Life ad­vice

So­ci­ol­o­gist and au­thor DR ALI­CIA WALKER, 47, spent a year in­ter­view­ing women who ad­mit­ted to be­ing un­faith­ful to their hus­bands. What they told her would open – and change – her mind

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents -

So­ci­ol­o­gist Dr Ali­cia Walker on in­fi­delity.

It feels good to tell some­one this.” Nearly all the women I spoke to in this study ex­pressed a sense of un­bur­den­ing them­selves of their se­crets. It’s not easy get­ting peo­ple to trust you – es­pe­cially when you’re ask­ing per­sonal ques­tions – but luck­ily, I was able to es­tab­lish a good rap­port with my par­tic­i­pants [from af­fair-match­ing web­site Ash­ley Madi­son]. One of them summed it up well: “We all need some­one to bear wit­ness to our lives.” Deep down, we need to share our ex­pe­ri­ences with other peo­ple.

The women talked about years in sex­less mar­riages or mar­riages where the sex was with­out plea­sure for them. They told sto­ries of wan­der­ing in sex­ual deserts for years, some­times decades. It’s heart­break­ing to hear peo­ple talk about mar­ry­ing some­one they love and adore, want­ing to ex­press that love, and be­ing de­nied. Af­ter suf­fer­ing all that time, they even­tu­ally de­cided they ei­ther had to di­vorce, or cheat to get their needs met. They were cheat­ing to stay mar­ried, as strange as that may sound.

Maybe the fact we ex­pect so much of our part­ners is set­ting us up for fail­ure. We ex­pect our hus­bands to be great fa­thers, earn­ers, lovers and emo­tional sup­port­ers, to be our best friends. Maybe it’s un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect so much from one re­la­tion­ship. Per­haps if we ac­cepted our part­ners for only those needs they fill, there would be less pres­sure.

Like many peo­ple, I have been so­cialised to think cheat­ing means cer­tain things. I thought it meant your part­ner doesn’t love you, that they want to leave you, that they don’t care about your feel­ings. I went into this in­ves­ti­ga­tion think­ing I un­der­stood cheat­ing and the ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse to it. Af­ter all, what does so­ci­ety tell me to do when I dis­cover some­one’s cheat­ing on me? Leave.

But af­ter in­ter­view­ing these women, I have a dif­fer­ent take. No-one wants to be cheated on; that hasn’t changed. What has is that I’ve re­alised I’d pre­fer not to know. That is, if a part­ner was cheat­ing and it was ul­ti­mately im­prov­ing my re­la­tion­ship, I don’t need to know. Many of these women talked about how they were bet­ter able to be the kind of wife they hoped to be be­cause they were get­ting their needs met through in­fi­delity. They were kin­der, more pa­tient and tol­er­ant.

All their sto­ries have stayed with me. I lived and breathed these women’s lives. I laughed and cried with them. It’s nearly im­pos­si­ble not to em­pathise, and I liked them as peo­ple. Any­one who reads their sto­ries will carry their sto­ries too. The Se­cret Life of the Cheat­ing Wife by Dr Ali­cia Walker (Lex­ing­ton Books, $97) is out now.

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