Affairs: the how and the why
Johannesburg - “When you find out the third person’s name… you always know them,” cricketer Graeme Smith’s wife Morgan Deane cryptically tweeted late in March, when the couple announced they were divorcing.
It was speculated she was referring to Cape Town boutique owner Justine Haddon, who had allegedly formed a close relationship with the former Proteas captain. Smith has denied any romantic involvement, and Deane hasn’t clarified whether she knows Haddon or not (she did tweet she’d once gone on a shopping spree at Haddon’s boutique).
However, this little brouhaha hinted at a question that nags many of us, or perhaps we’ve suffered direct experience of it: Why do cheats hook up with someone close to home, making the betrayal so much worse?
Think of Woody Allen, whose marriage to Mia Farrow crumbled over his affair with Farrow’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. And singer Shania Twain’s husband of 15 years going off with her best friend, Marie Ann Thiebaud.
According to Dave Miller, who runs Sleuth Investigative Services in Joburg, it is common for extramarital affairs to occur within the sphere of the cheater’s family, friends or colleagues.
“It seems to be the way it works in the wealthier, middle-class set. They tend not to use social media to find fun, but rather find it with someone they’re constantly associated with. The secret lover is someone who comes to family braais or socials, or who they work with. The boss getting it off with the secretary is just as prevalent today as ever,” he says.
The sad thing, he adds, is that the cheated-on spouse is usually the last person to find out. “Everyone in the circle knows but you. But the truth is, a lot of married people ignore their sixth sense, which usually turns out to be spot on,” says Miller.
Opportunism aside, the underlying root of any infidelity, generally, is the cheating partner is being affirmed and flattered in a way that doesn’t happen at home, says Joburg psychologist Dorianne Weil. Which brings us to the different reasons for men and women entering these secret trysts.
The saying goes: “A man will play at love in the hope of getting sex. A woman will play at sex in the hope of getting love.”
Weil says this stereotype still holds true, except that more women having extramural sex are doing it for the same reason as men. “Women are increasingly looking for something extra, positive recognition primarily and yes, sex, outside their marriage, but not at the expense of their primary relationship. You need only go onto dating sites like Ashley Madison to see that,” she says.
Miller concurs, saying men will usually contain an affair to a one-night stand, or a short fling, with sex being the prize. Women, on the other hand, “get stimulated by the attention they’re receiving”.
The point is we are all vulnerable to flattery. The problem arises when you abandon all self-control, and forget the devastating consequences of an affair on your marriage or established relationship.
And lust is what it is, warns Weil. “These relationships are rarely sustained in the real world when the heat of passion dies down, although there are exceptions.”
Returning to the betrayal by a spouse with an acquaintance or best friend, the common result – after the affair is discovered – is the couple resume their relationship, albeit seriously dented, and the friend/acquaintance is dropped. If the lover is a close friend, the fallout can be devastating, because as Weil says: “It’s the ultimate betrayal of trust,” as this person has continually conspired, behind your back, to sleep with your husband (or wife).
Opportunism aside, there may be a control issue here, in that the friend is also relishing in exercising control over your life, albeit secretly. “But that is extreme and disturbed behaviour, not common,” says Weil. “It’s a terrible shock, but given that the relationship is over once its discovered, the difficult process of forgiveness begins. Most people would find it nearly impossible to forgive a friend who has betrayed them like this, but people do muster the strength to work on reconciling with their partner, because there’s usually a lot more invested there, especially if there are children.”
This isn’t always so, of course. In Phindi’s* case, she dropped both her husband and her friend when she discovered they were being intimate. After the initial hurt – “which was terrible, I don’t wish it on my worst enemy” – she says she found strength in realising that “this was something that happened to me, it does not define me”.
“You have to remember that you have done nothing wrong, so you just hold your head up high, rise above it and move forward. And remember, there is karma, and the cheaters will reap what they sow.”
Ultimately, if a marriage or relationship is to survive a betrayal, whether it involves someone known or not, the cheater is going to have to “walk the walk”, says Weil. “It’s not a question of simply moving on. The past lives with us, and if trust has been broken, rebuilding it can be a long and difficult process. The betrayed party is going to be more vigilant, checking cellphones, wanting to know where their partner is and so on. That is normal and expected,” she says.
Sometimes, however, a betrayal marks the end of the established relationship and the beginning of a new outed one for the lovers. “Some relationships run out of steam, because the ingredients are not there to make it last, even after the parties have worked hard at it. And the new lover is just a better match,” says Weil.
A good example is the apparently solid union of FW de Klerk and Elita Georgiades, his long-time mistress while he was married to the late Marike de Klerk.
Whatever people say about Woody Allen, he and Previn are still going strong after 23 years. Farrow’s rage against him, totally understandable, is well documented.
Seven years since Twain got bombshelled, meanwhile, her ex-husband Robert Lange is still with Thiebaud, although there’s a gratifying twist to this tale. Soon after her traumatic spilt with Lange, Twain found her happy ending with Thiebaud’s former husband, Frederic, and they married on New Year’s Day, 2011.
* Name has been changed.
Adultery no longer a claim under law
Time was when you could claim damages from your adulterous spouse’s lover, for loss of your dignity. No longer. In a case presented to it last December, the Supreme Court of Appeal held that society’s mores and morals had changed, and that an action for damages against a spouse’s had become outdated.
“The court criticised the action on various bases, including that it was only available against the third party and not the spouse. It takes no account of whether the guilty spouse was the seducer or the seduced and whether the parties remain married. Imagine a situation where a husband sues his wife’s boyfriend for damages, succeeds, then stays married to his wife. If they were married in community of property, the ‘guilty’ wife could benefit from the spoils,” explains lawyer Gillian Lowndes.
The court also found that the archaic argument that an action like this would serve to protect the marriage or act as a deterrent held no water any more. As to the innocent spouse suffering humiliation or damage to their reputation, the court found that in modern society, the reasonable person would not regard the innocent spouse with less respect.
The good news, however, is adultery can still inform the court when it comes to the determination of maintenance and, in a limited respect, to the division of assets. Lowndes says it remains possible to sue in a situation where you can show your spouse was happily married to you and a third party enticed your spouse into an adulterous relationship.