The cheat sheet

Updated: 16 December, 2019 11:32 IST | Anindita Paul | Mumbai

Justin Timberlake apologised to wife Jessica Biel publicly for pictures with co-star Alisha Wainwright. He called it, a strong lapse in judgment. What constitutes infidelity in a modern relationship? And when should you pull the plug?

Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. Pic/Getty Images
Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. Pic/Getty Images

A lot may have changed in the way modern couples experience and express love; but when it comes to a cheating spouse or partner, most will draw the line. And so, when reports of pop singer Justin Timberlake getting a little too close for comfort with his new co-star Alisha Wainwright made headlines, many fans wondered if this was a sign of Timberlake's seven-year-old marriage with actor Jessica Biel coming to an end. "It's easy to assume that infidelity will automatically lead to the demise of a romantic partnership; however, several factors such as greater social equality between men and women, the rise of relationship and sex experts, and diminishing stigma about going to a therapist have led to couples seeking solutions that go beyond the 'stay together or break up' formula that once followed betrayal," says Dr Nahid Dave, a psychiatrist at Insight Clinic, Vashi. However, that isn't to say that couples are finding it easier to move on after being cheated on; the road to recovery is still long and painful and requires a lot of commitment and hard work.

When love fails
Whether or not it is realistic to try to build bridges with your partner after an affair depends on a few factors, says Dr Dave.

The cheat sheet

1 Your core relationship: Before moving forward, take a minute to analyse whether your core relationship is built on the right foundation. Is there mutual respect? Is there passion, companionship and reciprocity? Are both you and your partner on the same page in terms of exclusivity?

2 Why it happened
If the affair has spanned a few days, weeks or years, the concerned partner will have encountered different cues that led him/her to realise that s(he) was doing something wrong. "Ask yourself what made you go on with the affair? Was there a physical need? Was it because you pitied yourself for being stuck in an unhappy relationship? Were you attracted to the other person?" says Dr Dave.

Dr Nahid Dave
Dr Nahid Dave

Should you decide to continue working on the relationship, she warns that you be cognisant of the following challenges:
1 Rumination: Memories of specific events, dates or instances when you were lied to will keep resurfacing, bringing with them feelings of guilt and pain.
2 Paranoia: Until trust has been rebuilt, you will find it difficult to trust your partner. You may struggle with trying to come to terms with what could happen if your partner cheats again, or is currently continuing the affair.
3 Cues: Certain movies, restaurants or other external elements in your daily lives may remind you of what happened to you, in your personal life. The past will keep influencing the present, for a while.

"Honestly ask yourself whether or not you have the mental capacity to deal with these challenges.

Dr Payal Sharma Kamath
Dr Payal Sharma Kamath

Also, be aware that every person has different needs and expectations from relationships, which are governed by their own personalities and, to an extent, their gender — these could range from companionship and emotional support to physical intimacy or financial support. If the core relationship fails to address these needs, it is unlikely that it will be able to bear the brunt of infidelity. Also understand that if your partner's personality is promiscuous, easily influenced or hypersexual, the chances of further infidelity are much higher," she advises.

When to say no
Many couples continue to hold on to a relationship that has long run its course to preserve a lifestyle that they have built together, for fear of societal backlash or for the sake of their children. None of these are valid reasons to hold on to a cheating partner. Further, if you have problems with your core relationship that are impossible to work through, the affair could be a timely wakeup call that this romantic partnership will not work, says Dr Payal Sharma-Kamath, psychiatrist at Rekindle Mind Clinic. She adds that a partner who shifts or projects blame and does take accountability for his/her actions will be much harder to reconcile with.

Rohini Sarkar
Rohini Sarkar

It's important to ask yourself why you want to stay with a cheating partner. "If your core relationship is strong, your partner genuinely expresses remorse or guilt and both of you are willing to take the help of a therapist, the chances of your relationship surviving the infidelity are stronger," says Dr Dave. She adds that it is important to accept the path you choose and stick to it. "The trouble begins when the partner goes back and forth on his/her decision, begins asking questions that they have no answers to or tries to seek a perfect solution. If you choose to continue the relationship, don't backtrack. Instead, work on making changes to your equation so that you do not get hurt again," she says.

Infidelity in the modern age

With changes in societal norms, the definitions of what constitutes cheating have also changed, says Dr Dave. She outlines the following types of infidelity:

. Situational, or infidelity that arises whenever the individual is faced with a particular circumstance, such as an outstation trip or when (s)he is in the company of certain friends.
. Individual, or infidelity that occurs whenever the individual is in contact with a particular person.
. Infidelity as a personality trait.

A vicious cycle of lies, betrayal and deceit

My ex and I met while we were still in college. Our relationship lasted for seven years. He began cheating on me barely a month into it. Although I was initially sceptical about his commitment, he would keep winning me back. We would keep breaking up and getting back together, until I realised that he had begun to take me for granted. He assumed that I would not leave him. He would also never take accountability for his cheating — it was up to me to figure out that he had cheated. On his part, he would come up with inane excuses that ranged from blaming his profession (he was an artist and he thought it natural to have multiple 'muses') to blaming me for being jealous and suspicious. Four years into our relationship, I visited him in a different city, only to find that he was already living with someone else. Every time I wanted to leave, I would think about the time and emotions invested in the relationship. I finally decided that I could no longer sacrifice my self-respect. I could no longer recognise the person I had become – I was constantly jealous, suspicious and second-guessing myself. I decided I had to walk out.
Rohini Sarkar, 28, PR professional

Together, but only barely

Manisha and Alok Sharma (names changed) were the power couple in their mid thirties. They were high-school sweethearts with a rock-solid relationship. Both had successful careers [he an investment banker and she an HR professional] and they had a baby girl. Things changed when Alok moved to Denmark, for work. Manisha found that physical distance made it harder for her to open up emotionally and began to confide in a colleague. They chatted, texted and went out together. Although Manisha claimed that they had never had sex, Alok was not convinced. He investigated, going so far as to hire a private detective. While the couple was still coming to terms with the infidelity, Manisha got pregnant and opted for an abortion. The couple decided to hold on to their marriage for their daughter and the chemistry they once shared. Now, Alok finds it difficult to trust Manisha, while she is depressed about the absence of her emotional confidante.

As told to Dr Nahid Dave

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First Published: 16 December, 2019 08:01 IST

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