When cheating isn’t always black and white: Youths share how infidelity has affected them
Whether it’s physical or emotional, discussions about news of infidelity by some high profile characters brought out some interesting viewpoints.
It could be a text message, hand holding or a candlelit dinner. Cheating – whether physical or emotional – can ruin relationships and trust.
News of politicians’ infidelity dominated headlines in July, and Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Ms Cheng Li Hui, Mr Leon Perera and Ms Nicole Seah have been under scrutiny. Under the comment section of various news outlets, many Singaporeans have been making jokes about the situation, condemning their actions or blatantly insulting them.
On the surface, these now ex-politicians’ actions are deplorable. But a Reddit thread discussing the topic brought out a common theme: infidelity is rarely black and white.
That said, most would agree that a simple definition of infidelity is involving oneself with someone other than their partner and being dishonest about it. Since this is a broad view, many split it into two categories – physical and emotional.
Between the two, Dharshini Joyce, 21, who was cheated on by her previous partner, believes that emotional infidelity is worse. “Sometimes, you cannot prove that your partner is cheating and that makes the experience of communicating to them that you feel wronged very difficult.”
While Joyce isn’t sure the number of occasions she had been cheated on, she found out after their break up that he talked and behaved intimately with two different girls during their relationship.
“The jealousy was challenging to deal with because the girls he was talking to were nothing like how I looked,” she said, adding that they were of a different ethnicity and skinnier than her. “During the relationship, he did make comments on my appearance so I ended up comparing my looks to theirs and got very jealous.”
Jia Ling, 21, whose father had cheated, shares similar sentiments. “Feelings can’t be controlled while physical urges can. I think being cheated on emotionally must sting more than physical cheating, because that’s when you truly feel helpless and start questioning your own personality, et cetera,” she said.
But as everyone has varying boundaries, the gravity of certain actions is often subject to interpretation. Isaiah Sung, 19, believes that physical infidelity holds greater weight.
He said: “I am more of a physical touch (type of) person and if my partner does the same to other guys, I would feel more hurt.” He also shared that his former partner had held hands and kissed another guy while they were still in a relationship.
The difference in opinion is unsurprising. In 2019, a study in the Journal of Sexual and Relationship Therapy revealed that women are more disturbed by emotional infidelity while men are more affected by physical cheating.
Regardless of gender, most would agree that those who have been cheated on would feel betrayed. Joel Joseph, 22, shared that while he knows how awful it feels to be cheated on, having been through it himself, he also understands why some people are unfaithful.
When he was 18, he cheated on his partner. He said: “I felt like I was not being loved enough, and I had to look for it elsewhere.”
“I was constantly being put down and getting emotionally abused by someone I saw a future with.”
When asked why he didn’t just break up with her, he shared that he isn’t sure. “Maybe at that time, I thought leaving her would have been worse than cheating. But I don’t really know either.”
Joel explained that even after he was caught cheating, his partner chose to stay with him as she believed he could change. And while he did, she couldn’t forget about his infidelity. “It led to her abusing me physically,” he said. “I felt like I should’ve been held accountable for her becoming like that and that, in its own way, is a punishment.”
Ironically, Joel was cheated on in his subsequent relationships. While he felt sad and angry, he shared that he was more understanding towards his partner. Still, he affirms that regardless of the circumstances, cheating is never acceptable.
“Cheating is not okay because you are hurting someone and it is never okay to hurt someone… If you ever feel tempted to cheat, think about how you would feel if your partner did that to you,” he said.
Apart from those in a relationship, cheating may also involve a third party – like Lydia, 21. For fear of someone identifying her and casting judgement, Lydia has chosen not to reveal her real name.
She was friends with a couple, and while she found the man physically attractive, she never thought she would get involved in their relationship. But a drunken night changed that.
“We left the area where the others and his partner were to be alone. As we shared about our lives, the conversation eventually led to loneliness and we started to be physically intimate,” she said. “I had a sense of guilt, but it was overpowered by my inebriated state and my strong urge to not be alone.”
Lydia felt immense remorse after the incident. While she acknowledged she wasn’t in the best state to make decisions at the time, she knew she was still wrong for not controlling her urges and respecting her friends’ relationship.
She confided in her close friends and sought their advice to cope. She eventually had a talk with the man she got intimate with, which made her feel less guilty as he revealed he was already growing detached from his partner. While Lydia was still regretful, she didn’t tell his partner as she thought it wasn’t her place to.
“I used to think cheaters were the worst and that they should never be forgiven. My stance has since been swayed a little because I now know there are certain circumstances where they may not be entirely at fault,” she said. “He was not getting the support he needed in the relationship from his partner for a long time, and therefore ended up cheating. Though he is still at fault for it, it is more understandable.”
That said, the fallout from infidelity is far worse once marriage – and kids – come into the picture.
Jia Ling, whose father had cheated, said she found out when she saw messages pop up on his phone.
“Maybe being children, he didn’t think we would put two and two together, but we did. When I saw the messages and realised what was going on, I don’t think I had fully grasped the concept of cheating,” she said.
“I don’t think I felt much at all, just realised what was happening in Channel 8 dramas was now happening at home.”
While her mother was angry, she still chose to stay with him. Jia Ling explained that her mother is a very forgiving person who goes wherever she’s needed. “And being as young as we were, I think she prioritised that what her children needed was stability. She stayed with him because of my siblings and me, which is a very selfless act.”
While this incident happened years ago and they have gone for family therapy since, time hasn’t healed all wounds. “I have a lot of respect for my mom, and a deeper understanding of just how much love she has for us. As for my father, I love him a lot, but whether or not he knows it or we acknowledge it, his infidelity kind of hangs over a lot of conversations and interactions we have,” she said.
This has even trickled down to her own relationships as she shared it has made her simultaneously more and less forgiving. She elaborated that seeing her mother try to maintain the peace made her more accommodating but that if anyone were to cheat on her, she’d break it off without question.
“It’s definitely changed the way I view relationships too – I’m no longer so naive to believe that everything lasts forever and that feelings can’t change in an instant,” said Jia Ling.
For Shi En, her father’s infidelity made her crave stability and reassurance from her partner. She shared that when she was 11, her mother passed away and that the years leading up to it were “rather traumatic”.
The 20-year-old shared that her parents’ relationship had always been turbulent and that her mother’s cancer diagnosis exacerbated it. The way her father treated her mother, especially during her final years, made Shi En distance herself. Still, she didn’t know he was unfaithful until after her mother passed.
“There were many things that I had no knowledge about because of my young age… (When I found out,) I felt this immense sense of betrayal, while feeling incredibly angry at my father. At the same time, it was not surprising to me, considering my parents’ rocky relationship,” she said.
“I felt so sad for my mum, that she had to live with a man who could not give her the love that she needed and deserved.”
She recalls how whenever her parents fought, they’d bring up divorce, and her father would always tell her mother she’d need to take care of all three children. “And as a woman who was not well educated, who lacked job experience, and who became a housewife to care for me – she was afraid of the financial instability a divorce might bring,” she explained.
“I also think that my mum, to a certain degree, still loved my father for reasons I will never understand because she tried really hard to mend the relationship.”
When asked how this experience made her feel about romantic relationships and trust in general, Shi En said it’s not something she can explain in words as she hasn’t fully understood its effects on her.
Jia Ling added: “I wish that they don’t assume children don’t understand, because they do. They don’t often address (their infidelity) with their children, they just pretend it doesn’t happen, and doing that leaves a lot of open ends for the child to unpack in the future.”
While Shi En and Jia Ling don’t think cheating is justifiable, they feel that public shaming cheating partners does not achieve anything apart from revenge. They believe couples should work things out in private instead.
“I think that it is quite hard on the children if there is public shaming of the cheating partner. The first thing I thought about when I saw the politicians cheating on social media was how embarrassing it must be for their children. It’s best if it is handled as a family matter since cheating involves more than just the cheater,” said Shi En.
Still, with a problem as complex as infidelity, it can be difficult to forgive and forget – even if they are family. Shi En believes that while letting go of bitterness and resentment is important for people to move on, forgiveness and a second chance do not need to go hand in hand.
“You can forgive the person and wish them the best, but not have them in your life. I believe that one needs to know when to stop giving second chances and know when to let a relationship go.”
To those tempted to cheat, Joel said: “No matter the problem, always communicate it with your partner. Never ever resort to actions that will hurt them and scar them for life.”