Category Archives: Relationship Psychology

Opposites don’t attract unless we are talking about magnets

There are times I wonder about relationships, and the secret to finding and making them long lasting. I would have liked to crack that secret code. I study people behavior and from the confirmation bias to frequency illusion to the default syndrome, I have analyzed quite a bit to figure that one magic potion, if you will.

“It’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party.”
—Nick Hornby

And this is so true. Bingo. That’s it. The secret to long lasting relationships is being comfortable in our own skins with each other and loving one another’s company as if that all we ever wanted. Two people who have their thoughts synced up, desires matched, personalities tallied up, and hearts in tow, minds put together and souls intertwined will make the best couple ever. So, sorry, opposites don’t attract unless we are talking about magnets. Or let me put it in a more milder tone –  in human relationships opposites tend to attract and these tend to be our short term crushes. When it’s about love for life,  like-minded  partners work better.

I have seen people bicker, fight and fall out because of clashes and differences. Because they couldn’t agree on tomato sauce or potato fries. Because he wanted something and she totally hated it. Well, the common societal solution for this is compromise. Great one if the compromises were just about a tomato sauce or potato fries :). For matters more serious it sucks the joy out of life. Turns things mundane. Sets a routine. And rituals rob the fun out of everything.

But if there were two people who could agree on tomato sauce for one and the other can make art on the plate with it because it is something not of their favorite, we have got the alchemy of relationships in these two. Seriously, the best relationships revolve around finding someone who complements you. This is because unconsciously we look for someone who can improve us; so the person could be  different than us – “different” in a  good way – someone who complements us but not our polar opposite. Absurdly true!

I would like a partner with whom I can sync up in every manner possible. Funny pick-up lines to serious courtship – They need to believe and enjoy them equally. A universal appeal to facilitating a great love connection lies in how we can hold each other’s attention. Nothing like enjoying the same book series, TV shows, music genres, theatrical appearances, travel pursuits and the list goes on. Even in evolutionary and mating decisions perspective, there is always a look out to match (and not differentiate) on social, economic, physical attractiveness and emotional compatibility. The keyword being a “Match”. There is proven research that people are likely to prefer the same characteristics in their partner when considering sexual selection.

They are best friends first and everything else next. They can tell each other anything and everything and for any situation they go to each other first. They can never be bored because they are hanging out with someone who knows them well and understands them. People who cannot connect at the same wavelength almost fall out at some level or the other. They are genuinely attracted to one another. In each other’s eyes, they are the best anyone could ever be. They know exactly what they want in a relationship and they are courageous to wait and go after their hearts.

Some differences is common, acceptable. But a varying degree of differences is more harmful than being any attractive in a given relationship. A good sense of humor that both enjoy can be a highly attractive tactic in keeping the passion alive in a relationship. They are always laughing. Of course they have serious moments and life runs on those as well. But they can be so comfortable with one another that they learn to keep things lighthearted. They have their own set of funny jokes and one-liners. They continue to flaunt their funny and charming side all through out to keep the relationships alive. They respect and value each other and the traits that brought them together in the first place. They have a unique boundary of sorts on outside influence. They are sanctuary of togetherness in their own rights and standing surrounded by mutual admiration and respect.

There will necessarily be difference of opinion and they will each have their own sense of individuality. However, those will be very much shadowed by the illuminance of the things they both enjoy and the beautiful togetherness they share. Yes, that is the secret to long lasting relationships. Be with someone with whom you can enjoy the sunset in the same way as the other. The rest will fall in place on its own.

Life is but feeling at home with oneself and with the universe

Life is but feeling at home with oneself and with the universe. What better way to enjoy the feeling with someone who can relish life the same way as you do. Find the one who can walk with you, run with you and fly with you as you soar the skies of life.

Shameless Plug 🙂 :  At SoulCafe we recommend complimentary personality matches and that is someone who “gets you” – someone who will not make you feel an outsider in your own world and someone who could be slightly different from you but “different” in a good way!

 

 

 

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The Best Gift this V Day – “Your Presence”

 

V Day is around the corner – and there is no way we would miss it. Each retail outlet, each ad on Facebook, each e-commerce campaign thrust upon us will remind us of this every second, paint us with a little bit of guilt, pep us up with a little bit of anticipation, stress us out on getting it right. Or let’s assume for a moment that we hardly care for this retail driven gimmick. Fact is, V Day is one of the top three spending events in India – so the drama is definitely on.

But why are we doing it even more than ever before? Do we want to believe that we express our emotions a lot more now (which is for sure good), or are we compensating for our inability of being fully present in a relationship with a day of splurging?

Being fully present in a relationship – how hard is that? Is it too much of an ask for a generation that boasts about being busy, being multi-taskers and virtually connected all the time? We take pride in “being busy” so much so that being busy has become a confirmation of our worthiness. Relationships sometime gets lost in our long “to-do” list – even when it’s in the list, it’s multi-tasked with many other items on the list. It’s like our email box cluttered with ads and offers we signed up (or never signed up) for and an important email that’s lost in this clutter. Unless this email is marked as “important”, and the useless clutter marked as “spam” – it’s easy to miss that one email that you were supposed to read and respond on priority.

Busyness is the new age anesthesia.  (Anesthesia is defined as a temporary state consisting of unconsciousness, loss of memory, lack of pain, and muscle relaxation.) But let’s remind ourselves that anesthesia needs to be a temporary state.

Busyness shouldn’t numb us from our moments of love, self-realization and sense of everyday wonder. Our worth is not defined by our “busyness”, but our lives are defined by the quality of those moments that we truly “live” and cherish. Our relationships are less defined by the materialistic splurge, and more by the attention we give to the relationship.

We are a generation of “technologically connected” – it keeps us connected with a multitude of people like never before. But, is it always about mindful connections?  May be not – and that’s because even when technology celebrates connectedness, it encourages retreat, it makes it easier to avoid the emotional work of “being present”. So “emoticons” when you really need a hug, an LOL when you actually want to hear a burst of laughter. As a “digital migrant” I might be over exaggerating this phenomenon of being connected far less emotionally. May be digital migrants are still adjusting to the digital way of life. The “digital natives” would be way more comfortable living constantly digitally connected. They would be probably more “settled” in the digitally connected world, and would learn where to draw the lines.

Like the feeling of worthiness, an equally contributing factor to “created busyness” is the “fear of vulnerability”. We try to numb our vulnerabilities by being busy. When people say “I’m too busy for a relationship” – unconsciously are we trying to numb some of our vulnerabilities? As research professor Brene Brown beautifully puts it as part of her extensive research on vulnerability and what we need to understand is that  – “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” 

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions; we also numb the positive emotions. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. Our strength is in our acceptance of our vulnerability.

If you close your eyes and recall times that are very clear in your memory without the aid of photographs, videos, checking old Facebook posts – you would clearly recall each and every bit of the moments when you were fully present, the moments you were vulnerable and the moment of mindfulness.

This my friend, is the greatest treasure each one of us would ultimately have. So, in the midst of the clutter let the V Day remind us to – Pause, Feel, Savor and be Present!

The Shifting “Relationship Needs”

This article tries to explore how the “motivation” behind getting into a committed relationship has changed over the years. This change also brings in different set of expectations in a relationship. Associating Maslows need theory to the need for a relationship gives insights into changing patterns in society and changing needs in relationships.

Have you for once wondered – why couples deeply in love and committed for years grow out of it after a point of time? Was the relationship equation in older generation very different from ours? Do we demand too much and give too little in a relationship? What’s with the new generation – are we totally confused? How does one find the right partner – arranged vs. love? Did I say “right” – who knows what’s right ?

It’s interesting and insightful to associate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory to “relationship needs” – and one could also find probable answers to the above questions. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1943. This theory is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental/basic levels of needs at the bottom and the ultimate need for self-actualization at the top of the pyramid. The most basic level of needs must be met before the individual can have strong desire for higher level needs. The 5 levels of needs from basic to higher are – Physiological, Safety, Love, Esteem and Self Actualization.

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Now, let’s delve into the motivation for getting into a committed relationship. In an era where women were economically dependent and men didn’t do house hold chores, the motivation for marriage was at the basic level – for safety, security and settling down. (Many relationships still are at this level.) The expectations were to meet the basic needs. The expectations were low and hence the satisfaction was high. Couples were dependent at the basic levels. When women became economically independent and household chores became automated or outsourced – the motivation for marriage moved beyond fulfilling the basic safety, security and settling down needs.

The next level of need is love, affection and sense of belonging. Individuals at this level want “love/liking” to be a criteria for their committment. Expectations are obviously higher than  the earlier type and hence efforts have to be taken by partners to have the emotional connectedness in tact as they move along.

Let’s move a step further and that’s where this generation is headed, and that’s where growing relationships should also head – from love to fulfilling self actualization needs. The need is to find a partner who truly “partners” in his/her  journey of self actualization. A partnership that helps each partner become the best version of themselves.

This certainly is the highest level of need, and having such a relationship is highly rewarding. The  expectations from relationships  are higher than ever before.  Even though such partners seem to look very independent – as they are quite independent fulfilling their basic needs, but they still need to relate to each other at emotional, intellectual and spiritual level to fulfill each other’s self actualization needs.

With this co-relation, it becomes pretty clear why some couples who were deeply in love grew out of it over time. The couples were at the “love” need when they committed, and years later when one moves up to self actualization need, the other may not be ready or they just do not relate to each other’s higher needs.

One size doesn’t fit all – arranged marriage could work for some, love marriage for others.  What’s important is – the clarity on your need to get into a committed relationship. What “need level” are you trying to fulfill? – This helps you figure out what you need to look for.

If your need for a relationship is at the self actualization level – it is very important that beyond  emotional connectedness, you have insights into each other’s real self. It’s not just emotional  compatibility  but intellectual as well as spiritual (spiritual is not religious) compatibility that is important for “self actualization couples”.

What has “Attachment Styles” to do with Break Ups?

Till death do us part – we might not utter this loud every time, but that’s what we wish for when we are in love. Realities don’t however always seem to follow our wishes.  There are relationships where we part before death, and the castle of love & trust that was supposed to last forever tumbles down.  When the castle comes crushing and we hit rock bottom – the impact of heart breaks isn’t similar for everyone.

There are no cookie cutter solutions like some articles proclaim – “5 ways to deal with heart breaks”. And that’s because each relationship is unique and so are the individuals. While we see a Devdas effect at one end, we also see people who get into a rebound relationship rather quickly.  There are couples who could still be friends after a break up, and others who can’t. Though there are many aspects of a relationship that could make us react in a certain way, having an understanding about our “attachment styles” would give us better clarity on why we respond the way we respond.

Attachment theory

Attachment refers to the particular ways in which we relate to other people. Our style of attachment is formed at the very beginning of our lives, particularly during our first two years.  Once established, it is a style that stays with us as we turn adults and plays out how we relate in intimate relationships. Hence recognizing our attachment pattern can help us understand our strengths and vulnerabilities in a relationship.

Recognizing our attachment pattern can help us understand our strengths and vulnerabilities in a relationship.

Evolutionary theory of attachment ( John Bowlby, 1958), suggests that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, because this helps them to survive. Bowlby suggested that a child would initially form only one primary attachment, and that the attachment figure act as a secure base for exploring the world.  The attachment relationship acts as a prototype for all future social relationships.

Four different attachment classifications have been identified in children: secure attachment, anxious-ambivalent attachment, anxious-avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment.

Secure attachment –  A child is securely attached when they form an emotional attachment to an adult who is attuned to them, that is, who is sensitive and responsive in their interactions with them.

Avoidant Attachment – This occurs when the primary caregiver is  emotionally unavailable and, as a result, they are insensitive to and unaware of the needs of their children. These children quickly develop into “little adults” who take care of themselves.

Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment – Some adults are inconsistently attuned to their children. At times their responses are appropriate and nurturing but at other times they are intrusive and insensitive. Children with this kind of parenting are confused and insecure, not knowing what type of treatment to expect.

Disorganized Attachment-When a parent or caregiver is abusive to a child, the child experiences the physical and emotional cruelty and frightening behavior as being life-threatening.  The attachment figure is the source of the child’s distress. Children in this conflicted state have disorganized attachments with their fearsome parental figures.

Although Bowlby was primarily focused on understanding the nature of the infant-caregiver relationship, he believed that attachment characterized human experience from “the cradle to the grave”. Researchers have found that the avoidant infant attachment gives birth to the dismissive and fearful adult attachment, the anxious-ambivalent infant attachment becomes the preoccupied adult attachment. The secure infant attachment tends to remain secure.

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What has attachment style to do with break ups?

New research shows that people with secure attachment styles handle breakups much more efficiently than those with less secure attachment styles.  They are more likely to turn to close friends and family for support. They are more open to authentically grieving the loss, and are better able to empathize with their partner’s reasons for the break-up which allows them to respond in a less hostile manner.

Anxious ambivalent individuals deal with rejection and break-ups by jumping from one serious relationship to the next very quickly. They could likely engage in unwanted behaviors such as stalking and threatening. Those with an avoidant attachment style tend to turn less to friends and family after a break-up. They may avoid the former partner, sometimes going so far as to change jobs, consistent with the inclination to suppress distressing thoughts, or in this case any reminders of their former relationship. 

So the next probable question is – are these styles set in stone? The answer is “No”.  If you come to know your attachment style, you can uncover ways you are defending yourself from getting close and being emotionally connected, and work toward forming an “earned secure attachment.”

When we react in a certain way – it has probably  to do a lot more on what’s going on within us than what the other person has done to us.

The take away from understanding the attachment styles and it’s impact is to become open to the idea that people react differently when their relationship fails. When we react in a certain way – it has probably  to do a lot more on what’s going on within us than what the other person has done to us.  There is also a critical take away for parents or “would be” parents and that is about the significance of  having a child feel securely attached in the early years which goes a long way in how the child builds secure relationship as an adult and also handle relationship failures much more positively.

Understanding the psychological theory is one thing and going through a phase of grief is another. As Joan Didion says – Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. It’s humane to grieve over the tumbling castle that we once built and was meant to last. It’s important to give ourselves the permission to be sad and accepting that it’s going to be hard for a while and that’s perfectly okay. It’s okay to take our own time to find our PEACE.  Leaving you with Adele’s classic! Amen!

Breakupology: The 7 Stages

Undressed my heart

Baring the labyrinth of pain,

Of memories that wash-up

To the shores of my conscious mind

A dagger with a poison tip

Dripping venom of prisoned time,

Making me wander in my own soul

Lost in my thoughts

On a treasure hunt

To find a reason that makes sense,

To wrap myself back again

In the faith of new tidings

That soul love exists,

And doesn’t concede to eclipses

It will outshine the best of me

And it will be mine, someday soon!

Well, this is not typically a topic most people are comfortable talking about. Betrayal and abandonment. Well, the truth is there are more stories of heartbreak in this world and more lost wanderers than there are happy couples. I wish to someday start a social network just for heartbroken souls – just to hear their stories and be their sounding boards. Breakups are hard. Extremely devastating for many. Break-ups are most often synonymous to ice-cream-hogging, pajama-lounging, tear-jerking, lone-living, pity –sulking affair!  It hurts like nothing else does – well, some prefer a root canal treatment with mild anesthesia to a heartbreak. What happens during a break-up? Someone you trusted, loved and cared for suddenly disappears from your life. It crushes all your dreams and expectations. It is like an earthquake shaking and bringing down your tower of faith.

One goes through these 7 stages of coming to terms with a heartbreak.

Phase1: “This is really not happening to me”

You have been let go from someone you considered important! Phew! Like thrown off of a roller-coaster maybe! You might have seen it coming, or perhaps not, or maybe you told yourself you are being paranoid. Anyhow, it has happened but your mind doesn’t believe it yet! You can’t believe it. Your mind will try to convince that there is something wrong about the whole thing and your partner will come around soon enough.

You will sincerely hope that he/she will not last a day without you and come back crawling to you with apologies. No, this is not happening to me – how can it be?  You go through a period of disbelief. Sometimes, comebacks happen but it is never the same again. Most of times, the ones who leave, leave for good!

Phase2: “Damn it, I can’t take this”

You are broken, shrinking down in pain, wallowing in self-pity and crouching under a pile of dirty sheets and a mountain of tissues and sulking in the same pajamas for days together. Not to forget your only appetite is filled with ice-creams and alcohol (for a few). Ouch! You will try hard to cope with the emotional roller coaster you are in and the physical weakness that is engulfing you. Oh well, you want the earth to swallow you alive. Everything you see, everything you do will go and hook up to the thoughts of the one you have lost.

Phase3: “Perhaps, it was all my fault anyway”

You are now trying to rationalize and come up with a logical explanation. You first put yourself under the axe. The one who left you has been successful with gas lighting. You are coming up with a million whys it happened to you and what you could have done differently. Really, not warranted but that’s exactly what you do! Your self-esteem is rocking and everything you thought you are is now standing as a question in front of you. It is like wandering in a room full of wacky mirrors – convex and concave. And you don’t know your way out yet!

Phase4: “To hell with you!”

Now, you have transitioned into a full-stage angry Hulk. You are mad with rage and you are sure you are better off without the one who dumped you. Your mind has now given you a bucket list of all the personality flaws of your ex and start ranking them and tracing them to past events in your life that could have turned for the best otherwise. Your ex is the devil in all forms and fashion. Punching pillows and kicking a ball non-stop becomes your steam-off chore. Gritting your teeth, clenching your fists and screaming swear words on the top of your lungs will be a regular affair for a while

Phase5: “I won’t let go; never!”

You are now trying to do all the stupid things you should never do. You are trying to be the saint and trying to patch things. You write sweet long emails asking the person to come, drunk texting, dialing the number again and again, stalking your ex on all social media platform, trying all kinds of gimmicks to grab their attention and even sometimes trying to false-portray your happy self to make them jealous and come back. You resort to extracting information from your ex’s friends and social circle, try to behave in a way that you think would make your ex come back to you and what not!

Phase6: “It’s truly over”

You are at a point to know it’s really over by now. You miss all the good moments of the past. Pain still haunts you but you are out of the “Maybe someday down the line…” phase. You know that the breakup is real and your ex has moved on. It’s time for you to embrace reality and get ahead too. You have anger, urges to get even, prove you’re a bigger person and all the varied thoughts and emotions that come along with dealing with life’s murkiness!

Phase7: “I love me again!”

You are now healing and coming out of the hell of an experience you have gone through the past few days. You start engaging with friends and begin to read, listen to cheerful music and hang out with family and well wishers. You still miss your ex but you are slowly coming out of the pain. You are now keeping yourself busy and constantly trying to turn the heartbreak into a lesson. You will soon start sharing your new found wisdom with others trying to caution them and you will be a different person on some levels. You are in a new normal. Some get on a new ship; others just stay docked on the shore for a while. But you are back to giving your own self all the importance and you value yourself more to endure any more of mental trauma.

 

These are the typical seven phases of going through a break-up. It’s important for us to give us enough time to get over it. Don’t try to escape reality. Accept, accept and accept – cry your heart out but be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself, your ex and the entire relationship. Be thankful for good times and the lessons learnt and with a whole heart, let go as if you are releasing a balloon. Feel light like a feather and feel a liberation and cherish it!

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The best relationships happen when you are with someone in front of whom you can bare yourself – heart, mind and soul and your partner can do the same with you. When you do not feel shame, fear of judgement, and uncertainty of intentions, when you can be your true self with each other, then you are always in a comfortable space where both of you can lean on one another while standing on your own! You can be independent in a beautiful symbiotic relationship of understanding. You truly care for each other and the well-being of one another becomes important.  In hard times, like a ball against a wall, you will bounce back and come back together stronger. That is the beauty of a soul relationship between both of you. In the end, even if you don’t end up together for whatever reason, you both will be enough comfortable to remain friends without any hard feelings and you would have already made peace with the parting of ways.

 

In Love with the idea of Love

Our brains work in weird mysterious ways. Always coming up with cocktails of mysterious thoughts, perceived realities and unreal illusions. If this were, for one tiny moment, considered a witch’s potion cooked out of a large cauldron then the smokes rising up for this concoction is nothing but the pangs, oohs-aahs and the emotional roller coasters! I am not sure if it is just me, but one of the emotions that fit this bill is love!

We open the gateway of our feelings, thoughts to perceive our surroundings and our life’s needs and allow them to be influenced by experiences we encounter through our own perceptions, other people’s interactions etc., And constantly our mind tries to caliber these inputs and try to blend them in with the realities of our lives and the illusions of our minds.

Love makes the world go round and round in every sense – your head swirling perhaps! Now in such a potpourri, we try to tell ourselves that we are in love! And we convince ourselves that the way the other person makes us feel and how we project our own needs on to them makes for a perfect love scenario.

Alas! This is far from the truth. Most of the candy crushes we experience are nothing but our experience of falling in love with the idea of someone!

Yes, it is true and we don’t quite realize it. If you were to dissect the anatomy of infatuations and crushes we experience, they are nothing but our foolhardiness in falling truly madly deeply in love with the idea of someone (Perhaps the idea of a perfect someone) based on our life’s current realities and needs. All our jitters and feeling weak in our knees and knots in our stomachs and lumps in our throats and butterflies in our gut….perfect fairy tale in the making is all about the idea of someone and this idea has tricked our minds.

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And thanks to the digital world that keeps shrinking and shrinking; the virtual veil is always drawn so our truest selves is never shown to others. We always need to put up a façade to prove to the world and trick our crazy minds into showcasing how perfect we are. Not only that but we fall for those perfect pictures of others too (albeit digitally altered or enhanced), 

Most heartbreaks stem when the notion of someone fails to live up to every variable that was balancing the equation in our minds about them. They happen because we often confuse ourselves or trick ourselves into believing the frills and fancies of the joyous feelings we experience when we encounter someone who we think might be someone perfect according to us or capable of becoming perfect. We hold on to the ideas of things as we need them to be, our fanciful hopes and start hoarding fragments of dreams one at a time and start doing things to make those happen for real. All in the name of love!

Loving someone but not for who that someone actually is but rather for what we think of them and expect them to continue to be.

Now, there is this concept called, “Confirmation Bias”.

Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs (Ref).

With this type of thinking that most of us are naturally accustomed to, we tend to gravitate towards notions and ideas and the accompanying beliefs and tend to solidify those strongly with each confirmation we see and then we only look for confirmations pertaining to our thoughts and become immune to any other rational thought. This impairs our ability to make the right decisions. (Disclaimer: This is not the same as true signs and inner voices and gut feelings). With this, we can all the more keep finding reasons that align to the feeling of love towards someone. Wait, did that someone wear red on all the days I am happy? And we happen to like red roses. Then we start seeking all the positive emotions relating to red and associate that to this someone and eventually convince ourselves that this is love.

Sorry to break your hearts – but true love isn’t blind and it doesn’t happen that easily. Most often we are desperate to share our emptiness with someone hoping they would fill it with life and then we blindly train our minds to like everything they do. Have you seen people who hate photography start clicking many pictures because they are in love with the idea of someone who they believe has an excellent eye to life because he is a photographer by profession? Just one out a zillion examples or true testimonies.

Most often we are desperate to share our emptiness with someone hoping they would fill it with life and then we blindly train our minds to like everything they do.

We try to teach our minds to accept everything about them and try to make them all seem too perfect. The idea of someone who is extremely funny or super honest or totally cool! But once we spend enough time with this person, our castle in the air crashes and fractures to million bits because the reality is different to our perceived notions. It not only becomes stifling to continue in that state of emotional turbulence but extremely unappealing and painful.

We created the ideas of someone we wanted them to be and they hardly would measure up because they have their own individuality.

Watch out and wake up. Realize the profound truth of true love. It exists for reasons you can never realize or express. True love flows naturally and has no bounds of good or bad moments. It just accepts everything in a simple manner. What we pine in our depths might not always be the togetherness but just the high we get from being in love with the idea of someone.

quote-love-says-i-ve-seen-the-ugly-parts-of-you-and-i-m-staying-our-culture-doesn-t-love-love-matt-chandler-93-68-31

Wake up to love; open up to love; define what love according to you is. Get absolutely clear. But make sure it is all with someone –mind and soul; flesh and bone; virtues and vice – all pieced together. For better or worse.

The anatomy of infidelity –Part 1

Oscar Wilde once quipped, “The one charm about marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both the parties”.

This alone could have been a great billboard poster for inviting gullible and not-so-gullible sign-ups to the infamous Ashley Madison site. They called out to people around with a tagline that went something like – “Life is short; Have an affair”. When the Ashley Madison hacking went viral online, almost every social media and news media site went about dissecting the whys and why-nots of infidelity. Exclusive clubs like Ashley Madison taps into an otherwise seemingly normal, functioning and a mature, sophisticated society looking for the biggest loopholes in human psyche – the never-ending need to be validated through love, intimacy, romance, acceptance, companionship etc.,

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This leaves us with a question – What prompts one to betray? And what happens to the betrayer and the one being betrayed upon? Before that, what is considered as infidelity? Is it having a sexual affair with anyone other than one’s committed partner or does it include emotional connections with someone other than one’s partner/significant other? When we flirt, send sexually explicit texts/images, when we watch porn, when we can’t stop thinking about that ‘stranger’ who is so drool-worthy – where do we draw the line?

Broadly speaking, anytime we breach the sacred indenture of lifelong commitment to a significant other in any form or manner would constitute to be infidelity. Ester Perel, relationship therapist states that the key elements in an affair are  a secretive relationship, an emotional connection to one degree or another; and a sexual alchemy.

According to “dating” site AshleyMadison.com, a site that helps married people to find people to cheat on their spouses with, found that their busiest days for signup were the day before Valentine’s Day (for men) and the day after for women.  According to the site: “While February 13th — also known as Mistress Day — saw a 271% increase in signups, there was actually a 314% decrease in signups on Valentine’s Day itself. The most prolific traffic came the day after Valentine’s as 439% more people signed up to find what’s missing in their marriage. The huge spike in signups on the 15th was mostly driven by married women: their membership increased by a whopping 977%

What does this show us? A degree of failed expectations, perhaps. What else? There are psychological, sociological, biological, and anthropological perspectives to be analyzed and taken into consideration. Dissatisfaction, Media and economic influences, Personality traits, Age, Gender, Prospects and Environmental influences are all possible catalysts to making us stray away from the path of being faithful.

“Infidelity is an opium of unfaithfulness.” ― Toba Beta, Master of Stupidity

We all agree that love and trust enhance the sanctity of any given relationship. Yet, the statistics show that infidelity is as common everywhere although very hard to contain into one standard definition. The studies have also found that men were more upset at the idea of a partner having a sexual affair, and women were more upset at the idea of a partner having an emotional affair—a finding that was published online in January in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Dissatisfaction is a primary motivator for people to look outside of an established and committed relationship. The need for variety, excitement, engagement, reassurance, stability and acceptance emotionally and physically make us all prone to various degrees of betrayal – from strongly entanglements to mere straying outside of our committed relationships. When our expectations fail, we also tend to feel deprived, to some extent is just another outlet to seek approval and get acknowledged; an excitement that from an air of mystery, a sense of adventure and the chances of discovering something new!

Personality traits are a common area of interest to researchers. Maybe this has a stronger influence than any other factors as at one point or the other, our thoughts, emotions and feelings are a prime to what ensues as an act of disloyalty. It is never easy to cheat although it seems like based on numbers. There are many inner contradictions and questions of morality, values and faith that haunts the one who is betraying. It is not as if one grows out of love in a sudden moment. Infidelity is a slow act of taking one step, out of the committed relationship, at a time. People who are narcissistic, selfish, egocentric and seeking thrills, of “avoidant” personality types (commitment-phobic), BPD(people with Borderline Personality Disorder) and those who are not very empathetic of other’s feelings are most likely noticed to be on the cheating spree.  This may not always be the case but for most part is true. There are also people who can convince themselves as “righting-the-wrong”. It just needs an act of trivializing which our conscience is well-trained to do. Cognitively speaking, we can sideline the burning pangs of shame and override it with elaborate reasoning as to why it is justified to look outside of the relationship for comfort and companionship. Sometimes, due to our own pains and pangs, we could think betrayal is like teaching a lesson to our apparently disappointing partners.

Age is also a very crucial factor. Mostly, either young people or older folks are more prone to cheating. The ‘safe zoned’ middle are the ones who have somehow managed to take their focus elsewhere – busy making careers, buying homes, planning babies or rearing young children. Either there is constant seeking of ‘newness’ when one is too young or an unending fight against ‘boredom’ as one grows old. It is also said, people approaching key milestone ages often re-evaluate their lives and are prone to becoming suddenly unfaithful.

Men typically cheat more than women. So, says the top researches in this area. Men cheat largely because of sexual disappointments and women generally due to emotional disappointments.

Prospects entice us a lot too. The prospect of a better experience, thinking something could lead to a better future, the prospect of finding happiness – this list could go on and on. The need for us to find meaning in inherent relationships –either as physical intimacy or emotional connection and the hope that we can find this elsewhere will spur us to probably check out the forbidden fruit.

Media and economic influences are as influencing as any other factor. The internet makes it all the more easy to meet someone new. The digital age has facilitated a total “guilty free” alluring to acts of adultery and cheating. It is more affordable to seek frontiers on the stealth-mode, to keep secrets.

Sometimes it’s actually people who are happy in their existing relationship and with no intention to break it, cross the line. And we seem to wonder why? In fact it isn’t their  partner that they are turning away from, but rather the person that they have themselves become over the course of time. It isn’t so much that they are  looking for another person, as much as they are looking for being “another self”.

Honestly, there is not always a black or white, discrete  rights or wrongs in these stories of infidelity – they come in various shades of grey. What we need to understand is – infidelity is always a matter of choice and never an accident.

So is Fidelity – it is a CHOICE, albeit a tough one! It will require a great deal of will power, determination and trying to put in our beliefs entirely in our committed relationship. Knowing we are all human and not perfect gives us the inspiration to stay the course in our relationship and work things out. We can embrace fidelity simply by the act of renewing one’s choices to be in a given relationship. When we teach ourselves to remember why we fell in love with our partners in the first place and why they loved us back, when we learn to fall in love again each day, when we summon our will powers to make a choice to refuel our relationships every now and then with things that would bring excitement and passion, when we learn not to give in to fancies and passing flirtations and when we use our inner cores to be the guiding light to steer our relationships, then yes, we won’t cheat.  This means we need to choose our partners with our souls not simply minds and hearts. We need to be sure that there are various shades to the rainbows of real life and we are ready to embrace the colors without having to go in search of a particular hue. They will still be contributing factors but we can understand them, the causes and the effects.

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In an era where we are lured by all the choices, where  monogamy has started to sound like a concept from the bygone era and  where the consumerist culture encourages us to replace things that could be easily mended – It simply is a matter of CHOICE one makes  to love  “the one”  day after day, year after year. Concluding with a quote from Ester Perel, a relationship therapist from her talk on  Rethinking Infidelity.

And I’ve told quite a few of my patients that if they could bring into their relationships one tenth of the boldness, the imagination and the verve that they put into their affairs, they probably would never need to see me.” – Ester Perel, Relationship Therapist

Note – Stay tuned for “The Anatomy of Infidelity – part 2″ where we explore infidelity from betrayed upon’s perspective and relationships post betrayal.