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Infidelity: The Pitfall of Relationships (Pt 3)

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The Risky Side of Infidelity

While research has shown that a stable, long-term, sexual relationship is associated with better overall health and longevity, other studies have found that especially men who are unfaithful have a higher risk of major cardiovascular events. In fact, one study found that men who had sex with an extramarital partner had a greater risk for an adverse health event, such as the acquisition of a sexually transmitted infection and HIV (Fischer, 2011).

For my PhD research paper, I looked at the topic, “When love becomes dangerous: an in-depth look into heterosexual relationships in StVincent and the Grenadines, and their link to HIV transmission amongst Vincentian women.” This research brought to light the many impeding factors that can contribute to the decision to engage in sexual activity while in a long-term relationship, and how these factors placed individuals at risk for HIV and other STIs.

The research had four studies which looked at the following: (1) the source of HIV transmission in relationships; (2) what is it about long-term relationships that places women at risk for HIV; (3) tolerance of infidelity; and (4) the non-use of condoms in supposedly stable relationships.

The research was carried out primarily amongst Vincentian women. This target group was chosen because most women enrolled in the infectious disease clinic in SVG reported having contracted HIV from a steady committed partner; and they were identified as a vulnerable group due to the appearance of an unwillingness or inability to negotiate sexual safety in steady relationships. The women ranged in ages from 18-40 years and were all involved in a steady sexually active relationship at the time of the research.

The findings revealed the following:

o Ninety-six per cent of women enrolled in infectious disease clinic reported contracting HIV in a long term relationship; 40 per cent from a husband or common-law partner; 56 per cent from a steady partner whom they were not living with

o Long-term relationships were seen as being highly important and many women were pressured into securing and maintaining relationships which, in many instances, may have been both physically and sexually unsafe

o There exists a high tolerance for infidelity

o There is a link between women who ‘idealize’ or ‘praise their partners highly’ with the acceptance and tolerance of infidelity

o Women were more likely to tolerate infidelity if they had more invested in the relationship and if they deemed the consequences of ending the relationship more serious

o Women expressed trusting their partners 100 per cent, but obvious discrepancy in behaviour was observed such as (keeping tabs; checking phones etc)

o There was an uncertainty about HIV risk susceptibility

o Genuine fear of confronting partners who were suspected of infidelity

o Condoms had no part in a steady committed relationship

o Attitudes towards condom use did not significantly predict actual condom use.

What did the findings suggest?

The reality is that in SVG, there exists an apparent serious problem with infidelity. Though many may not be willing to admit it, they live in secret fear that their relationship has also been impeded on by the ‘bad taste’ of cheating. It is also very sad that long-term relationships (be it marriage or common-law), which should be a haven of safety and security, appear to be a significant risk factor, as evidenced by the high rate of HIV infections that appear to have happened within such relationships.

Sex without a condom is used as a way of moving a relationship on to the next level and turning it into a long-term relationship. Persons see this decision, as a demonstration of deep love and an elevation of intimacy and relationship commitment; to this end, condom use within long-term relationships appeared to be relatively infrequent.

Conclusion: Why Settle?

As human beings we are all striving to be loved. But the question is “How much are we willing to risk for this love?” Sadly, our society has been disillusioned in thinking that love is sex or love is lust. Love is not what the movies and hit songs tell us it is. Love doesn’t hurt. If it hurts, then it is something else; it is fear, attachment, idolatry, addiction and possessiveness. Your heart should not ache out of love.

It is evident that many are being misled under the guise of love to accept things which may impede their health and their overall emotional well-being. It is not okay, to believe that it is alright for anyone to cheat on you; it is not okay for anyone to believe that it is okay to be disrespected and devalued, especially as a woman.

It is good and noble to forgive indiscretions, but don’t allow yourself to get lost in a deep forest of compromise. Rather GET REAL. Remember that the best predictor of future behaviour is usually a relevant past behaviour. Set new boundaries for yourself; decide that you must be treated with integrity, dignity and respect.

Just know… life goes on even after being cheated on.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.