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Updated: May 21, 2014 17:18 IST

Surviving the ‘other'

SHONALI MUTHALALY
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Dr. Vijay Nagaswami Photo: R. Ragu
Dr. Vijay Nagaswami Photo: R. Ragu

It was all about breaking promises and mending hearts, as Dr. Vijay Nagaswami discussed the anatomy of infidelity, the topic of his new book “3's a Crowd: Understanding and Surviving Infidelity”

“I'd like to put infidelity on the couch,” says Dr. Nagaswami. “I'm going to need a volunteer.” A tense hush settles over the audience. Psychiatrist and writer, Dr. Vijay Nagaswami has spent the last 25 years working with relationships. He's written three books on the subject. But still, getting analysed in front of a crowd seems potentially disastrous. As people look shiftily at their toes, a voice pipes up. “Me.”

Rakesh jauntily saunters on stage. “So, what do you think of infidelity?” asks Dr. Nagaswami. “I think it's great fun. She does her thing, I do mine.” Shocked silence. He continues, “See, it's the nature of the beast.” Nervous laughter. “Doc,” he shrugs, “Can't you love more than one person at a time?” “Sure,” says Dr. Nagaswami, “Of course, you can love more than one person at a time. But can you have a relationship with all of them? If you try to have multiple relationships, sooner or later your paramour is going to get just as boring as your wife.”

As it turns out, this was a clever piece of play acting to break the ice. It triggers a veritable avalanche of questions from the audience. Talk of infidelity might be taboo in polite company, but for one night, at the Vivanta by Taj Connemara ballroom, everyone spoke out. The occasion was the launch of Dr. Nagaswami's “3's a Crowd: Understanding and Surviving Infidelity,” published by Westland.

The evening lunged wildly from topic to topic. Swingers and sceptics, polyamory and polyfidelity, makeup sex and breakup sex. And of course, ‘affairs'. “In an India Today survey of 5000 people, 30 per cent said they wouldn't mind having an affair. Of these 15 per cent were women, and 43 per cent were men. Roughly one-third of the people coming to see me are having an extra-marital affair, planning to have one, or suspect their partner is having one,” says Dr. Nagaswami, adding, however, that he doesn't believe more people are having affairs than ever before. “Now, discovery is easier. People are careless. More brazen. The mobile phone and Internet chat transcripts have led to more affairs being discovered…”

As in the book, he's careful not to be judgmental. “There's always a context. You can't tar everybody with the same brush. Affairs happen as much in good marriages as they do in toxic marriages. I don't see it as an act of moral turpitude. I do see it as very painful. There's lots of hurt that both partners need to deal with… There's a hugely traumatising effect on the children. People end up repeating parental patterns in their own marriages… You need to create an ambience that facilitates healing.”

Over the 25 years he's worked with couples, he has noticed one change though. “Earlier, affairs happened after ten or more years of marriage. Now it's a three-and-a-half-year itch. “Modern marriages are very different. Younger people spend a lot more time at work.” Which doesn't mean older marriages are always rock solid. “There's also silver anniversary infidelity, after 25 years of marriage.”

The main causes for marriages breaking up are boredom and infidelity, says Dr. Nagaswami. “One can lead to the other.” Affairs, he adds, are energy intensive and emotionally draining. “It's important that people are still struggling. It means that sooner rather than later they will find their way out of this morass… You are going to be attracted to people — that is human. How you deal with the attraction is what determines whether you are going to be monogamous or not.”

In the end, it's important to come to terms with who you are. “We are all human beings. We are all vulnerable. There will always be some enchanted evening. Some moment when we are tempted to cross a line we know we shouldn't. We need to insure ourselves. Recognise our vulnerability. Sometimes we do cross lines. Then we need to learn how to forgive ourselves. And our partners need to learn how to forgive us.”

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