“Wow, so many books…how many have you read, buddy?” I asked John (name changed), the friend I was visiting in Abu Dhabi. Before he could answer, his wife, Vidya (name changed), shouted from the kitchen, “Are you kidding me? John doesn’t read at all.” Her voice grew louder and clearer, as she walked into the living room and laid the table for dinner. “He just watches those stupid matches, their repeats and even Bigg Boss. This is my collection,” she announced proudly.
“Sticky!” My thought bubble read. Couples sometimes put you in an awkward situation. You first become an unwilling spectator to their laundering of dirty linen and are then expected to take sides and play the judge.
It’s not only couples who do that. Last year, on our vacation to Delhi, the minute my mother saw my sister, she started off with a barrage of complaints against me. Suddenly her dutiful son became irresponsible and inconsiderate. Her blunt complaints, although disguised in a joke or a harmless remark, hurt me in different ways. One, that she had such serious issues. Second, that she didn’t feel comfortable enough to confront me directly. The poor woman had to wait for an entire year to seek support from her daughter.
Related reading: A symphony in love
This helped me understand where Vidya was coming from a little better. She would often insult John in public and come across as mean and cruel. But it was just her way of getting back at her husband who had let her down all these years. I have known this working couple for more than a decade but it’s Vidya who runs the house, with no help from John in daily household chores. His conventional upbringing prevents ‘the man of the house’ from lending a helping hand. This makes Vidya frustrated, and hence her public outbursts.
We often speak about infidelity in terms of sexual betrayal. Contempt, neglect and domestic violence are some of the other forms of betrayal. And it becomes imperative to understand these forms, because research suggests that a lot of couples stray in marriage not only because of sexual desires, but unfulfilled emotional needs too.
Infidelity is unfaithfulness. Isn’t being indifferent or disrespectful to your partner as unfaithful as cheating in marriage? But the ‘act’ of sleeping outside marriage is often considered as crossing the boundaries, maybe because of the excitement, the titillation it brings. Even when the victim finds out about the cheating spouse, they tend to query the dirty details first: “Did you use our room/Is ‘he/she’ better in bed/How many times have you slept with him/her?” rather than introspect and investigate what really caused the rift.
There can be a hundred reasons for infidelity. Recently I met a school friend who seemed to have had a personality transplant. The bespectacled nerd of a topper had transformed into this flamboyant businessman who flaunted his brands as proudly as his multiple affairs on his business trips. It’s easy to judge him, but years of expectations as a good son, a good student, a good husband, and a good father sometimes result in some form of rebellion. And as the relationship expert Esther Perel rightly points out in one of her TED talks, when such people stray in marriage, it’s not as much about their partners or the people they date as it is about finding a new person within. As my school friend swiped right on his phone, I smiled at how infidelity has newer playgrounds: dating apps, social media and those forever gasping couples on Naughty America. Forget sexting and webcams; wouldn’t watching porn be considered as betrayal too?
The pressure of putting all our hopes on one person looms large too. In the current nuclear family scenario, our spouse is our confidante, best friend, emotional support, sexual partner, cook, cleaner, electrician, driver, plumber…phew, it’s exhausting and the pressure could take a toll on marriage.
Relationships run on trust, respect and constant introspection as well. Easier said than done, but let’s chat with the ones who cheat and understand their side of the story too.
I remember when we came back from Delhi, I asked my mother if I really caused her trouble, if there were things she wished I could fix. I also asked her to discuss her problems with me rather than making them public. Hell, we would disagree, throw tantrums, act difficult, defend ourselves…but as long as we can talk and discuss, it would be ok.
In marriage (and otherwise,) if we see people not only as the roles they play in our lives, but also as beings with different desires, personalities, pasts, expectations and even libidos, we might understand them better, reduce the chances of straying, or at least deal with the consequences better.