The incarcerated former governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, filed for divorce in January this year after almost two decades of marriage. The news rocked the country, for he had a seemingly perfect Christian union with three children. Pictures of his wife next to a photo of a young bespectacled man splashed across the media. The reason for their marital breakdown is infidelity—hers.
From years of practicing as a relationship and family counsellor, I know that infidelity is complicated. It is quicker to put the blame on the offender. But a marital union doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years to build, nurture, and sustain. When it fails, the tendency is to assign a cause for the breakdown, in part because a divorce paper needs a reason. When the culprit is unfaithfulness, usually the guilty party takes all the blame.
One of the defining moments in my career was when my supervisor said infidelity could result from unmet needs. Marriage is essentially a contract between two persons. You promise to fulfil my needs and expectations, and vice versa. That makes me choose you as my lifelong partner instead of my non-committal high school sweetheart. A relationship is functional when both parties meet the other’s needs.
But life changes. People change. Careers change. And so do needs and expectations. Now I need you to help with housework because caring for our child is taking up my time. Now I want you to reduce your focus on work because we don’t spend time together anymore. Frictions become inevitable. The marriage is put to the test. Can a couple communicate and adapt to continue to meet each other’s needs? If not, the dissatisfied partners may seek comfort elsewhere: children, friends, career, or another person.
This is only one hypothesis on why someone strays because infidelity is complex and messy. It is not as simple as asking, “Who’s cheating?”
Just as a marital union doesn’t happen overnight, a divorce doesn’t happen in an instant. Unfortunately, many couples wait for years before they seek counselling. And once they step into the room, they expect an instant improvement in their relationships.
Once a marriage fails, it takes an enormous commitment from both parties and plenty of counselling hours to put it back together. Many times despite best intentions, it remains as is – a remnant of past love.
H. Efendy is an Indonesian creative nonfiction writer who lives in Hornsby, a leafy upper northern suburb of Sydney, Australia. In 1999 she graduated from Trisakti University majoring in Industrial Engineering. She writes because it excites her.