Top 5 FAQs on infidelity

Psychiatrist and author of3's a crowd, Vijay Nagaswami answers the top five FAQs on infidelity

At a time when marriages fall apart as frequently as they come together, infidelity ranks high on the list of most commonly identified culprits for divorce. More often that not it blindsides a couple, destroying families and leaving in its wake, a hurt, rejected partner and a guilty, ashamed transgressor. Chennai-based psychiatrist and author of the book 3's a crowd, Vijay Nagaswami helps identify why, and gives tips on how a relationship can overcome this devastating blow.

1. Is it possible to be in love with more than one person at the same time?

It most certainly is. But the key question is, is it possible to have more than one relationship at a time? Romantic love is a heady combination of attraction and brain chemistry. When you're attracted to someone very strongly and the feeling is mutual, it is certainly possible to fall in love with that person, even while being in a committed relationship with another. You plunge headlong into an affair and start getting into a web of deception, preventing your spouse from knowing of your 'other' relationship. So you start juggling relationships until romantic loves fades away.

Here's the rub: there's always someone else, maybe even many people, who you'll find physically and/or emotionally attractive during the course of your married life. You can hardly expect to have relationships with each of them.

2. Is it still an affair if it's just emotional, not physical?
The absence of sex doesn't mean an affair isn't taking place. Any relationship, which is emotionally intense enough to detract from the marriage and is conducted in secrecy, is also an extra-marital affair. Affairs are usually classified as predominantly emotional or sexual or both (emotional and sexual). But can fantasy also be considered an affair? This might be a bit much. What one can expect one's partner to do, is to not act on the attraction and get involved with the person in question. But to expect them not to feel attraction itself is way too high a standard, and one impossible to sustain. The fear is that today's attraction could result in a line being crossed tomorrow. We need to have more faith in our partners as well as in our own selves.

3. Are only troubled marriages under threat? How does one prevent a dangerous transgression?

The most surprising find in infidelity research is that affairs happen even in 'good' marriages. However, it also needs to be said that all 'good' marriages don't end up dealing with infidelity. It's not always that people go out and seek affairs; sometimes affairs just walk through the door unannounced. And when they do, they can be stunning and wholly unexpected even to the transgressing partner. All marriages, even good ones, have their little chinks, and given a certain set of circumstances, human vulnerability can always take over. The only way to affair-proof a marriage is to accept and understand that this risk or vulnerability always exists. The minute you are strongly attracted to someone, step back and cool things down. If you fool yourself into thinking that you can handle your attraction and not cross the line, an affair's waiting to happen.

4. Can broken trust be rebuilt or do the scars haunt the relationship forever?

Trust, while being a non-negotiable commodity, is certainly recoverable, provided that 1) both partners agree that a breach of trust has occurred, 2) that both partners agree that it occurred during a period of vulnerability, 3) that the transgressor feels remorse, 4) that both partners are equally committed to the rebuilding process and 5) that it will never be repeated.

5. What can an affected couple do to overcome feelings of anger, rejection, jealousy and guilt?

As the transgressor, the first thing that needs to be done, is to let go of the affair. This is not negotiable. Equally important is to take full responsibility for the affair and not blame the spouse for it. Whatever the marital issues, there are better ways of dealing with them than having an affair. Give your spouse the space to mourn and ventilate will always help. You can also try and engage in neutral and calming activities with your spouse and not try to overcompensate by over-promising things that can't be delivered. Without a doubt, the discovery of an affair is one of the most difficult things to deal with and it's not uncommon to see aggrieved partners behaving irrationally. However, in the interest of recovery avoid:

-Rushing to a divorce lawyer - it's too early to take this call.

-Wanting to know all the lurid details of the affair - this causes more pain to both partners.

-Talking to all and sundry about the affair in an effort to drum up support and punish the transgressing partner. Avoid this for the resulting humiliation can come in the way of the rebuilding process.

-Some angry aggrieved partners tend to confront or take revenge on the paramour. This too never helps.

-What must be avoided at all costs is to use the affair to control the partner.

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