Vinita Dawra Nangia
One act of betrayal need not be the end of the road… if your marriage is worth it, fight to save it from a position of strength.
OUR inbox is flooded with mail after the column on conversations with a friend on the verge of a split (Anatomy of A Break-up, October 18). Mail from women in the same situation as Rashmi, my friend who was torn between forgiving a trespassing husband and walking out on him.
Women from different parts of the country, all with a similar story - of a husband dallying on the wrong side of the marital bed. A sorority brought together in my inbox by the common bond of betrayal, unimaginable pain and lots of questions. All extremely hurt, despondent, frustrated, depressed and very, very angry. All looking for someone to talk to, hear them out sympathetically. Plaintive calls for help.
All women have asked me one question. What should they do? They know their husbands are cheating on them, but are torn between the instinct to walk out on the jerks or hang onto the fringes of a tattered marriage for the sake of kids. Most of them haven't spoken of it to anyone; some have not even yet confronted husbands with the knowledge.
Surprisingly, each one of those who wrote to me has kids. Probably the decision to cut your losses and leave is easier where there are no kids.
I am neither a counsellor, nor a psychiatrist - two professions that would be best suited to help these women. But I would still like to address some issues raised by the letters, for all it is worth. As one of the women put it, "When I go to a counsellor, I feel like I've paid this person to listen to me and have a limited time with him/her. And I hate being told what I am doing wrong. I just wish to be told, 'Hey, it's ok to feel like you do!' And only a sympathetic friend can do that."
Having spent hours talking to two of my friends, one who chose to walk out with child from a cheating husband, and another who decided to forgive hers and stayed on, let me attempt to answer some questions thrown up by these letters. Let's call my friends Richa and Mahima respectively to protect their identities.
The most important question an aggrieved woman needs to answer seems to be, "Is your marriage worth saving?" Have you had any happy moments from this marriage that you cherish? If the answer is no, advises Richa, don't even waste time on the man, since the problem here seems to be much deeper than the affair. "And anyway, what are you fighting for? More misery? I could have forgiven my husband one affair if he had been repentant, which he wasn't really, but I left him for all the earlier misery too. My child and I are much happier and more secure after I took this step."
Mahima, the friend who chose to forgive, says, "I am together, sane and healed. I kind of went into a shell for a while. I pampered myself, soaked in my own positivity and saw things for what they are. I have truly forgiven my husband, forgotten the past and started afresh. The biggest positive is that I took my decision from a position of strength. I was ready to be without him. But then I was convinced that he was truly sorry and so forgave him because basically he is a good man."
In both cases, the women agree that once a considered step is taken, never look back or take yourself through the misery of the betrayal again and again. Forgiveness is, in a way, imperative in both cases for your own peace of mind. Even a separated Richa realised she had a lot of bitterness stored up inside her till she reached a point where she didn't care about her ex-husband enough anymore to harbour any kind of feelings for him - positive or negative. That's the point at which she let go the anger and found her peace.
Both Richa and Mahima stress the need of a good woman friend in such a situation. Says Mahima, "A close woman friend helps ground you by showing you the mirror. She can listen without being judgemental and you really need that kind of blind faith when you are feeling so totally betrayed! You need someone for all the times you either wish to cry in total self-pity as well as for when you wish to let fly vitriolic abuse against your husband."
Those who are financially independent are the ones who have a choice; while those dependent on their husbands for financial security are the helpless ones who don't know what to do. For they have little choice. The first thing for those women to do is find a means of livelihood with help of supportive friends and relatives. Once that is done, then they can take a decision from "a position of strength," as Mahima puts it.
To those who wrote to me, I would say, it's very important to make your own happiness because nobody is in charge of your happiness except you. And it's important to make peace with your past so it doesn't spoil the present.
The trick is in reaching out. The moment you do that, you would find a thousand hands to help you...