Sunday, November 30, 2008

Infidelity

It's been on my mind a lot these last few months. Not least because I myself contemplated it, even if only in thought. Some close friends went through hell thinking that their husbands were in other relationships. Close relatives have been affected.

So, as you can imagine, I've been thinking a lot about it. I used to be the kind of girl who had major trust issues; if I felt betrayed then I wanted nothing to do with the people concerned any more. If, six months ago, you had asked me what I would do if Vicky cheated on me (even if only in thought) I probably wouldn't have even paused for thought before exclaiming that I'd consider the marriage over.

Now though I'm starting to see the finer shades of gray. It's not just about whether your partner cheated on you or didn't. How do you define cheated? Slept with someone else? Had intimate conversations with them? How do you define intimate? Did they only just think of somebody in a way you'd rather they wouldn't? Where are you, yes, you, drawing the line between what you have the right to object to and what you don't? Does your spouse agree to that demarcation? It's all very difficult to pin down, isn't it?

It seems a poor life to me if you can't lust after the odd non-spouse now and then. Especially when I consider how little these men mean to me before and after. Perhaps for a period of time -- and always when the going is rocky at home -- I may consider closer relationships with a man I know but he never displaces Vicky. It's part of the bigger way of life as I live it. I fly away, roam free, and come home to him, and I married him precisely so I could do this. The flying makes no sense without a home to come to and a home makes no sense without a Vicky waiting for me. I'm not trying to justify a fling here, you understand, because I haven't had one. But I can understand the misery and loneliness that would have you looking elsewhere for companionship. And I also know quite well just what I would be giving up if I were to cross the line. Thus far even though it's been tempting now and then, it's never been quite tempting enough. (Also, quite frankly, if you consider that I'm mostly in this frame of mind when I'm angry with the husband, saddling myself with yet another male isn't high on my list of priorities.)

But I also hold that if blame is to be apportioned, it falls equally upon both the parties who indulged themselves. It's not for either to say that the other led them on or tempted them or something that stupid. Two people went ahead, knowing all the while that they were in the wrong. So I blame both. A person may follow you but you can always say no, I think. Since school I've seen male friends try to justify letting girls dangle after them by saying that they (the guys) were helpless. I've never bought that. If I can ensure that an unwanted follower gets the message why can't they? So yeah, it's your fault too if you can't say no.

But then what? Life doesn't stop there and neither does the average marriage. How do you move on? I'm learning that it's not all about betrayed trust and packing of suitcases and contacting lawyers. It's about facing your own lack of commitment to your marriage that would have your partner looking elsewhere, or your own lack of belief in your relationship that would have your partner thinking that she has nothing much to lose. And it's about all those concerns you shared till now and how well you two really do know each other even when you think you don't. It's about going beyond the surface hurt and shame to reaching out to your partner in the time they need you the most. In lesser cases it's about trying to work out why you no longer feel secure in your marriage.

Six months ago I'd have deleted that last paragraph in disgust, but now I hope I know better. I have always prided myself on being able to tell my husband everything. When I told him about my mixed up thoughts, it was extremely difficult to get the words out but it helped that he heard me out, that he knew me well enough to understand that it was less about another man than it was about him and me moving away from each other. And since then I've seen other husbands and wives reach out to one another. It's said that you need to lose something or think that you've lost it, to truly value it. Well, in all these marriages, nobody lost each other but some came close. And I cannot help but appreciate the grace with which the 'wronged' spouse in every case behaved. From Vicky holding me while I 'fessed, to a wife understanding that a handful of indiscreet SMSes are not the end of the marriage while another wife tried to make up for the attention she hadn't given her husband and thus felt cut adrift from his inner thoughts, to a husband looking beyond his own humiliation to understand why a dearly beloved wife would start walking away -- all of these are real lessons. They teach me that it's not all about instant decisions and snap judgments. It's also about the 'cheating' spouse getting beyond the guilt and resentment and meeting their partner halfway.

Understand, I'm not talking of actual episodes of infidelity; I'm only talking of relationships which have had close calls of late. I have no patience with doormats, you see. But none of the men or women in any of these relationships are anything but strong-minded, highly individualistic people. Most of these marriages are of long duration and worth the effort. It's just that it's nice to see them make the effort. It would have been so easy to walk away. One doesn't need a divorce to shut oneself off, after all. But these people, both husbands and wives, have taken stock, reworked their schedules, adjusted their priorities and carried on. Knowing that rocky times lie ahead, they nevertheless have the experience, the maturity and the self-confidence to recognise that there is more to be got from working on their relationships than in giving in to dented egos.

7 comments:

Monika,Ansh said...

I appreciate your maturity & the maturity with which these couples handled their relationships.
It's seeing the "finer shades of gray" that keeps a marriage going.

D said...

I've debated this with myself often enough - is infidelity only physical or is it emotional too? And what is worse - the former or the latter? It's not easy to arrive at a conclusion, but either of them must hurt.

However, I do not think the need for companionship is always the reason for infidelity. I've seen very committed spouses having to face the dilemma of how to deal with a partner who has cheated on them. For some people, it's only about enjoying the variety available to them - like relationships are some sort of exotic cuisine! And though marriages still go on, I think such people would be better off outside of wedlock.

Mama - Mia said...

Sue, this one is a toughie!

yes, a marriage deserves to be given a second chance. and more than that it needs to be worked on everyday to avoid getting to the brink and trying to make things ok.

you remember there used too be a corny message in our autograph or slambooks? Friendship is like a vase. once broken can be mend, but the cracks remain!

wont it be sorta true for these marriages which fall into the infidelity trap? and like D says, not everyone strays for companionship and it seems unfair that the partner should be blamed for lack excitment in the relationship.

marriage is a game that has to be played by two. and if both have tried their best to make marriage work, and even then there is infidelity, its best to move out and on. nahi?!

like you said, as long as the other partner is not a doormat and both are equally interested in making it work and not look elsewhere,yes, its so TOTALLY worth it and important! :)

great post as always! and you are permanently dubbed as sensible sue! :D

cheers!

abha

Thinking Cramps said...

Hi Sue, I read this a few days ago but couldn't be sure what to say so I went away, but it haunted me and I came back, if for nothing else than to commend you for writing again and again with such honesty and courage.

I really don't know how it might work with me, but I do know that I am terribly possessive and I don't think the knowledge of A preferring someone else over me - physically, or intellectually, would do our relationship any good. And so I think my definition of infidelity would be the narrowest (or is it broadest) kind there is. I think I could make compromises on the spouses's parents, on his family, on my family, on any strains there might be, but if there is a compromise to be made at the deepest level, in the relationship between Anando and me, I think it would damage our marriage going forward and the scars would show up at all weak moments.

Shuktara said...

Hey Sunne... You'll probably raise your eyebrows when I say this, but there was something very idealistic about your post. In my experience, infidelity is very rarely a result of the scenarios you have described. More often than not, it's just about looking for sexual difference or sexual novelty. The partner who is attracted to someone else and/or acts on his/her attraction will insist that it is just a physical thing and s/he remains emotionally attached to his/her partner. And that does complicate the infidelity debate, doesn't it? I often suspect that, these days, very few marriages are based on sexual fidelity. Because the sex is considered a very separate thing and is in no way connected to the longevity of a marriage.

Sue said...

Monika -- Ma says it's called growing up. :)

D -- Yes, I can easily think of such people. Mind you, I know one couple who only got married because their families demanded it. They have been with each other for well over a decade and are happy keeping it open! They still have other relationships, but everybody knows it's each other that they are basically with. Not my idea of doing things but different strokes, I suppose. They are happy enough this way.

Abha -- I used to say that but that's really idealistic. I mean, if Rahul were to give me grief could I cut him out of my life or make him any less my son? Could I do this to my parents or my brother? And my husband means more to me than all these people, including perhaps my son. So I guess if one got down to brass tacks, one would find oneself making adjustments one had never expected.

A cracked vase may not look half so pretty but it has more shared memories than a perfectly maintained and distantly admired one.

Ana -- You see, this is what impressed me the most: that despite the knowledge that this potent hurt would come back at to haunt them at their weakest moments, these spouses all moved on forward. Of course you don't forget. Perhaps you don't even forgive or completely understand. But do you want to walk away when you know that your husband regrets it as bitterly as he possibly could? See, I haven't faced it myself except in an extremely diluted version but what I saw second-hand showed me that it is at times like this that commitment is truly shown. By both spouses, obviously.

Shuki -- I wrote of actual cases, not in the abstract. So yes, the motivations were as I described them. Mostly a desire for adventure and companionship. Now, I did not write about people in a continuing adulterous relationship. I wrote about husbands and wives who walked off and came back (and in one case at least perhaps nothing at all had happened.) In such a situation I used to think what had happened couldn't be gotten over, but I find it can and I'm impressed with the way their partners handled it.

As for the sexual fidelity, well, yes, I think I can say that all the marriages I have written about here are heavily based on sexual fidelity. Actually, none of the relationships I wrote about were sexual. No doubt that is why they were a little easier to forgive.

Mama - Mia said...

sue - you might wanna watch Dil Kabaddi! a very light hearted look at this serious issue, but worth a watch!

sometimes there is an OD of sex related funy lines, but its so much about your post!!

cheers!

abha