Home big read The Big Read: Dealing with infidelity, the ‘cancer’ of marriages

The Big Read: Dealing with infidelity, the ‘cancer’ of marriages

The Big Read: Dealing with infidelity, the ‘cancer’ of marriages
Extramarital affairs have come under the spotlight recently after several politicians stepped down due to their infidelityWhile extramarital affairs are not new in Singapore society, marriage counsellors and family lawyers tell TODAY they have seen an increase in cases due to various reasonsThese include dating apps making it easier for people to find partners and Covid-19 pandemic restrictions which caused frictions among couplesThose who discovered their partners’ or parents’ affairs told TODAY of their trauma, shock, and the struggles they faced in rebuilding their lives and self-worth Counsellors say infidelity can be an attempt to fill a gap missing in a marriage, and couples trying to rebuild their marriages have to make changes for one another

By Loraine Lee & Charlene Goh Published July 28, 2023 Updated July 29, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

SINGAPORE — When Ms Rebecca Smith picked up a call on her husband’s phone one midnight, little did she realise that her world was about to come crashing down.

Two years into a marriage with a three-month-old daughter, Ms Smith, who was then 34, was still high with the excitement of starting a family with the man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with.

“The phone rang in the study while he was asleep, so I answered it. But on the other end, it was the woman who my husband had been having an affair with,” she said.

“Fortunately, I was able to find out about the truth then and there because (the woman) told me the whole story about what was going on.”

Recalling the anger and sadness she felt when she learned of her former husband’s affair in 2016, Ms Smith described it as a “traumatic and devastating” episode.

“It was like my world collapsed… I sacrificed so much to start a family with him while I was pursuing a PhD, and was filled with hope and happiness of a family life,” said the Singaporean, who declined to state her occupation. 

“I was dealing with postpartum (and) the breach of trust by the man I planned my life with. The hurt and pain I felt was horrible.”

What hurt most, however, was when her husband tried to justify his actions.

Claiming that she had neglected her appearance after she gave birth, and that her personality had changed after marriage, his allegations made her feel “worthless” and affected her self-esteem, she said.

“Before I discovered the affair, he would never say these things to me. It was a shock — why would he say that?”

Seven years on, Ms Smith said that she has finally moved on, using the process of healing after her divorce to rebuild her life, motivated by a desire to provide her daughter with a good environment to grow up in.

Extramarital affairs have become the talk of the town recently.

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, who was Speaker of Parliament and People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Marine Parade GRC, and PAP MP for Tampines GRC Cheng Li Hui resigned on July 17 from their seats in Parliament and the ruling party. Their exit from politics was because of an affair.

Just two days later, Worker’s Party (WP) MP for Aljunied GRC Leon Perera and fellow WP central executive committee member Nicole Seah also resigned from the opposition party after admitting to an affair. The revelation was precipitated by a leaked video of the pair holding hands over a candlelit dinner.

Mr Tan, Mr Perera and Ms Seah are all married with children.

As these young children may not be able to articulate what they experience with their peers, their bottled-up emotions can be carried into adulthood, forming “unconstructive thoughts and beliefs when unprocessed”, he added.

Despite facing emotional trauma, families find it hard to seek solace in their usual support systems, namely close relatives and friends.

This is largely because infidelity is seen as a morality issue and frowned upon by society, and those involved may also fear that revealing their extramarital affairs can damage their reputation, both personal and professional.

“We have our strong views on family as a foundation. So when a family breaks apart due to infidelity, they fear being judged by others and criticised,” said Ms Michelle Png, an assistant senior counsellor at Care Corner Counselling Centre.

Although the damage that extramarital affairs has on family ties has been well-documented, why do spouses still cheat?

Ms Png said that it is often because there is a void in the relationship — which can be both physical and emotional in nature.

“They could be disconnected with each other, or dissatisfied with parts of the relationship. Sometimes it can be major changes such as a pregnancy,” she said.

In her 14 years of practice, Ms Png has seen addiction to pornography causing some to seek further gratification in terms of one-night stands, or adopting deviant behaviours like voyeurism, which can impact a marriage.

“While there are different kinds of affairs, the emotional affairs are often more painful than sexual affairs,” she said. “There’re questions about whether the years spent together were a lie.”

Mr Lim added that what constitutes cheating is largely dependent on the couple’s own boundaries regarding infidelity.

For some, cheating may be defined as engaging in any physically intimate or sexual acts with anyone else. For others, it may include emotional cheating.

Family lawyers told TODAY that they have seen more cases of cheating as a basis for divorce over the last five to 10 years.

Mr Ray Louis, managing director of Ray Louis Law, said that the advent of social media and the smartphone has made it much easier for people to have an affair.

“Before the smartphone, it’s not as easy to meet up with somebody and keep in touch. Now, it’s almost instant,” he said.

Agreeing, Mr Mohammed Shakirin, a partner at I.R.B Law LLP, said: “In the past, maybe you have what, Friendster? You must log in and dial in but now you can have a thousand and one applications out there that allow you to meet new people.”

Agreeing, Ms Png of Care Corner Counselling Centre said that it is through this process that a couple can rebuild the foundations of a much stronger relationship.

“Things won’t be the same from what it once was, but you’re working from the ground up in rebuilding the relationship, which can be a beautiful process,” said Ms Png.

“Of course this is 50-50 — some try to justify their actions and refuse to take responsibility for committing adultery. That makes it difficult for both to move on.”

Mr Lim added it is important for the parents, while in the midst of repairing their relationship, to check in with their children on their emotions and needs, using simpler terms for the child to understand.

“It is crucial not to dismiss the children on the assumption that they may not be able to understand ‘adult problems’,” he said. 

“Children are much more perceptive than we may realise, and it is important for the parents to support their children through this process.”

For the betrayed spouses, the healing process can be a long, arduous journey, but Ms Smith, like others who spoke to TODAY, said that the personal growth she has experienced is something to be proud of.

For one thing, Ms Smith has become healthier and exercises more regularly. She has also learnt the importance of managing her finances and growing a strong support system — all of which will also benefit her daughter’s growth and development.

Ms Smith now hopes to erase the stigma of being a single mother so that others in similar circumstances like her will not be afraid to seek help and stand up for themselves.

“We’re singa-mothers (lion-mothers) who should be honoured and acknowledged for our determination and success… not pitied,” she said.