While every person is entitled to pursue happiness, what do you do when it stems from outside your relationship? More common than it seems, you often tend to gravitate towards someone who promises to satiate your deepest emotional desires. Akanksha Narang throws light on the new plague (emotional infidelity) that’s mortalising relationships today.
A decade ago, the definition of cheating was single-dimensional, and largely meant having physical encounters outside your committed relationship. Today, the boundaries that define fidelity have blurred and we, millennials are more confused than ever. Is online chatting with someone attractive classified as misconduct in a relationship? Are virtual partners as sinful as the offline ones? While some may argue that since there is no connection involved on a virtual platform, it isn’t exactly taking anything away from what you share with your partner. On the other hand, the rise of “Work husbands” is a murky territory, laced with lies and secrets. Infidelity can be described as indulging in acts that makes you invest yourself in a way you should be investing with your partner, with another person or activity. Dr Vihan Sanyal, Founder of Mind Factory, and a Psychotherapist explains, “Some couples are okay with their partners being physically involved with others outside of marriage (as long as it’s devoid of emotional attachment), some women have given a hall pass to their husbands to do everything else with the exception of penetration, while some men are okay with their wives experimenting as long as they don’t tell their husbands. For
a majority of people, however, infidelity is kept a secret from each other.”
We tend to strongly assume that those who commit adultery are sex-raging monsters who want to have their cake and eat it too. They want a long-term partner to care for them and be with them while they enjoy sultry nights outside as per their whims and fancies. However, today, the way we perceive people and situations is not restricted to cemented notions. A survey of 5,000 people in the UK found striking parallels between men and women’s reasons for infidelity, and neither prioritised sex. The top five reasons for women related to lack of emotional intimacy (84 per cent), lack of communication between partners (75 per cent), tiredness (32 per cent), a bad history with sex or abuse (26 per cent), and a lack of interest in sex with the current partner (23 per cent).
Solene Paillet, Marketing Specialist, Gleeden.com (a dating app for married people), explains why people start looking out, “A failed marriage comes with unavoidable consequences. For instance, children find it hard to deal with the separation of their parents. Some even go into severe depression after their parents go through a divorce. Thus, many couples tend to stay in unhappy marriages for the sake of their children.” She further adds, “Women caged in an unhappy marriage may find a sense of freedom when they enter an extra-marital affair. An affair outside marriage offers them a clean slate; a chance to start afresh. An affair also provides women with the emotional support that is absent in their marriage.”
More often than not, emotional dependency outside a relationship begins as an innocent exchange of support between two individuals. Neha, 34, describes how unintentionally she committed emotional adultery, “We had a love marriage and it is nothing but blissful. We were high school sweethearts and married at 25. However, as the years passed, we grew apart. He started spending all his time at work and with his friends and I felt very lonely. There came a point when even the dinner table conversations vanished into thin air. He never took responsibility for our home and children, or looked at me with affection. I started confiding in a friend from work, and we became very close. I didn’t realise when I fell for him.”
Dr PD Lakdawala, Psychiatrist, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai, asserts that emotional infidelity is difficult to gauge, “In these cases, it starts off as an emotional binding and goes on increasing. However, it is tough to know when the Laxman Rekha is crossed. The problem is that people will never come to know of the signs.”
So how do we know that you’ve breached the boundaries of commitment? “If it affects the quality of your primary (marital/love) relationship, then it is crossing boundaries. For example, your thoughts move to another person, activity or thing, when you are with your significant other, if you feel the need to lie or hide about your engagement with him/her/it, then it would seem that one is crossing the line,” clarifies Ms Bhakti Thakkar Bauva, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi—Fortis Network Hospital.
According to several researches conducted across the globe, men are more affected by sexual infidelity than emotional straying. Women on the other hand have reported to feel loss of confidence when someone else catches their husband’s emotional or mental interest. Nonetheless, the impact of an emotional affair can be much higher in magnitude. For starters, a sexual encounter may or may not break a relationship. However, when a partner falls in love outside a relationship, things seriously start deteriorating in the relationship. While sexual cheaters tend to shower their partner with double the attention out of guilt, those involved in emotional affairs tend to start resenting their spouse.
Ms Bhakti Thakkar Bauva reinstates the impact of emotional straying, “Sexual unfaithfulness is pretty clear cut, and someone steps outside the bounds of a relationship and engages in some form of sexual contact with another person. Although the suggestions and consequences are similar, emotional infidelity as a construct is a bit murkier, as it does not simply apply to sexual or romantic interpersonal relationships. Emotional infidelity can also apply to platonic, same or transgender relationships, as well as with activities like sports, work, ex’s, siblings, hobbies and even kids. So sexual infidelity can be a short-term, transient, or accidental phenomenon, but emotional cheating takes time, and effort, so it tends to have a deeper impact on the quality of the relationship as a whole.”
It was only after Neha’s husband found out about her involvement that reality struck her. He was devastated not just about the affair but also about her resentment towards him. They mutually decided to work on the relationship and went to a counsellor to fix the real, underlying issues. Sometimes, an emotional affair can serve as a harsh jolt of reality about everything that’s wrong in the marriage.
Dr Sanyal suggests doing a lot of introspection, “It will help them to ask themselves some of the following questions: what led them to form a new relationship? Do they really love the new person? Are they willing to sacrifice their marriage for the new relationship? Do they truly love their spouse or have they fallen out of love for them? Is it an emotional attachment or a physical attraction?”
At the end, your options are open. Whether you want to remain in your marriage or end it, the choice is yours to make. “I have seen couples who have realized that they have been completely incompatible with each other or that their relationship is beyond repair and that it would be best to dissolve the matrimonial relationship,” adds Dr Sanyal.
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