MARITAL MAYHEM

Why spouses cheat on each other

Some do it out of habit, others in revenge, others due to opportunity

In Summary

• 25 per cent of married men and 20 per cent of married women will have an affair

• It would help if people could foresee if their romantic partners will cheat on them

Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED

Cheating in romantic relationships. The media is filled with so many stories of cheating spouses that marital infidelity seems acceptable in modern life.

It is estimated that as much as 25 per cent of married men and 20 per cent of married women will engage in an extramarital affair over the course of their relationships. Stories of cheating spouses are a popular staple for entertainment on radio, television and films. It all seems harmless until something terribly disastrous happens.

Among the latest tragedies is that of Jane Macharia, 31, a woman in Kitengela found dead in her house alongside her two-year-old daughter. Initial reports indicate the woman may have taken her life and that of her daughter because of suspicions her husband had strayed outside the marriage.

Infidelity is among the top three causes of divorce across the world. This year has seen an increase in cases of domestic violence in Kenya, with several cases ending with the death of one or both spouses. Among the reasons often cited in those cases is suspicion of marital infidelity. However, abusive people may accuse their partners of infidelity to justify violence.

The good news is that millions of couples handle their conflicts less dramatically away from the public limelight. They may forgive each other, go silent on each other or agree to part ways amicably. Others may tolerate unfaithfulness if financially dependent on the guilty person.

Relationship infidelity is one of the most painful things people may experience. Persons whose spouses cheated on them describe a deep feeling of betrayal.

“Infidelity makes you feel that you are not good enough. Your self-esteem plummets from reasonably high, or just okay, to close to zero. Your beloved found someone who was better and more attractive than you in his or her eyes,” writes US-based author Prof Berit Brogaard in Psychology Today magazine.

It would help if there were a way for people to foresee whether their romantic partners will cheat on them. Marital infidelity is a product of many factors, including culture, the individual’s personality and the chance of getting away with it. People also change in relationships; a person who did not cheat early in the relationship may start doing it decades later.

KEY FACTORS

Habit: “I have children with two other women apart from my wife,” says Alfred Ngure, 39, a casual worker. He has two children with his legally recognised wife. Ngure says he likes meeting beautiful women and that he can't help falling in love. He rationalises his behaviour, saying he takes care of all his children. For Ngure, cheating is a habit he has settled into.

There is documented proof that people who cheated in the past are likely to repeat it. A 2017 study titled, ‘Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater? Serial Infidelity Across Subsequent Relationships,’ reveals that prior infidelity is an important risk factor for infidelity in the next relationships. Respondents who said they cheated in their first relationship were three times more likely to cheat again in their next relationship compared to those who did not cheat in their first relationship.

Opportunity: Related to the habit of cheating is the availability of opportunity. James Chalo, 48, is a corporate driver. His job takes him to various parts of the country, often spending as much as two weeks away from his family, which is based in Nairobi. The job comes with generous travel allowances, money he uses for romantic escapades whenever he is in the field. Chalo has been at it so long that he has regular girlfriends in some of the towns he visits frequently. The long periods he spends away from home allow him to engage in extra-marital affairs and not get caught.

Dissatisfaction: This happens when one or both partners are unhappy with the relationship but are unable to talk about the unhappiness. Common causes of dissatisfaction in relationships include a mismatch in life ambitions, financial challenges, differences in libido, failed promises, spousal neglect, conflict with in-laws and domestic abuse. A spouse may get into an extra-marital affair as revenge for suspected infidelity by the other partner. There are circumstances where a disgruntled lover starts an extra-marital affair, hoping the spouse discovers the affair and ends their relationship.

Search for adventure: Every new relationship is exciting. Sometimes, people cheat on their partners because they are looking for the thrill of a new relationship. The attention one gets from a new interest can motivate the straying partner to seek further extra-marital affairs just for the thrill of it.

Peer pressure: “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future,” goes a famous quote. Adults may think they can resist peer pressure but it is a fact that we get influenced by the people close to us. A person who hangs out with friends who engage in extra-marital affairs is likely to conform to the group’s way of life. Then there are cultural influences; some communities encourage both men and women to stray outside marriage as proof of virility. In some communities, wives were quietly encouraged to have at least one child with someone other than the husband just in case there was a problem with the husband's lineage.

FIGHTING TEMPTATION

It is surprisingly easy to fall into the temptation of cheating on your spouse. It can happen in very unexpected circumstances. The secret to avoiding such temptations is to be self-aware.

1. Understand yourself: Be honest about the things that make you vulnerable to temptation. For some people, it's getting drunk. For others, it's a night out partying. Identifying the situations that create opportunities for infidelity helps you avoid getting into those situations.

2. Improved communication in the relationship: People often engage in affairs because of some unresolved grievance in the relationship. Getting honest with your partner can help narrow the gap between expectation and reality. Financial problems in the relationship, such as losing a job, should be discussed openly.

3. Avoid spending time alone with the opposite sex: “Secret emotional intimacy is the first warning sign of impending betrayal. Yet most people don’t recognise it as such until they’ve become physically intimate,” wrote family counsellor Shirley Glass in her book Not "Just Friends": Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity.

If you are spending too much time with someone of the opposite sex instead of your partner, you are at risk of falling into infidelity. Avoid going on dates with other people in your partner’s absence or inviting such persons to your home. Spending lots of time on phone calls or online chats with someone could easily cross the line into emotional intimacy; the first step towards a physical affair.

4. Invest in your relationship: Spend more time with your partner. Agree on activities you can do together. Investing in the relationship also means reminding yourself why you two fell in love in the first place. Learn how you can better show your partner appreciation. Develop joint goals, such as saving together for a house or planning a holiday.

5. Avoid flirting: Whenever you flirt with someone who is not your romantic partner, you give the impression that you are available. The person might respond and the two of you could find yourselves in an extra-marital affair. The best way to stop something from happening is by not starting it.

LETTING GO

If the cheating partner is unwilling to change his or her ways, it is in the couple’s best interests to end the relationship. A cheating spouse cannot be beaten into submission. It is much better to part ways peacefully instead of using violence to keep someone no longer interested in the relationship.