Psychotherapist and counsellor Neeru Kanwar dissects some of the cases she has dealt with to share some powerful insights. Despite friction and infiedelity and breakdown in communication, most Indian couples do want thier marriages to work. Read an excerpt from her interview with Team Bonobology.
Clients usually who come to you for an extramarital affair, do they actually want their marriage to work?
Surprisingly this concept of marriage still triumphs. Infidelity is on the rise, but couples still do not want a divorce. It feels like such a loss or that they can’t face it. Children also do not want to go through that pain. But as far as possible, most of the couples want their marriage to be restored.
Would you say love is impermanent whereas marriage is more permanent? And love is always over-hyped? What do you see love as?
I feel that love is just a state of being. One just feels that one is in love- it’s like a thrill, a novelty, a suspense, an erotic or sexual feeling – but it varies from person to person. For some love means security. For some love means passion and romance and poetry. And for some love means finding somebody whom they have been searching throughout their lives. For some love means physical intimacy while for some it means an emotional companion or a confidant. Love is different things for different people.
What role does love play in a marriage?
I think it is important to have those feelings when you get into a marriage because they provide you motivation to gravitate towards that person. And if you are feeling intensely for a person and you feel that you are in love, then there is a strong need to form a relation. But soon after a couple starts living together (not just in marriages but also in live-in) that’s when the ideas of commitment and negotiation really take over. Especially in a marriage – when you have the in-laws telling this and that and you have additional responsibilities. So always keep the door of communication and negotiation open – rather than walking away, thinking it is not working. One must keep hope and commitment alive.
If one person has given up or walked away or has locked up his or her mind and is more interested in something else – may have found someone else or may have taken the spiritual path – so they want to walk away and there is no coming back. In those situations, for me the guiding fact is to see what will help in keeping the person’s well being.
There was this case, in which both people had known each other for quite many years before they got married, but soon after marriage there were so many stress points including very active rejections from the family. This gets aggravated because you can’t completely severe ties with your parents. Then some other communication problem started. And then one partner is not likely to change at all. And there is hardly any sex happening. In such cases I am quite okay with the fact that they should move away. But for some reason they are not moving away. In fact they have decided not to have a child. And both of them have had extramarital flings. But I think it is partly related to the old association that they have been together for so long.
Most of the couples come to me after one of the partner’s extramarital affairs has been exposed. Most of the times it is discovered through email or phone. At times even a partner comes to me when he or she has not been caught. They are stressed to have a dual life, hiding, carrying on with two people, etc. they say – ‘I’m in conflict, help me out.” And when they have conflict, they begin having panic attack, sleeplessness, lack of concentration at work, etc. very often I find myself making this point that – right now you feel you are in love, but give it another two years and you will go through similar stresses what you have gone through earlier – expectations, insecurity, etc. whatever you have gone through with your partner, you will go through all that again with the new lover.
Do you think we need to redraw our understanding about marriages? Do you think we should make space for infidelities in a marriage?
It is realistic to assume that it might happen, but when one feels that one is in love, that is a very primal state of innocence that you are looking for- that state when one is trying to create that that purest state of being – when we are like one soul two bodies that kind of experience, then you really don’t bring this to your mind. You don’t really think of it realistically.
I think education per se will not help. Books, movies and stories can reinforce this concept as generally the society starts changing, then at least I know that there will be pain definitely when you felt that your partner was exclusively there for you, is interested in someone else. There will certainly be the pain of great disappointment and all that. But at least there will not be that kind of rage as an entitlement.