Infidelity Does Not Run Through Our Veins; Lack Of Accountability Does
I have finally decided to write on this subject after persistently avoiding it for sometime. It is a sensitive subject, and I am careful not to come across as being judgmental, even though there is no other way of talking about it without passing judgment. Judgment, like conflict, is an integral part of human interactions. From what to wear, to who to spend time with, we are always looking at things through a lens that is pitched against a set of social standards. So I may end up passing judgment, howbeit a fair one.
I am touching on the subject of infidelity among Ghanaian men, and more specifically how their infidelity is handled in a society that is deeply religious and conservative. Although infidelity is almost a Cultural Universal, I choose to restrict this post to what happens in Ghana and what I have experienced first-hand.
In its basic definition, when considered in the context of marriage, Infidelity or adultery is when a spouse has violated their marital vows regarding the exclusivity of that relationship governed by the said vows, be it sexually or/and emotionally. When we stretch this definition a bit farther, we can force it to encompass a certain line of conversations, disclosures and interactions which can then be considered adulterous and therefore an act of infidelity, even when actual sexual intercourse has not been proven.
In its basic definition, infidelity is Gender silent...or better still gender neutral. The word, when used in the context of marriage (which is what I will restrict myself to) is monochromatic in the spectrum of interpretation. It does not move from Red to White as it moves from one gender to the other. It stays the same regardless of where it is being looked at, and under what condition of light it happens to be observed.
Then comes the conflict between what can be interpreted as infidelity within our cultural setting, and the extent to which that interpretation can be held up, and the requisite punishment exacted fairly, (if one has to be exacted) when it comes to which gender committed it. While our society agrees, in principle, that from having intimate sexually charge conversations (with graphic imagery to back it up, be it descriptive or pictorial) to actual sexual intercourse, is adulterous, the interpretation and the response to it, in general, markedly differ between a husband and a wife.
When a man is found to have failed along the way (and we prefer to use milder euphemistic descriptions of the act when it is a man who committed it), regardless of the Where on the spectrum, the reaction is usually gentle and muffled, the talk of it is shorter, and the scar left behind on his image is generally temporary. Even where the man is a Role Model for different people in society, there seems to be a general cap placed on the extent to which accountability may be demanded. This cap, as I mentioned earlier, has to do with the degree of chastisement regarding the severity of language, duration, and the impact it makes on the individual concerned.
Hardly will you find a Ghanaian man, suffer politically for their sexual indiscretion. For religious leaders, you can't touch their anointing or their office. For the businessman, his business deals are kept intact, and for the civil servant, it is business as usual. Even for the man of straw, it will be a domestic fight, with a few expletives used, followed by a string of painful disclosures by his wife… and life continues. The man who is found to have been unfaithful to his wife will only need a thick skin to go through the initial social disappointment, and in a matter of a week, another issue will come up, and we will all forget about him. While I wish I could excuse the system by claiming it is a man's world, and most of the people who will sit on these issues are men, and therefore, women will always be judged unfairly, there is another aspect that has nothing to do with men. This is the aspect that looks at the attitude of other women when a man's indiscretion is found out. Either your mother is telling you to go back to your husband, recounting all the years your father cheated on her but stayed, or your church counsellor, who is a woman, telling you to stay.
A man cheats on his wife, and friends of the woman, including the family, encourages her to stay and up her game. A traumatized woman who found out her husband had impregnated and married a second woman on the quiet, ran to their church counsellors for guidance. They called for an emergency meeting with the man that evening. Well long story short, the woman was to forgive him and accept him back. Then the shock of it all; when you go home, she was told, you to pretend everything is fine, and make love to him so you keep your home.
This was a woman who had just discovered she was sharing a penis with another woman; whether she is a spirit or someone with an infection, she couldn’t tell. In the heat of the trauma, she was to open up herself to receive this same man. All her pain and brokenness were to be suppressed. No one was interested in how she was coping and holding on. No one was interested if she was suicidal or homicidal. All they were interested in was to keep her married, even if it meant a greater damage being done to her. And this is the normal narrative.
Will it have been so if it was the woman who was found out? This is a moment worth taking a pause and asking simple questions with a human face.
In my line of counselling, I encounter deeply humiliated women, going to the gym, going on a diet, borrowing money to change their wardrobes and investing in high-end skin products not because their men asked them to or hinted they could do better. No. They are in this unsustainable venture because their men are unfaithful, and doing that is the only way they feel they can retain them. Retain an unfaithful man? Really? And who said his infidelity has anything to do with you? Any man whose only way out of a marital crises is the bosom of another woman, secretly, is a coward. A bold man confronts the issue and where a solution eludes him, chooses to cope or ask for a divorce. Staying and secretly cheating is not a sign of strength. So, you are not the cause of his infidelity. He is his own problem.
I find the narrative of women, 'upping' their game to retain their men sickening on different levels. How many men would up their game because their wives were unfaithful to them? Even the slightest hint that we are being compared, even to a blood relative of ours or the woman's, is good enough a ground for tighter control of the woman, intentional emotional drifting away of the man (sexual starvation possibly), or in some extreme pettiness-trigger situations, a ground for divorce. How dare you compare me to another man! But here we are, a sister sweating like a pregnant fish, just to be good enough for a man who has humiliated her by sleeping with another woman, in contravention of the vows they both hold sacred. A Ghanaian man does not attempt covering up his indiscretion, except, for a few who don't have the courage to face their wives, who, when there is a child out of wedlock, go to a great extent at hiding it. A man can sit in the open with his Sidy, and the wife has no right to ask who she is or why. And this is not because the man says you can't ask, but because everything around the woman says you can't ask - the church, the family, the friends. Allow him, they tell her. As for men, they don't like that. Do not question him; you will drive him completely out. I doubt if a woman has any of these luxuries.
For a long time, when it pleases a man, the woman is his better half, and therefore, does not have rights, except those that are in synchrony with the greater agenda of the man. The woman cannot question the choices and judgement of the man (who is supposed to be her better half in the same measure), even in matters as crucial as the sanctity of their marital bed. I have witnessed the humiliation, pain, depression and crashing of many a woman because of the indiscretion of their men. They finally come home with nothing, sick, ruined and corrupted in both body and spirit. And guess who sits to nurse their wounds till they die? The wife who had no say in his choices, and the children who become collateral damage.
Marriage is not supposed to be a punishment, where a man intentionally hurts the one he is supposed to love as Christ loves the church. In my understanding of Scripture, the Love of Christ is not a love that hurts The Church.
While it seems fair to argue that, when you see your man with another girl, it may not mean anything untoward, the same argument cannot be advanced for a woman seen with another man, even if the conditions are similar. While great extents must be reached to prove a man's infidelity, usually with hard evidence of actual sexual intercourse, a married woman referring to another man as Darling, in an obscure text, is seen to have given evidence good enough to establish liability as an unfaithful wife.
A woman can be divorced on the evidence that she sent I LOVE YOU to another man, without any evidence to further incriminate her, while a man caught in the very act is made to apologise, and the rich ones, closing the deal with a good gift to compensate their wives. Some even take a swipe at their wives and leave home to be with the other woman.
What is a sister to say except to wait for him to return home? No matter how angry a wife gets after being accused of infidelity, most can't leave home, whether they are indeed guilty of the accusation or not, and whether they are leaving home to stay with their lover or to cool off with a friend. But a man can and go on to justify his actions by accusing the woman of nagging and accusing him falsely.
The pain here is, with as little as a suspicion, a woman can suffer great loss as a wife, while with hard evidence, the same woman, who would not enjoy this privilege, is made to forgive and accept her unfaithful husband.
From the above and many more I have not spoken about, we realise we have a system that is at best, ill-balanced. There is this rabid sense of entitlement with men over women when it comes to what a wife can do, where she can be and who she can be with, while the man, in no way submits himself to the same level of demand for accountability from the woman. Basically, we have a Jar and a Tea cap scenario when it comes to accountability. The woman is the Jar - she pours out accountability. The man is the Tea Cup; he receives her accountability. There is never the reverse - The Jar never receives anything from the Teacup. The flow of accountability is a one-way traffic.
Then there is the women-endorsed enabling of men that goes a long way to hurt them, giving men the room to act with impunity when it comes to their fidelity to their wives. As for men that is how they are, it is in their blood, do not pry, do not ask, do not think about it. They will cheat whether you like it or not. That right there is the enabling of his infidelity, not by men, but by women.
Don’t men know their wives are also attracted to fine and successful men? But guess what, endorsing and admitting to that reality, and tacitly sitting back to allow it to happen, does not come up in our conversations. Never. When we do, we plan revenge on different levels. The least and the most convenient one is to find ourselves a woman, and make it hurt while we do it right under your eyes. No man will tell another man, oh as for your wife she is beautiful so expect another man to chase her; don’t ask or pry. But women are quick to point to their fellow women to keep their eyes on the road and allow their men who were created with the D chromosome, which entitles them to cheat, to keep at it.
As I started by saying, the word infidelity is gender neutral. There is nowhere in the Bible that says a married man is permitted to go his way after cheating, while holding a married woman who commits the same offense accountable. Wrong is wrong regardless of who is committing it. We sit as counsellors in the church and beat down women who go on this path, but tend have a gentle conversation with men who go on the same path. A woman who is caught in adultery is likely to be the talk of the town before the cock crows the next morning, while the real cock, who does same, is allowed to walk around after a few hush-hush conversations.
We have managed to enable men even in the church, by asking women to pray in the wake of their husband's infidelity. Not that prayer is wrong, but men must be made to own up to their own irresponsibility in the wake of such discovery. How do you make it the victim's problem and pamper the ego of the aggressor? Praying to support your weak husband is fair enough, but when the man is not on his knees but the woman? When Jesus asked his disciples to pray with him in Gethsemane; did we see him sleeping? It was his battle, his burden; he lead it. Make men accountable for their own failings!
Society is likely to agree with a man seeking a divorce from an adulterous wife than it would a wife seeking the same thing from an adulterous husband. The woman is likely to be given a thousand reasons, including scriptures, why she should reconsider her choice and stay. The man, who may not have just slept with a woman, but is a serial cheat, is patted like the pussycat he is familiar with. He is likely to be Prayed for and not chastised. More Sex is asked to be given him. Basically if you want your wife to give you more of everything, cheat!
Church leaders keep their roles when we know they are sleeping with girls in the church. From the Choir Director to the firebrand charismatic preacher, panties are being removed en masse. But let a woman be caught in this, and she is the embodiment of the very whore of Babylon. We see men in church intentionally dressing to seduce women; from how they look to how they sing and act. He is spiritual, and has swag. That is how we brand them…married men. But a woman goes on that tangent, and she is to cover herself and be modest. But you are married; you can’t be gallivanting around here, looking like a whore. That man, that married man, is not just trying to look good, he is getting some! The pastor is aware, if not an accomplice, but we have all turned a blind eye to it...It's a man's church!
I am not in anyway, asking that we take the lid off for women to go gaga. Even though I am not the one to tell you that they have already gone gaga. I am asking for accountability from society, our upcoming parents and the church which still commands a huge chunk of the counselling market in Ghana. I am asking for us to demand the same level of responsibility and purity of our men. We cannot claim to be followers of Christ and selectively apply his word. The marital bed is to be undefiled; that is not negotiable. The marital bed is to be kept pure; no gender was attached to it.
In a society that has silent undertows of polygamy, a lot of education and teachings need to go on regarding purity and holiness for married men. We need to drive home the need for sexual accountability from men. We do not in any way hold the right to cheat. No one does. If it is not good for the geese, the gander has no right to it. This is not feminism; this is reason, equity and right before God and all. And if we claim to be the beacon of hope and righteousness in a world caught up in darkness, then we need to let righteous teachings stream forth from the pulpit and in our counselling rooms.
And while at it, I wish to let women know this painful but hard truth; men don’t cheat with dogs or other men…I mean of late you can’t be sure. But when a man is being accused of infidelity, there is most likely a woman behind him. So let’s say men can’t even change, granted, what can you women also do to fix this? By watching each other’s and respecting territories. Of course, an erection does not automatically lead infidelity! It needs a woman. And if you can all decide that if he is married (or if you find out that he is), you will walk out regardless of the personal cost to you, there will be a great drop in the other women crying at midnight because of their husbands.
While we try to fix men, you need to appreciate that this fight will be fought on many fronts, and it will demand a lot of personal sacrifices from you as well. You all need to ensure you are not in any way enabling men, by being their accomplices, or by encouraging cheated women to stay and die in their homes. It is easy to tell someone, to stay and try to make it work. It is easy to call men names when they cheat. Then you wake up one day and bam you are a side chick. You wake up one day, and you realise you are caught up in the very thing you detest…the very thing killing the life out of your friend…your sister. This is where you bring all your energy up and walk out of that toxicity.
To parents of growing girls, let them know the importance of self-worth, and the need to set clear rules at the onset of dating, that infidelity is a cardinal unforgivable offence. At least they should let the record show they did not in any way give mixed signals. Let them know it is not cool, it is not Godly, it is not acceptable, and it is disgusting. Elsewhere in the world, it is a big deal. Teach them to put that on the table even before they agree to date. Teach the girls to be strong.
We need to let our sons know cheating is a no-no. It is not an act of chivalry! We are not lesser humans; we can restrain ourselves, and it is important we appreciate that. Our vows of Love and Permanence, means we are stuck with one hole for life. More like One Man, One Hole. It is possible. We need to change the narrative, and we need to place an equal sense of responsibility on both the boys and the girls.
We need a society that holds Men, role models and leaders accountable when it comes to their sexual lives. Who we are privately has a great bearing on who we are in public. Infidelity is not just about sex; it has everything to do with loyalty, integrity, honesty, trust and accountability. If a man breaks his fidelity toward his wife, he is not just corrupt sexually; he is capable of breaking his fidelity when it comes to his many other social engagements. Such a man has no integrity, is not loyal, honest, accountable and definitely cannot be trusted.
Let us reconstruct our values; let us hold our men accountable. The family suffers when there is adultery regardless of who caused it. It is our collective responsibility to change the narrative and fix the family.