Until recently, Sandra Alex (not real name) thought her husband was cheating on her. Perhaps, he gave the room for suspicion.
Sandra was a housewife while her husband worked in one of the new generation banks on Victoria Island, Lagos.
Anytime he returned from work, he would have a shower, eat his dinner, have a few chat with her and then grabbed his smartphone.
“I would see him smiling while chatting with some friends, who I suspected to be ladies,” Sandra told Saturday PUNCH during an interview.
By the time her husband was done chatting with friends on the social media, either she had slept or he had become too tired for conversation. By morning of the following day, he was off to work again.
Sandra said, “His attitude disturbed me for a long time. He is an extrovert and likes hanging out with people. There were times on weekends that he would be away for five hours. I thought he was cheating on me.
“But after a while, I reported him to our pastor, who invited both of us for counselling. Apparently, he didn’t realise what he was doing was bad. He apologised to me and promised to change.”
Since then, Sandra told our correspondent her husband now spent much time with her and not with his smartphone anytime he returned from work and during weekends.
“I have got a job now, though. So I don’t feel bored like when I was a housewife,” she added.
Infidelity can be devastating for most couples. Not every marriage survives the fallout. It can rob a couple of their joy, relationship and identity. It can damage many things. Cheating is forbidden in most societies, yet it is universally practised.
A United States-based relationship expert, Dr Esther Perel, wrote in her book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity: Why do people cheat in marriages? Why does an affair hurt so much? What does infidelity exactly mean? Do romantic expectations of marriage set people up for betrayal?
Is there such a thing as an affair-proof marriage? Is it possible to love more than one person at once?
In a recent study, a relationship expert and assistant professor at the Texas Tech University, US, Dana Weiser – alongside her colleagues – asked hundreds of couples what constituted cheating to them.
Excerpts of the study, published in the Women’s Health Magazine, revealed what couples saw as infidelity, which turned out to be not just about sleeping with someone who is not one’s spouse.
Through the answers provided, the researchers found that the theme of infidelity centred round secrecy, deception and omissions, which are explained below.
In the study, Weiser said, “Ask 10 people what counts as cheating and you’d probably get 100 different answers. Infidelity is a grey area because different individuals have their own boundaries and ideals for romantic relationships.
“While you might consider texting an ex to be crossing a line, other partners might not consider something cheating until intercourse is involved.”
Through their research, Weiser and others have come up with five ways through which a couple may be cheating on each other unknowingly.
Maintaining ‘secret’ social media habits
Weiser and others found that infidelity, either through social media or facilitated by social media, was becoming commonplace. They also explained that social media infidelity had two forms.
They stated, “First, the overtly S3xual. If you’re lusting after an influencer you follow, liking an ex’s suggestive posts or even checking in on your ex’s profile, those behaviours all fall into the grey area of social media cheating.
“The other form of social media infidelity can be thought of as cheating on your partner with your phone. Looking at your phone and social media when you should be connecting with your partner suggests that you’re having a deeper relationship with social media than you are with your spouse.”
The study authors said the bottom line was that because cheating could mean different things to different people, it was important to openly discuss with one’s spouse what the boundaries were and what one considered infidelity.
Speaking to Saturday PUNCH, a Lagos-based marriage counsellor, Pastor Yomi Joshua, said it was important for couples not to allow technology ruin their marriages.
He noted that smartphones and social media had taken the place of one-on-one conversation among many couples.
Joshua said, “Technology is supposed to be a blessing, but it is affecting many things in our society today. People now spend more hours on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
“Sometimes, I wonder if some people really have time for personal relationship again because you would see them tweeting almost every five minutes. It’s not appropriate for a couple to be together in the room and be fondling their gadgets. Rather, they should be fondling each other.”
Hiding money habits
Since cheating is heavily rooted in secrecy, Weiser explained that failing to inform a partner about financial matters or decisions affecting both parties could be a form of infidelity.
She said, “If you and your partner agreed to save for a project, but you’re blowing your own money on shopping, that’s cheating.”
Also, a Lagos-based economist and financial expert, Mr Babatunde Abrahams, advised couples not to hide their finances from one another.
He said, “Sometimes, money habits lead to a breakup. I know many couples who parted ways or are not living happily because of their secret money habits.
“For instance, if a partner knows how to save money while the other spends lavishly, it can affect their relationship.
“It’s advisable for couples to be financially open to one another and set budgets based on their income. You can’t be spending your money anyhow and expect your partner to always cover you up.”
Being physically intimate with another person
Physical infidelity is self-explanatory and it is perhaps the commonest.
“It is typically construed as any type of touching, kissing or other S3xual behaviours with a person who is not your partner,” Weiser said.
On his part, Joshua advised couples to always run away from “every appearance of evil.”
He argued that most S3xual affairs outside marriage were intended.
He said, “You would have been thinking it in your mind for a long time before doing it.
“The whole process starts from thinking about somebody not your spouse, finding ways to attract them to you, discussing together and eventually sleeping together.”
Also, emotional infidelity is a different form of crossing the line.
“It can refer to liking, love, or romantic feelings for a person who is not your exclusive partner,” Weiser stated.
She said, “This is an important conversation on transparency. Having a close relationship with someone your partner doesn’t know or who doesn’t know your partner can be a no-no.
“To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having emotionally intimate relationships with people other than your partner. The question of cheating comes into play when those relationships aren’t respectful of your partner.
“In other words, if you’re having a heart-to-heart with someone else behind your partner’s back, that is, something you know could be hurtful, that enters the emotional infidelity territory.”
Fantasising about another person
According to Weiser, having fantasies about someone else, that is, wishing you were with someone other than your spouse, is purely cheating.
She stated, “Fantasies enter the infidelity territory when they could lead to unsafe or dishonest behaviour.”
Also, Joshua advised couples to tell their partners what else they could do to make them become more attractive.
He said “Couples should always discuss. Sometimes you could be fantasising about someone because of the way they dress. You could tell your spouse to get that type of dress or buy it for them.”
Joshua added that changing one’s spouse’s lifestyle rather than comparing them to another person could go a long way in checking infidelity among couples.