Cheating partners and bad marriages
Cheating partners and bad marriages don't have to end in bad separations
Article first published in www.dailyo.in (click here)
With a surfeit of politics engulfing our consciousness, we tend to give other softer slices of life a miss.
As an occasional visitor to DailyO’s Culture and Variety section, the number of articles on open relationships intrigues me. Another interesting element, I found was, most of these pieces were by women. That set me wondering if this is primarily a female concern that does not bother men as much.
Perhaps, men are shy to talk on such subjects afraid of being misunderstood. More likely, men simply lack the sensitivity to discuss relationship issues publicly.
Read in isolation these articles create an impression of us being a society obsessed with extramarital relationships. Without any empirical data at my disposal it appears, from what one hears and reads, extramarital relationships and cheating are on the wane abroad – where serial monogamy seems to be the trend. Whereas In India, with changing life and career patterns, it is probably catching up. “Open relationships” may be coming out of the closet but are still far from “open” as yet.
Accepting that marriage is not always about 'living happily ever after' and that sometimes children can be 'happily separated' can go a long way towards reducing social trauma.
It may be argued that human beings are the same all over. Then there is modern social anthropology that draws upon the Darwinian theory to assert polyamour is embedded in our genes. One reason why playing truant in marriage is becoming less common in developed countries are the stricter rules on relationships at the workplace and working spouses who do not suffer infidelity lightly.
In contrast, in India, historically, women were put at an economical disadvantage from the start. Early marriage and truncated education prevented them from taking up jobs or a vocation, but even now educated women are not always able to pursue careers due to demands of homemaking. So it is not easy for women to walk out of marriages.
But, the bigger issue is societal expectations that keep even educated and economically affluent couples trapped in marriage even though they may have drifted miles apart emotionally.
The clichéd reaction is to blame our system of arranged marriages for marital incompatibility. But, it is as common today for couples who have married by self-selection as it were (or had "love-marriage" in popular parlance) to hit a dead end.
Though sex may be the most frequently-cited reason of straying, let us keep it out of the conversation, as that will inevitably lead us on another path. The real issue arises when the persons grow out of each other. And, the reason for that is not always either partner losing physical sexual interest in the other.
Very often when someone remarries, friends and relatives, ask, “Oh what did she/he find or see in him/her?” The implication being the new partner appears physically less attractive. But, seldom do they recognise it is the chemistry or spark that has gone missing between two otherwise apparently “made for each other” pair.
Some years back, an international business magazine had carried a cover story titled “The CEOs Trophy Wife”. Interestingly, their research found, while many global CEOs were re-marrying in their 50s or 60s, their choice of a new partner was not a nubile nymphet, but usually a woman of substance who was a career- or businesswoman in her own right. It is more a meeting of minds rather than libido set on fire. Think of Jack and Suzy Welch.
It is my belief that when two people marry, they do it for the long term and not as a short-term contract. However, generally, their focus is far too immediate. Talk of soulmates is fine but young couples rarely look into the life and partner they would like to have some years down the line.
A friend jokes, you should choose your partner only after getting to know the prospective mother-in-law well, because that is what your wife is going to turn out to be after 30 years.
As for women, they would do well to remember the words of the late poet and actor Harindranath Chattopadhyay, who famously said about men, "First it is 100 per cent love; then 50 love and 50 lust; finally it is only lust." Just for the record, he was in his nineties then.
The sensible (some may say, luckier) ones evolve over the years, as the relationship matures it also acquires greater depth. But, in a large number of cases, the emotional development of two individuals happens at a different pace, interests and priorities often grow in divergent directions. Without realising they move to different spaces, nay planets.
Sometimes these are mere temporary or transitional gaps or voids that can once again coalesce over time. That is when so called "affairs" happen. Increasingly, there are instances of “workplace couples”, where opposite gender friendship develops between colleagues who share stuff that they do not get a chance to exchange with spouses, when both have demanding careers or are in distance marriages. There may be sex involved but it is incidental, the real bond is emotional empathy and matching wavelength.
But, what happens when without realising they reach a point of no return? Is it better to call it quits and amicably move on? No separation is easy. It can be messy as well. Some amount of pain is inevitable not just for the couple but also the other stakeholders in the marriage, primarily the children and immediate families. But, overall, in the medium to longer term it may be the healthier and happier option for all.
First, we tend underestimate the ability of the children to cope. Split or single parents are no longer uncommon. Kids see it all around them at school or extended family circles and find their own way to accept the reality. With thoughtful handling, the parents can make it easier for them. This is what parents in western societies do well. In India, marriage counsellors or relationship coaches can help separating couples keep the bitterness level to the minimum.
Secondly, the immediate family has a major role to play. They should accept the reality and not push the children to remain in a sub-optimal or abusive relationship to keep up appearances in society. Parents can, in a well-meaning way, be unwittingly the cause for a lot of sorrow and unhappiness simply by thrusting their expectations on the children.
Accepting that marriage is not always about “living happily ever after” and that sometimes children can be “happily separated” can go a long way towards reducing social trauma.
Developing a non-judgmental attitude towards relationships can go a long way in clearing the muck we see around in the guise of “open marriages”, clandestine affairs and permissive promiscuity.