Love and betrayal are two emotions that have been extensively written about. The emotions they arouse have been described by many in literature, history and religion. The emotions and the consequences of affairs have fascinated all. Irrespective of our relationship with our family, it is our nurturing ground and holds a special place in our hearts. When the existence of the family is at stake it threatens our sense of belonging. It disrupts the structure of the family. An affair makes us more vulnerable to abandonment which makes us feel threatened. Movies have always portrayed affairs in two different lights. Movies that have infidelity as its main theme are either comedies or murder mysteries. An inherent double standard exists with respect to infidelity. In cases where the man has been unfaithful, the wife is blamed for his straying. This is a common belief among both men and women. When the woman has an affair she is blamed for that too. Infidelity is viewed differently in different cultures.
The Irish refer to infidelity as the ‘Irish divorce’. Until 1997 divorce was not an option for them. In certain societies where marriages are arranged, the coming together is mainly based on economic and political factors rather than emotional and personal. Infidelities in such cases are a means to construct a tolerable space within one’s life. In certain societies in Africa it is an accepted norm for the man to have as many wives and children as far as he can afford but if the wife was found to be unfaithful she would have to pay with her life. In Japan it is common for rich men to have a concubine which is not very common now due to the mounting cost. Also affairs of high ranking officials are seen as normal (Brown p.2-4).
Infidelity is complicated. A point to be noted is that even the Ten Commandments warns us against adultery indicating that it was a problem even during Biblical times. High profile cases of infidelity are seen everywhere from politicians to corporate offices. Though this is a very common affair, the sad news is that infidelity is combined with betrayals. The underlying cause of affairs lies in the answers, solutions and explanations of psychological jargon and glib analyses. They serve no purpose to help those caught in this vicious web. In spite of our interest in the topic of infidelity which we see commonly in the newspaper or soap operas, there is a distinctly felt urge to distance ourselves from being exposed to the same.
Common people like to believe that fidelity is not something that can happen to anyone. Instead they are more interested in the details of the affair than in finding the actual cause for infidelity. The society does not look into the deleterious effects of infidelity especially to the ones most vulnerable – the children. These issues of adultery are not discussed frequently in common discussions. It is always clouded in secrecy as in social problems like alcoholism and spousal abuse. The problem lies in the fact that there is a lot of drama associated with infidelity.
Love, attraction, passion and commitment are complex emotions that human beings are unable to comprehend completely in spite of the fact that psychology and science of human behaviour is an age old science. Our views on the subject are coloured by social norms and taboos and our inability to clearly understand the aspects of infidelity is one of the reasons why we are prompted to label it as a taboo rather than examine the root cause.
A betrayed spouse, a person betraying a spouse, a person who has initiated the affair or people who are trying to bring change in their relationship or those who want nothing to change in their life shares the common emotion of conflicted desires and buried pain. Infidelity is a vent on all these problems. It gives the much needed answers for those caught in affairs.
The life cycle of an affair is less complicated than the relationship. It has three parts namely a birth, a life and death. An affair irrespective of how long it lasts has an end which is usually because of mutual break up or a fight. An affair may be defined as a romantic liaison between two people who according to societal norms should not be having one. An affair is a breach of trust worsened by betrayal. Marriage on the other hand stands for trust and safety. It is a feeling of togetherness in which one is comforted by the knowledge of knowing everything about the other person. It is a strong tie between two people, a commitment two people make publicly and privately to each other and a promise to stay together in all circumstances. In an ideal marriage couples are bound together emotionally, physically and intimately. The fact that there is no other person in this relationship makes it safe and secure but when involved in an affair this security is breached. The reality of affairs is marked by the initial romanticism and the element of secrecy. This makes it seductive and appealing (Gough p.3-4).
Studies conducted on infidelity using the investment model, to determine reasons of physical and emotional infidelity in dating relationships showed that the commitment level was the major determinant to the continuity of recognised relationships like marriage (Drigotas, Safstrom & Gentilia p.509-524).
Infidelity is a major reason for divorce and bickering. A study conducted by Buss and Shackelford about the possible causes of infidelity shows that personality trait such as low conscientiousness, high narcissism and high psychotism and relationship contexts such as dissatisfaction, jealousy and partner complaints were the major predictors (Buss & Shackelford p.193-221).
Across cultures extra-marital sex is the chief reason for divorce. Suspected or actual sexual infidelity is the leading cause for spousal battering and homicide. Partners who have been cheated feel distress, pain, anger, depression and shame. Men who have been cheated on are an object of social ridicule. The anguish experienced by women who have been cheated on is no less. Married men seem to have affairs outside their marriage range from 30-60% whereas the estimates are 20-50% for women. The probability that at least one of the spouses will be unfaithful during the course of marriage is about 40-70%. However infidelity within the course of one year of marriage is only 5%. An interpretation of these estimates suggests that half the married couples will experience infidelity over the course of their marriage. Studies on the various factors that lead to infidelity suggest that gender is the most established predictor. Men are seen to have more affairs than women. Further, a study on men and women who have affairs reveal that men have affairs with greater number of partners than women. Men are seen to have affairs for sexual gratification with no emotional involvement. Women who have had affairs are more likely to be divorced than men. This may be attributed to the forgiving nature of women. Men are seen to experience less guilt and are more likely than women to justify extra-marital sex. The prevalence of extra-marital sex shows no co-relation with economic status. The educational status of women showed a curvilinear relation to infidelity. This is not true in men who have extramarital affair. However, the same held true for the factor of religiosity with the least and most religious women being more unfaithful than the moderately religious woman.
Some psychologists also attribute certain personality traits as predictors. The most prone being people with poor psychological health, low frustration tolerance, narcissism and masculine insecurity (for men). However no tests have been conducted to prove this. The quality of marital relationship is a major factor that makes the spouse prone to infidelity. It was seen that men who were dissatisfied in the early stages of their marriage and women who were dissatisfied in the later stages were more prone to infidelity. The quality of marital sex was a major cause of infidelity in women as opposed to men but studies show that sexual dissatisfaction in men is associated with sexual infidelity in them. Another factor that made the spouse prone to infidelity was relative mate value which has been defined operationally in the study as the net desirability of the spouse in the mating market. The spouse with the higher mating value was more likely to be unfaithful. Another potential factor that came to light was sexual withholding from the part of the spouses. Thus it can be summarized that sexual satisfaction, satisfaction with the spouse as a source of emotional support and the degree of love and affection were all key determinants to infidelity. These points are important because of the known relationship between a woman’s emotional dissatisfaction and a man’s sexual dissatisfaction to infidelity (Buss & Shackelford (full) p.193-221).
Marriage is an age old institution and breaching it is a taboo in every culture. Infidelity is not a problem that is solely faced by American or Western cultures, it is a worldwide phenomenon. Sexual jealousy can have serious outcomes when evoked in men. It is the most common reason for wife battering and killing. Infidelity is a serious issue. From an evolutionary point of view it symbolizes the channelising of reproductive resources in another direction. From an investment model point of view infidelity suggests lack of commitment. Infidelity secures importance in any theory of romantic relationships. Sexual infidelity arises when a spouse enters into a sexual relation with a person other than the long term partner whereas emotional infidelity is when one channels romantic love, time and attention to someone other than the partner. Men are likely to have affairs without emotional involvement whereas women are engaged in affairs with emotional involvement. Men exhibit greater psychological and physiological distress when they think of their spouses’ sexual infidelity in contrast to women who felt so for emotional infidelity. Studies have indicated that men think of new affairs more than women when sexual infidelity was the primary cause of jealousy. Women however felt a decrease in the time and attention given by the partner as a source of their jealousy (Cues to infidelity). Studies conducted by Shackelford et al again prove this reason that lead to infidelity. When an act of infidelity takes place in a relationship and a couple has to deal with it they are left with the option to either break up or forgive each other. When couples were asked to rate this through forced choice ratings the hypothesis proved that men were less likely than women to forgive (Shackelford, Buss, & Bennett. p.299 – 307). American cohabiting and married couples seek to exercise sexual exclusivity between them. However certain attributes like sexual opportunities, personal values and nature of marital relationship lead to extramarital sex. Further the incidence of extra marital sex is high depending on demographic factors, higher sexual interests, low subjective satisfaction, weak relationship with spouse and permissive sexual values (Treas & Giesen p.48 – 60).
The internet is a medium that is influencing and altering social communication and interpersonal relationship. The impact of internet on our lives is immeasurable. Work, school and social activities revolve around computers. Earlier online chatting and shopping would have sounded like a myth. What is more amazing is how we quickly take to these technologies and seldom realize the drastic changes it has brought about in the lives of people. Sexuality is another area which has found a new outlet through this ambiguous electronic medium. The internet like the bible has stories of romance and destructiveness of misguided sexuality. People remain the same over the centuries. Yearnings, temptations, appetite and lust have not changed much or reduced with the passage of time. Sexual choices which humans face have always been one of decadence or transcendence. The modern times has the internet which is the Triple A engine of Access, Anonymity and Affordability and this acts as fuel to the fire of sexual interactions. Flirtations and seduction soon take the form of frank sexual discussions and proposals. This drastic change brought about by each fosters intense reactions. Most people categorize online sexual behaviours as all bad or all good. The internet as a medium of communication cannot be categorized as entirely good or bad with respect to sexuality. It is dependant on how the ones who host the web site advertise themselves and how these are perceived and used by the people; this determines the good or bad factor. The internet is a tempting medium for misuse for those who face problems in controlling their sexual thoughts and behaviour. The internet is also increasingly being used to find romantic partners. The internet is a medium that allows for sexual exploration and experimentation. It is a medium that seems safer (Cooper p.1,2, 5 & 6). Online infidelity is another upcoming topic of research that has caught the attention of researchers. Affairs appear to be a highly individualized matter which involve individual desires, experiences and decisions and seems to be less associated with the society or social processes. Another problem associated with infidelity is paternal uncertainty. Females are certain of their maternity 100% but males can never be certain of their paternity. Studies estimate that one in ten children is the outcome of female infidelity. This lopsided parental certainty has resulted in an asymmetry in human potential investment. A female has to invest more in terms of time in contrast to males. Males do not invest a proportionate amount of resources in the parenting process and even what us provided is not proportionate to their certainty of paternity. The risk of cuckoldry seems to have evolved this tactic. Newfound data suggests that males have developed at least three types of tactics to help reduce the likelihood of being cuckolded. The first tactic reported is an attempt to decrease the opportunities for his mate to have extra pair copulations that could result in pregnancy. Males have developed psychological adaptations that cause mate guarding and jealousy. Further studies suggest that female extra pair mating in relationships leading to extra pair paternity is actually an outcome of the female’s search for ‘good genes’ (Platek, & Shackelford p.3-17).
Men engaged in infidelity are in general older and sexually dissatisfied when compared to women who are unfaithful to their husbands. The lack of sexual fulfilment is not the leading cause for infidelity anymore. Studies further suggest that two-third of the women who are unfaithful are not happy with their marriage before the affair. In a longitudinal study of married couples it was seen that instability in a relationship was a major cause for infidelity and bad relationships increased the likelihood of infidelity. Sexual infidelity occurs when the sexual need of one of the partners is not satisfied and also when it’s easier for the partners to engage in infidelity. It needs to be noted that monogamy is not a natural instinct and it’s reliant on ones sexual urges. On closer examination it can be noted that sex and intimacy are two harmonizing acts and emotions but are not synonymous. It is generally thought that in relationships where the couple are intimate there are sexual relations and vice versa but does not hold good in all the case. This basic difference between sexual activity and emotional intimacy helps understand how it balances and sometimes destroys a relationship. It can be concluded that striking a balance between the two is the basis of a healthy relationship. Sex refers to a physical act that in general moves towards or completes with an orgasm. Intimacy is not a pre-requisite for sex. Intimacy is something that shows the extent of emotional connection. In intimate relations people share their inner most thoughts and feelings and act in each others interest. It involves the expression of love, warmth and togetherness. Sex on the other hand is not dependant on emotional connection. The relation between the two lies in the fact that when sex and intimacy take place together it is a more enriching and fulfilling experience. In intimate relationships the act of sex is a means of conveying the passion and love the partners feel for one another. It is to be noted however that people do form intimate relationships which does not involve sex and vice versa.
Several factors drive people to adopt monogamy, one of which is sexual satisfaction. An essential component of a happy relationship is a sex life which is gratifying in quality, consistency and frequency. Also monogamy fosters a deeper sense of intimacy as the partners are faithful to one another. Intimacy and sexual desire are found to be positively co-related. In relationships with intimacy, partners mutually agree not to share themselves with anyone. Higher levels of intimacy are associated with a healthy level of sexual desire. Sexual fidelity among a couple conveys trust and sexual exclusivity conveys uniqueness in a couple. In most cultures sexual exclusivity is considered the norm in marriages. It is universally accepted that on a biological level it is common to have sexual desires but by adopting monogamy one agrees to overcome these feelings to sustain the relationship. This fact can be attributed to the problems in monogamous marriages. The ability to sustain sexual interest is difficult in monogamous relationships and this in turn compromises on emotional intimacy. In some couples they are able to control their sexual urges and concentrate on the intimacy and companionship. This is however seen in couples where both follow traditional male and female stereotypes and follow restricted socio-sexual attitudes. It is also seen in many religious communities where sex is solely seen as a means of procreation. In monogamous relations if sexual urges are neglected then it becomes the chief cause of problems. It takes its toll on intimacy and companionship too. This explains the high divorce rates in Western cultures. When either the sexual or intimate energies die out the couple start looking out for other options which prompts them to have extra-marital affairs. In the case of males, extra-marital affairs serve to fill the gap of what is missing in their primary relationship. Women are also seen to pursue this option more than before, the reason being replacement of intimacy and validation. When sexual needs are not met they tend to turn to ‘substitute satisfactions’ which may range from watching pornography to actively being involved with someone else.
Another reason that may be seen is the change in life priorities brings that about new challenges in the couple. Usually couples start off as young adults who have more free time and less financial obligations. This then slowly progresses into the next stage which is accompanied by greater financial obligations. Career prospects are also a concern. As the priorities in life increase the validation and support that needs to be provided decreases. In addition the task of child rearing can pose threats to the intimacy of the couple. As the relationship progresses the priorities eat up all the time and energy, leaving the nurturing of the relationship at stake. A couple needs to take time out and spend quality time with one another to prevent problems. They need to engage in activities they once enjoyed doing as a couple. This time spent together will help rekindle the intimacy and sexual desires. Couples may choose not to do this out of the guilt experiences in leaving the child unattended or with a baby sitter. However these parents need to realize that they are indeed doing their children a favour by setting a good example of what choices and behaviours one needs to adopt to maintain a committed relationship. The children will indirectly benefit from these choices by having more content parents and learn the importance of maintaining the zest in a relationship. In marriages that have problems the trauma associated with closure can be draining for the psychologist and the couple as well. The revelation of the affair to the spouse can be devastating. The confidence instilled in them by the therapist ushers in hope or otherwise the person would be depressed. The most difficult aspect to deal with during the therapy is the spouse’s obsession for the affair. The affair alone is not the betrayal between the couple, the fact that they created an atmosphere which lead to it is a factor also serves as a problem. The therapist helps the couple to see these problems in the marriage and deal with them. The process of rebuilding is time consuming irrespective of whether it is focussed on the individual or the marriage. They need to cherish old marital patterns they enjoyed doing once. Finding these patterns helps in understanding the current situation and in finding a suitable solution. Then the couple will learn to be honest with one another and decide on whether they should continue with the marriage. Usually the rebuilding takes longer for sexual addicts and split selves than for conflict or intimacy avoiders. This is so because in the former the behaviour pattern is more long standing. Forgiveness marks the final phase in an affair. It means forgiveness by both spouses whose marriage ends for good and also for those who decide to stay and work on their marriage (Brown p.1,3,4 & 52).
Thus it can be concluded that infidelity which is one of the most written about phenomenon in our society indeed has great sociological implications. Marriages need constant attention. Generally marriages are taken for granted after a while. Marriages that are taken for granted have a higher risk of one of the partners ending up in an affair. Marriages tend to bring in complacency within the couple in the case of monogamy and the spouses are less threatened unlike when they are dating. Infidelity as the literature collected suggests is avoidable in certain cases and evolves due to sexual and emotional dissatisfaction in a marriage.
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