage of time, ennui sets into a marriage or the partners just grow into different individuals and find they have nothing left in common. The individual growth of one partner may surpass that of the other, increasing the possibility of an extramarital affair.
WHY SOME DON'T
Intrinsic personality factors that are enmeshed within a person's sexuality and determine one's view of relationships and marriage influence martial and extramarital activities.
Most may go through married life without an extramarital affair. Many experience the desire to do so, yet do not get the opportunity. Fear of discovery and of adverse effects on children may also act as a different. There may be respect for the rights of the partner to also have similar relationships, which paradoxically is not acceptable. Other reasons may be religious beliefs and guilt.
HOW TO PREVENT EXTRAMARITAL ACTIVITY
The best ways to enrich a marriage and decrease the possibility of extramarital activity is to build understanding, increase sharing, open up communication and spend quality as well as quantity time together. Make a safe place for disagreements and conflicts. Understand your partner's sexual desires and needs. Spend leisure and recreational time together. Make mutual goals, dream together and work towards them. And trust one another.
If there is a breach of faith, it is natural to feel hurt and pained. Take the opportunity to review your marital relationship. See how you may revive it, if you so want to. You may draw sustenance from the moments of love and joy spent together. Life, after all, is a flowing stream. Move on.
Dr Sunil Mittal,
35 Defence Enclave,
New Delhi 110 092, India.
Tel: 91-011-2459714/ 16
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