11 December, 2009

the marriage contract and infidelity: lessons for tiger

selling me products through values
i am an avid golfer and a fan of tiger woods, not just for the way he plays golf on the course, but also for the way he conducted himself off the course. his family values, his moral uprightness, his single-minded focus and determination, his upbringing and childhood, the way he lived his life, were shining examples for all of us out there. but, like millions of his fans worldwide, he has disappointed me, not by playing bad golf, which would have been forgivable, but by not living up to the same values he preached so heartily to the world not long time back. for this, he sold men’s products, consulting services, watches and sports apparel, among other things. but most importantly, he sold himself. and i think, as consumers (and, i daresay, as fans), not just of the products he sold to us, but the lifestyle he claimed to have embodied, we have been, to put it mildly, had.

why do i care about marriage?
why do i, as a rationalist, care so much about this institution called marriage? man is, after all, an animal designed to reproduce (and therefore, copulate) with as many mates as possible in his lifetime so as to enhance the chances of his genes being passed on and that is, in a nutshell, that. why should i, or anyone, for that matter, care about this socio-religious bond called marriage anyway? isn’t it anachronistic? isn’t it parochial in a way? isn’t it outdated? why is it necessary, scientifically speaking, for one man and one woman to be faithful to each other as long as they fulfil their roles of producing children and caring for them till they are ready to reproduce themselves? even from a secular humanist perspective, why should marriage be so damn important? as long as you do not hurt anyone or do not harm anyone else’s chances of survival, i cannot see why, rationally, marriage should be even necessary. why then, is the contract of marriage so central to this story?

a contract: what a marriage is
ah, that word there: contract! that is, in essence, the description of, and the reason for, all this hue and cry. contracts and mutual understandings are after all, the very basis of civil society, without which, we are but animals. the truth is that if one does not agree with the institution of marriage, one should stay away from it. in that case, all is well, and you can go about doing whatever it is that you bloody well please. but once one decides to be married, and it needs to be a conscious decision, one forfeits this right.

why is that? that is because marriage is, at the end of the day, a contract, an agreement, a BINDING understanding between two parties. a breach of contract is rationally, morally and in any other way one looks at it, a bad thing for both parties and cannot be justified under normal circumstances except by an apology and a promise never to do it again, and that too only if the other party is willing to agree to and accept this position. other than this, there is no way one can wriggle out of this obligation. when two people decide to get married, out of and apart from the religious context, this essentially means that they are making a secular, legal and binding contract to be faithful to each other. in a broader sense, this can apply equally to same-gender marriages and in fact, to any relationship contract, written or unstated, that two or more consenting adults make about a relationship between them. this statement now defines marriage more rationally and is more applicable to today’s rational world.

call it quits if you can't handle it
and that is why infidelity, in whatever form, physical, emotional or plain old sexual, can never be justified on any grounds. if your partner ignores you, if your partner does not fulfil their role, if you are dissatisfied with your partner, if there is friction or incompatibility, if there are differences of perspective or opinion, if there is a sexual or emotional mismatch, the correct solution to this would be firstly to try and resolve the issue within the framework of the relationship that is contracted between the parties, and lastly, to dissolve the contract and go separate ways. there cannot be any other solution. open marriages, secret affairs, one-night stands, paid sex, and all other forms of breaches of the original contract, are unforgivable and therefore condemnable.

infidelity is one of these breaches. in fact, someone put it very well: "if you have to keep your relationship secret, you shouldn’t be in it."

this is a open letter to tiger. though i never had tiger giving me golf lessons (though i wish it were true!), i can very well imagine him requiring some lessons in how to handle this situation he has created for himself with his stupidity. so, here goes.

infidelity can never be justified
OK, so you breached the contract. you slept with someone. what do you do? question: would you like to repair the relationship or rid yourself of it? if you want to tear up the contract and go on with your life, you are on your own. i cannot advice you, for then the path before you is very simple. you need not even confess to your other partner. just call the whole thing off and that will be that. but if you would like to stay and repair the relationship, as i believe tiger would, what do you do?

number one: don’t do it again. this may sound like a simple piece of common sense, but i am always surprised how many people it does not strike as such immediately. let us assume you were drunk, or purposely defrauded and fooled into committing the act, or can even plead temporary insanity at that particular point. but the moment you do it again, you have lost that argument and basis for justifying whatever it is you did. so, step one: STOP! this in itself can go a long way in convincing to your partner that you will not repeat it ever. as ian fleming wrote in ‘goldfinger’ – once is happenstance. twice is coincidence. three times is enemy action. if you repeat your mistake, it is no longer a mistake, it becomes a crime committed in cold blood. tiger, obviously did not follow this rule. he slept with more than 10 women on more than one occasion. so, guilty on the first count.

confess. accept. accord respect to your partner
number two: confess. you need to consciously take the problem head on and accept that you made a mistake. do NOT wait for your partner to catch you. trust me, they are not as dumb as you feel they are. you WILL be caught. some day or the other. there is no place to hide a breach like that. face up to it and tell your partner straight up what you did. at least that way you will not have to face the shame of being discovered. and trust me, even for the partner who has been cheated on, discovering your breach by themselves is far more painful than you coming forward to confess by yourself. there are many opinions that psychiatrists and marriage counsellors have around the world. some say it is better to keep things secret and not dig out something that will hurt the other party. some say it is better to fess up and be free. i go with the latter. free yourself by confessing. believe me, your partner will thank you in the long run. at this point, we do not know if tiger confessed or was caught red-handed. i have to assume he was caught from what i hear. guilty on the second count.

feel truly sorry. do not pass on the guilt
number three: part a – do not explain yourself or try and pass the blame. part b – be contrite. feel the guilt. don’t just say it. feel it. you need to understand what you did was wrong, hurtful and criminal, and if the tables were turned, you would really know how it feels. there is NO WAY you will ever know how it feels for the other partner. do not claim so. because it is a feeling only the partner who got cheated on can understand. you cannot. don’t claim it just for sympathy. you need to be ashamed of what you did and you need to be genuinely sorry. this is an important part of the cleansing process. skip this and you might as well kiss your relationship goodbye. without you feeling thoroughly and completely ashamed and guilty of your act, you cannot possibly convince anyone, least of all your partner, and most importantly, yourself, of having accepted it as a breach and as something that requires condemnation. it does not matter what reasons you had. this is not the time to point fingers and blame the other party for being ‘equally responsible’ (a phrase i hear all the time from partners who have cheated and who want to rid themselves of the guilt) for the transgression. no amount of reasons why you did what you did can either free you of the criminal conduct or compensate for pure, unadulterated guilt and shame when it comes to apologising. feel it. it is essential to the cleansing. and it is essential for the forgiveness you seek. without you genuinely feeling sorry for what you did, how can the cheated on partner forgive you? as far as i hear, tiger is doing this part right. he has apologised (in a roundabout way) to his fans and more importantly, (more directly, i am hoping) to his wife and mother of 2 children. if he sincerely feels that he has wronged the other person, he has the right to ask for forgiveness. otherwise not.

number four: be prepared to accept a more regulated lifestyle. the cheated on partner will, BY RIGHT, apply and enforce certain rules on your future behaviour. you need to understand that you brought this upon yourself and it is well within the right of the other partner to lay down some ground rules by which you MUST abide. you need to remember that you broke the trust. to win it back is, therefore, your onus and obligation. if the other partner feels you cannot be trusted for some time to come, you just need to deal with this reality and come to terms with a new life. the rules may be simple and common sensical, or they may be authoritarian and oppressive, depending on what your limits have been before the breach. but you need to decide if you want this broken relationship to be mended or call it a day. if you want forgiveness, you need to be ready to pay for it with assuming less trust from your partner than before. this does not mean it will never come back as before. maybe it won’t. but chances are, given enough time and enough good behaviour (and CERTIFIABLE good behaviour) from your side, it is likely to happen in the future. how much into the future depends, once again, on your future behaviour within the parameters laid down by your partner. at the end of the day, it is you who need to convince your partner once again that you can be trusted. you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes.

again, from what i hear, i feel tiger is doing this the right way. he has allowed his wife to dictate to him how he will lead his life from now on, at least for the short term. it is claimed the couple are seeing a marriage counsellor, that he has promised to renegotiate their pre-nuptial agreement, that he has decided to choose family over profession. i find that heartening, even at the cost of not seeing tiger stalking the majors for some time, i think that he needs to concentrate on his family first, get back their trust and love and only then, think of returning to a game that is played more in the mind than on the green grass of the fairways and the putting greens. if he manages to do that, i think he will be back, roaring on the course, in no time.

support and understanding
number five: be sensitive. your partner may be willing to forgive, given enough time and good behaviour from you. but they may not be able to forget, ever. keep that in mind. what you did was deeply disturbing to them and this stain on your character and feeling of guilt in your partner (yes, guilt, for regardless of what you say or do, your partner will always blame themselves a bit for what has befallen them) will take a long time to wash away. keep a low profile. concentrate on your family and your partner. let them know you care and are truly sorry for what happened and it will never happen again. make sure you say and do things to put the other partner at ease. at no point, point the finger of blame to them. this will not only not help your cause, it will exacerbate the situation and make it even stickier to untangle from even given enough time. it is, therefore, important to be responsive, receptive and sensitive to the needs and emotions of your partner. treat them with kid-gloves. be nice to them. reiterate your position about such things never repeating again. reinforce the love that you (genuinely) feel. as far as i know, tiger is doing this. of course, this has to happen over a long period of time and one never knows how the future will turn out. i sincerely hope for tiger and his family that he regains their trust through being sensitive to their feelings and responding with love.

so, in short, i have five lessons for tiger. if he follows the last three (having ignored the first two), maybe he will have his life back, and maybe we will have our hero back. all i would like to say is: all the best tiger. if ever you needed any luck, this is it. hope you can save your par on this one!

p.s: some additions to my write-up after some more details have come out -

it has now emerged that tiger had unprotected sex with partners other than his wife. this is most troublesome. to not care about one’s own life is one thing but to treat one’s partner’s life with callousness is extremely irresponsible. this makes his crime even more serious. he had no problems exposing his partner to sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS and other maladies, such was his thirst for, and drive towards carnal satisfaction. if he was not getting enough from his partner, or wasn’t getting what he wanted, he could have tried remedying the situation by opening up a dialogue with her and, as a last resort, separating from her, something that he clearly does not want. this cannot then be reason enough to exonerate him from what he has done.

there can be no love without trust
i also hear cheating partners who decide to stay put and attempt repairing their marriages sometimes say that the very fact that they are prepared to stay and make sacrifices to keep the bond should mean something. this is rubbing salt on wounds. if tiger claims to have ‘chosen’ elin over rachel by dumping his lover and embracing his wife, he needs to understand that the choice was not for him to make. it is his wife who has chosen to stay with him and not the other way around. the choice was hers, and he needs to be grateful about that to her, not her be thankful for him to have come back to her! this would almost be funny if it were not about someone’s life being messed up by another person who was so trusted.