Suzy Singh’s honest look at the phenomenon of extramarital relationships compels us to consider the how and why of it in a different light
“I thought I’d be overcome by guilt,” she confessed pensively, “but I'm surprised at the calm I feel instead.” Like the first drops of rain upon her parched soul, Radhika felt renewed instead of feeling remorseful when new love entered her burdensome marital life. Stolen moments of worthiness replaced the bland entitlement of conjugal familiarity. She felt desirable, intellectually stimulated, connected and alive, all at once. It wasn’t just the romance that uplifted her spirit and inspired her, but the intense and deeply meaningful conversations, the tenderness and mutual care, the laughter and genuine appreciation that made her feel so valued in the new relationship. On the face of it, her marriage appeared ‘normal’ to many, but the truth was that the relatedness and connection had been lost a long time ago. What remained now was a transactional contract to coexist and partake of unequal responsibilities.
A new perspective on adultery
How often do we mercilessly condemn partners who stray, without ever examining the deeper reasons for their ‘betrayal,’ reasons that perhaps deserve our empathy? Social conditioning makes us lend sympathy only to the ‘deserted victim,’ but shouldn’t we also be compassionate enough to ask, Who is the real victim in this relationship? Why do we just brand the adulterer? Is it possible that he or she was being denied the gifts of the harmony and bliss that wedded or committed partners sign up for? Humans are essentially wired for connection, not deception, so what is it that makes people cheat on their partners? Can adultery also have respectable motivations?
How infidelity begins
For couples to remain meaningfully betrothed or pledged to each other, they must continue to attune to each other’s evolving needs at all levels of the heart and soul. They need to develop a vision to comprehend and honour their partners’ emotional history and inner child wounds and also understand the person they are evolving into. This requires psychologically checking in with each other frequently and being sensitive to each other’s changing aspirations, understanding how they are coping with life’s challenges, knowing what brings them down and what uplifts their spirits, and simultaneously feeling safe enough to express their own truth responsibly. Partners must muster the courage to have difficult conversations, even if the truth hurts.
For example, if a partner feels emotionally neglected but chooses passive-aggressive ways to punish her partner instead of addressing the issue without blaming and shaming him, it’s natural that the relationship will suffer. Left unaddressed for extended periods, such equations can degenerate quickly into apathy, and the relationship can snap without any specific trigger or prompt. The sense of being neglected leads to ugly arguments, hurtful exchanges, finger-pointing, criticisms, and a developing dislike for each other, which results in cold wars that only widens the chasm between them. This creates the perfect condition for infidelity to germinate in. It never sprouts overnight but is akin to a long, painstaking downhill journey where both partners may walk together but neither recognises that the relationship is headed southwards, and they choose to let the bond die unceremoniously.
Loss of meaningful connection and neglect are the two key enemies of an enduring relationship. When couples stop communicating effectively, neglecting the physical, emotional, or psychological needs of each other, the relationship becomes a prison that one aches to escape. After all, the reason people couple together is to complement each other’s existence; to be more, not less; to feel expanded, not stifled or abused.
Relational partnerships have many unstated and often unspoken terms and conditions like ‘You shall not project your anger at me,’ ‘You will not objectify me,’ or ‘You will not dishonour my worth.’ When these needs are not upheld, the connection between the partners dies. They may still choose to coexist in their relational prisons for reasons that have nothing to do with loving and honouring, relating or connecting, supporting or encouraging each other. And yet, without ever delving into these real contemplations, we stigmatise and label the one who seeks love outside, calling them bad, irresponsible, or notorious.
A more useful discussion would focus on understanding why partners cheat. If we grasped this, we could protect our relationships by being more vigilant and take all necessary precautions to maintain relational health and well-being. Then, instead of pointing a finger at our partner for slipping off the conjugal path, we’d be more ready to ponder about how we missed the telltale signs of a fading connection. That’s how we can own greater responsibility for our intimate relationships.
In the next part of this two-part series, I shall share the ten spears and swords of adultery that compel men and women into becoming unfaithful.
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