Extramarital Affairs Are Simply Not A Black And White Issue!

“Do you think having an extramarital affair is right or wrong ?”, “Wrong!” exclaimed most of the people I asked this question without taking even a second to think about it.

“Do you think having an extramarital affair is right or wrong?”

“Wrong!” exclaimed most of the people I asked this question without taking even a second to think about it.

Having an extramarital affair is an act that is substantially viewed in absolute black-and-white terms by people, who predominantly regard it as immoral in general and completely sinful when it is particularly from the side of the woman.

However, it is imperative for us, as rational human beings, to understand that everything in the world cannot be categorized into black-and-white boxes, and few situations, experiences, and phenomena can be located and should be viewed in the so-called ‘grey area’.

Why does a person choose to engage in an extramarital affair?

Before we delve deeper into the question and psyche of people who engage in infidelity, it’s important to think about what exactly a content marriage is.

I believe a marriage or a relationship can be happy, if there is respect between both partners, a sense of understanding about your own needs and communicating the same to your spouse, the absence of a superiority complex, and the presence of love.

However, the elements that constitute a happy or content marriage for me don’t need to be the same for everyone. For some, maybe inculcating the concept of pyaar dosti hai (love is friendship) in their relationship keeps them happy. Some might follow an even deeper concept of love for a merry marriage.

Hence, the idea of a happy marriage is subjected to subjective interpretations, none of which can be classified as right or wrong.

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Now, If we take a pause, and contemplate why people engage themselves in an extramarital affair, we can come across an array of authentic reasons. The most apparent one is, being trapped in an unhappy marriage and the inability and the unwillingness of the partners to seek divorce because of the various societal labels that are associated with it as well as the stigmas attached to the same in society; another reason is experiencing the feeling of loneliness for a prolonged period.

With the inability of your partner to make you feel seen, heard, and loved, it’s only natural as a human in such a situation to get attracted to anyone who is fulfilling even a slight proportion of happiness you expected from your spouse.

Nilanjana Bhowmick in her book Lies Our Mothers Told Us, talks about a French extramarital dating app that was launched in India in 2017, ‘ Gleeden’. In 2019, when the app released a survey on why men and women cheat, the report recorded that, “seven out of ten women cheated on their husbands because they didn’t share the household chores or caregiving duties.”

One of the women she interviewed also said, “It made me feel good at that moment. Later I felt horrible. But it was worth it at that moment. I felt seen.”

Throughout her life and since her birth, a woman is kept on a pedestal by society and is expected to strictly abide by the responsibilities, code of conduct, and expectations that come with the role assigned to them; if she fails to meet the expected ‘guidelines’ of the society, apart from inviting a variety of societal labels, contemptuous looks, and taunts, she delves herself into a life of guilt and regret.

What is the root cause? Is it to have some ‘fun’?

Infidelity was a phenomenon that was widely pervasive and prevalent in every second home during the generation of post-boomers.

If we try to look behind the surface value of the widespread engagement in infidelity in that generation, we can conclude one of the reasons is the idealistic and utopian framework of marriages and the limited freedom one has in a monogamous relationship; that is when marriages were looked at only as a responsibility, and love, compassion, and respect were placed completely out of the picture.

However, it’s not vital that people might engage in infidelity only when they are trapped in an unhappy marriage or their needs are unmet. Sometimes, although not very often, people who are in a happy relationship, also have an extramarital affair. It might be because they have commitment issues, or they just wanted some extra ‘fun’ in life.

Most of the time, it’s the men who engage in infidelity for the latter reason, and this reminds me of the infamous dialogue “bol nahi pa rahe the tumse ki bore ho gaye hai zindagi mai!”(I was not able to confess to you, that my life has turned to be monotonous) from the movie Pati, Patni Aur Woh (2019) when Kartik Aryan justified why he was involved in an affair.

“Never before have our expectations of marriage taken on such epic proportions. We still want everything the traditional family was meant to provide—security, respectability, property, and children—but now we also want our partner to love us, to desire us, to be interested in us. We should be best friends and trusted confidants, and passionate lovers to boot.” wrote Esther Parel in the article ‘why happy people cheat  

‘It seems to be worth it?’

In an article titled, ‘Why extramarital affairs could be right’ by The Times of India, a counselling psychologist, Dr Rashi Ahuja explains, “Every relationship has a honeymoon period. This period is all about feeling alive, feeling loved, and wanted. And after this period ends, it starts to get boring. The same holds for extramarital affairs.”

However, in light of the above statement, I feel it’s imperative on our part to also think about those women who were forced to get married before a certain age. Those women were not ‘granted’ the autonomy or freedom to choose their partner. And those women who granted her agreement to the institution of marriage because of societal pressure.

Did these women ever even experience that ‘honeymoon phase’ in their marriage or from the partner who is expected to cater to basic emotional and physical needs?

And when someone else starts making you feel important, respected, and valued and makes you experience those feelings which you wanted to but never thought you could experience in a relationship, you desire to be with that person, even if it is ephemeral; because being with a person who offered happiness and fulfilment, something which was devoid in the legitimate relationship, seems to be worth it.

Is it a healthy solution?

However, rather than brainstorming whether extramarital affairs are right or wrong, it is more significant to reflect on whether it is a healthy solution or a choice to escape an unhappy relationship.

Douglas Labier, a Business Psychologist and Psychotherapist, in her article titled ‘Why affairs can be psychologically healthy’ through an elaboration of a few examples explained why affairs might prove to be healthy for some people.

For instance, that article states that people who are suffering from a dead relationship or an unhappy marriage, marked by frequent arguments and conflicts, harm the psychological, emotional, and physical health of an individual.

Some people accept this fact and suppress their emotions and feelings which might make them depressed. Hence in such a case, an affair might prove to be a healthy activity for an individual, which reflects the person’s desire to grow and feel seen.

The article says, “An affair can provide feelings of affirmation and restore vitality, and can activate courage to leave the marriage when doing so is the healthiest path. The affair can generate greater emotional honesty and mature behaviour.”

However, when a person decides to engage in an extramarital affair, it’s usually with a person who is also married. Even if an affair is an act of impetus to end an unhappy marriage for a few it might lead to a plantation of major trust issues in their budding relationship, which over time can accumulate into feelings of helplessness and regret.

Both men and women could be in abusive marriages, but most of the cases that are reported suggest that men are the perpetrators of abuse (physical, emotional, and mental). It would be idealistic as well as inhuman to expect a woman in an abusive marriage which utterly lacks respect, a space to be vulnerable, the ability to cater to the basic needs of the partner and love, to adjust and be ‘happy’.

She is bound to look outside of the unhealthy relationship for someone for affection, love, respect, and might as well sex.

Infidelity attacks the vulnerabilities of an existing relationship!

Infidelity attacks the vulnerabilities that exist in a particular relationship. An affair leads to a complete shattering of trust and the romantic idea of love and an emotional and mental upheaval. It can be devastating, traumatic, depressing, completely shocking, and numbing.

However, all such experiences, feelings, and pain were ignored, as it was mostly experienced by women at a time (to some extent in contemporary times as well) when affairs were seen as acceptable and ‘cool’ for men.

However, affairs act as a smokescreen and show us the reality of marriage- what we expect, what we feel, and what we think we ‘should feel’.

The onus is not on us to decide what should be moral and immoral, right or wrong for two people in a marriage; it’s not for us to decide what will keep them happy in a relationship. The decision about what will keep them happy and sane according to their situation and needs is only in the hands of the two people who are involved.

Bollywood representation of extra-marital affairs

Many Bollywood movies explore the depth and complexities of the act of infidelity while simultaneously many other films show the conclusion, that it’s alright for men to engage in an affair and it’s necessary for the wife to forgive him or that, it’s sinful for the wife to engage in adultery.

Aakansha Bhatia, a counselling psychologist and a PhD researcher in an article stated, “The adulterous relationships are depicted as a luxury for the male characters whereas forgiving such a partner seems like an obligation for the female protagonists! Surprisingly, his stature of ‘being a man’ remains untarnished and in fact, the climax of most of these films revolve around his transformation into a ‘loyal husband’ thus giving an impression of a happy ending (“Silsila”, “Ek Hi Bhool”, “Swarag Narak”, “Zeher”, “The Train”, “Raaz”).

And if we talk about a movie where the female protagonist was engaged in an affair, she is portrayed to be experiencing negative emotions like fear, regret, and guilt; for instance Shilpa Shetty’s character in the movie Life in a Metro.

However, some films deserve applause for a more liberal and open-minded portrayal of infidelity. For instance, Shefali Shah’s story Unkahi in the 2021 film Ajeeb Daastaans beautifully portrayed how unfulfilled expectations and unmet needs in a marriage can push a person to fill those spaces; and how when those needs are fulfilled by your partner again, you again start to feel attached to them.

To conclude, the act of extramarital affairs is based on subjective interpretations, and honestly, before researching and thinking more deeply about the topic for this article, I too viewed this act in black and white boxes; however, with these new insights, now when I hear a piece of news about someone’s affair, or come across it in a movie or a series, the reasons and psyche are a little more clear than what is visible on the surface value.

What’s the edge in being rational individuals if we have to categorize everything in black-and-white boxes?

Image source: RyanKin99, free and edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Ishita Varma

Hello! My name is Ishita Varma and I am in the final year of Political Science honors. I am always up for any feminist discussion and do not believe in only talking about gender equality read more...

17 Posts | 12,409 Views

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