Salony Priya is a counselling psychologist with 18 years of experience in training and counselling across educational institutions, social organisations, NGOs and corporates. She is the Director of UMMEED, a multispeciality positive psychology institution. We talked to her about the rise of infidelity in modern Indian marriages.
How common is infidelity in present-day marriages and what are the reasons?
Around 20% of the couples come to me with adultery related issues. Earlier, men committed adultery with some degree of acceptance. Today women are in adulterous relationships too and don’t feel guilty about it. They feel they have been taken for granted over the years, not been appreciated and have no identity. Most of these women don’t have jobs, but they come from very affluent backgrounds. “I have travelled enough and I have enough Kanjeevarams and diamonds, but life is not just about these. I am very depressed and frustrated, I don’t want to continue this any further, I want to end it. I want to walk out of this marriage.”
Today when they sit back and remember, they wonder what they have been doing all these years. And the husband’s perspective is, “I have always been like this; I don’t know what her problem now is.” The man doesn’t notice that the situation has changed. Children have finished studies and have now gone away, the sister-in-law/brother-in-law have their own families, and the mother-in-law – with whom she had a sense of comfort – has died.
Am I just a piece of furniture?
Now when this lady sits back at home, she realises, “This man doesn’t talk to me, I am just like a piece of furniture for him,” and all the past pent up things come to the front. I ask the husband, “What gift did you last buy for her?” and he says, “She has all the household money, she can buy whatever she wants. What will I buy?”
Such a population is huge. By social parameters, these are happily married, content people. Today I am glad to see that the husband comes to me and says, “If you guide me and tell me what makes her happy, I am ready to do that.”
Most men have seen their role conventionally as being a provider, and that whatever a woman needs is mostly materialistic. Their own understanding of a woman’s emotional needs is very limited.
It’s generally a sense of value and respect that women are seeking in their marriages. Most married women feel that they end up being taken for granted after a few years of marriage. Married couples feel most happy when they feel important in the relationship.
A lot of younger educated working women, already satisfied with their careers, want husbands to respect their individual views, take their opinions in all matters including financial. The general stereotype of a woman who doesn’t understand finance is changing and being challenged.
Related reading: Can an affair affect your marriage positively?
Why do people engage in adultery?
The reasons will always be emotional and social. But the Internet, social networking, easy access and cheap international calling rates are very critical factors that have made adultery very possible. Twenty years ago you could have fantasised about your college mate, but what was the possibility of your access to him?
For most of the adultery happening today, the medium is the Internet.
And most spouses catch their partners in adultery through mobile phones or the Internet. People are becoming tech-savvy and many have a separate email ID that they use for their extramarital affairs. And sooner or later the spouse finds it.
Have you had cases where the man or woman has had an affair and broken it off and the couple is getting back together? Do you think a marriage of 15-17 years should break up because of sexual non-exclusivity?
In our communities, sexual exclusivity is still a very big part of marriage and marriage is all about commitment.
The partnership of sexual intimacy is a core part of Indian marriage.
There certainly are factors like social compatibility, social status and social responsibilities, but beyond that, the complete possession of the person as a sexual partner is a very integral part of our marriages. By instinct, a man is not monogamous, but the institution of marriage has made him so. The social institution of marriage is based on the expectation that one’s emotional and social wisdom will be much higher than sexual urges.
It’s always been sex, love and marriage
We are trying to connect sex, love and marriage. In the 1960s, it was marriage, love and then sex. In the ‘70s it became a marriage, sex and then love. In the ‘80s it became love, marriage, sex. In the ‘90s it became sex, marriage and then love. Now it is sex, love – not necessary, it fades away, and marriage, who needs it?
People feel, “I don’t need a child, I don’t need the baggage. I am happy with my career and my body needs sex, so just like I can go and have a pizza, I can go and have sex.” And there are a lot of such relationships; it’s just that these people have not come out and shared their stories.