Shifting power dynamics in marriage a factor, say experts
By Kezia Toh , Carolyn Khew
Cheating wives are on the rise, say divorce lawyers and marriage counsellors.
In recent years, they have handled an increasing number of adultery cases that involve unfaithful wives rather than husbands.
Ms Adriene Cheong, a partner at Harry Elias Partnership, estimated that cheating wives used to number 20 per cent of the adultery cases she handled, but the figure has since risen to 40 per cent. She has been practising family law for almost seven years.
Another family lawyer of 17 years, Mrs Aye Cheng Shone of A C Shone & Co, noted that allegations of adultery in wives have risen by 20 per cent.
In some cases, cheating wives outnumber the men.
Lawyer Gloria James of Gloria James-Civetta & Co said: 'The trend from last year is mostly women committing the adultery. For every one man, there are four women cheating.'
The four cases her firm has handled so far this year involved one cheating husband, but three cheating wives.
Promiscuity has been in the news lately. A married woman was implicated in the corruption probe that caused Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) commissioner Peter Lim Sin Pang and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) director Ng Boon Gay to be removed from their posts.
The two senior civil servants were alleged to have had a close working relationship with the female IT executive from the private sector.
Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong was given the boot by the Workers' Party for failing to account for his actions to the party and voters. He has remained silent over reports of extramarital affairs, purportedly with two married women.
Looking at figures of couples filing for divorce on adultery grounds alone may not even give one the full picture, lawyers say.
For example, many couples divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour, rather than adultery, even if there is cheating involved.
Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar, who runs Rajan Chettiar & Co, said: 'Many unreasonable behaviour cases are adultery cases in disguise.'
This is because filing for adultery is costly as it involves a report from a private investigator and identifying the third party to the marriage, for example.
Filing on grounds of adultery may cost $10,000 or more, but on unreasonable behaviour, it could total just about $3,500, said Mr Chettiar.
He said: 'People are really practical, and just want to get the divorce quickly and in the most effective way.'
Shifting power dynamics where women are high earners and can pull their weight at home may be one of the factors adding to the rise of extramarital affairs.
Lawyer Kast Manickam of East Asia Law said: 'Both parties have equal earning capacity so there is no reason for the woman to be relying on her husband for finances.'
She sees an equal number of husbands and wives committing adultery.
This affluence could add to a sense of entitlement.
Marital therapist Benny Bong explained: 'Affluence doesn't come cheap, it comes at a cost. After working so hard, some people feel that they deserve to play hard.
'Some will think they are entitled to pleasures and if the other party is available, they think 'why not'?'
This could include engaging social escorts or prostitutes, either for entertainment or for business purposes.
But trouble arises when feelings of attachment develop, said Mr Bong.
Some spouses also attempt to soothe the guilt over an affair by arranging an extramarital liaison for their partner.
This happened when a cheating husband arranged for his wife to hook up with another man, said Mr Bong, who met such a couple in recent years.
The couple, who have two children, later got divorced and married their respective partners.
These tit-for-tat extramarital affairs are a sign of changing times.
Mr Bong said: 'It was a case of 'If I can do it, why can't you? Now you know how it feels'.'
Social media plays a role too. Some spouses contact former boyfriends or girlfriends to rekindle the flame.
Mr James Loh, founder of private investigations firm SG Investigators, gets about 10 such cases a year, starting from about three years ago.
Experts say that shining light on promiscuity may have also made it more accessible.
Ms Ho Shee Wai, director and psychologist at The Counselling Place, explained: 'Promiscuity is now shrouded in positive labels such as 'modern', 'free' and 'Westernised', which creates the false or otherwise acceptance and expectation that 'everyone is doing it'.'
It does not help that celebrities like Hollywood actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who claim they are in an 'open relationship', make it almost 'cool' to do it.
Such behaviour by public figures adds to changing social mores, said psychologist Daniel Koh from private practice Insights Mind Centre.
But these factors still do not make extramarital affairs acceptable in Asian society, said Ms Anita Fam, chairman of Marriage Central, an agency that helps forge stronger and healthier marriages.
'There is still shame and secrecy attached to having extramarital relationships, as can be seen from the public reaction to recent media coverage on the former chiefs of SCDF and CNB.'
Mr Bong added: 'Even among clients who have betrayed their spouses, many try to justify their actions but this very action itself shows that their behaviour is not acceptable to themselves.'
'PAYBACK' for hubby's inattention
After her miscarriage, Sarah (not her real name) expected emotional support from her husband of eight years.
When he ignored her pain, she sought comfort in the arms of another man - a client at the bank where she works. He was also married.
'I needed to talk about my feelings of losing my baby, but instead of offering support, my husband chose to bury his head in the sand,' said Sarah, 33.
Wanting to feel cherished and loved pushed her into another man's arms, she said.
The affair with the man - a businessman who is also in his 30s - lasted all of four months last year, ending in a split which she said was 'amicable'.
Besides, it was not all heart and tearful emotion. As he was her client, keeping him happy meant it helped her fulfil her sales quota of financial products for the month.
'There was a bit of gain involved, I won't deny that,' she said.
While the affair has drawn to a quiet close - her teacher husband and parents are not aware that it happened - divorce is not on the cards.
Her parents have been happily married for over 40 years, so the idea of her getting a divorce would be 'very hard for them to accept', she said.
Getting embroiled in an affair, however quickly it ended, was motivated by her husband's inattention, she said.
'In a slightly perverse way, it was a sort of 'payback' that he kept ignoring me.'
Even now, while relations between the couple are chilly, Sarah is not keen on severing her marriage.
'I find it hard to reconcile myself now to the same person I got married to, with those hopes and dreams,' she said.
'I did not think I would be the type to cheat, and fail at marriage.'