Indonesia Expat

Why do We Cheat?

Cheating is not a laughing matter in Indonesia and people can lose their marriage, reputation, family and dignity over a fling. In the province of Aceh, adultery is punishable with up to 100 lashes of the cane – the previous law included stoning by death, which was eventually overturned because of human rights protests. Divorce rates and incidents of infidelity in Indonesia are increasing – in 2014 there were 333,000 divorces and in 2013 three out of ten marriages ended in divorce.

But why do we cheat? When I first arrived in Indonesia, my young female friend, who was married at the age of 17 and had a child, revealed to me that she had already engaged in various affairs by her early twenties. She had not married for love, but at the advice of her family. Her story reminded me of Khalil Gibran’s classic The Cry of the Graves, about the problems of arranged marriages of young girls to older men in Lebanon. The story’s condemned protagonist became an adulteress in her pursuit of love after abandoning her arranged marriage.

But what if we do marry for love and we discover that our partner has been unfaithful? Or what should we do if the love vibrations begin to dwindle and temptation starts to lurk in the void?

Indra Noveldy, author of Menikah Untuk Bahagia and his wife Nunik Hermawati

I interviewed Indra Noveldy, author of Menikah Untuk Bahagia (Marrying for Happiness), who offers marriage counselling in Jakarta. He aims to find solutions by helping his clients to work hard for their happiness and address their repressed feelings and feels that this problem in Indonesia often relates to psychological issues stemming from problematic parenting styles. With his wife Nunik Hermawati, he runs Sekolah Pernikahan, an online marriage school aiming to help the lives of one million people across Indonesia.

“Does anyone have a goal to cheat when they are getting married? Certainly not! But why the affair? Simply put: because there are needs that are not being met. Poor communication is an ideal recipe for the affair and wanting to solve everything too fast only exacerbates the situation: ‘Because I can’t get it at home, I’ll look for it outside,’” said Indra. “Many problems occur in married life because of the lack of science (knowledge) about married life. It often happens that after being married for many years, it turns out that they do not know each other. Sometimes they even do not know themselves. Ego is another big problem—emotionally immature, not having a clear goal in building a married life, heavy/bitter past—are just some of the problems. Amongst these problems, the most influential factor is communication and the willingness to hear,” continued Indra, who experienced many problems during his first seven years of marriage with Nunik, and they almost divorced on several occasions.

Realising that there were many people facing similar marital problems in Indonesia, they decided to share their experiences in their book. “The divorce rate in Indonesia is quite high and from our own experience and observation, we realized that existing knowledge about marriage is low. Many will refer to financial readiness, job, house and other issues when talking about marriage. In fact, mindset is very important. This advice is always provided when I give counselling. However, we realize our limitations – what about those who cannot afford the fee for counselling? What about those who live far away from Jakarta?” explained Indra. For these reasons he established an online marriage school for anyone to join and share their experiences and knowledge with other members.

Khalil Gibran

“When I first arrived in Indonesia, my young female friend, who was married at the age of 17 and had a child, revealed to me that she had already engaged in various affairs by her early twenties. She had not married for love, but at the advice of her family.”

Why is infidelity and restlessness a problem in Indonesia? You may have heard of the brothels which masquerade as karaoke bars, or the famous Dolly Street in Surabaya. Is the topic of sex brushed under the carpet and, therefore, do people try and find other outlets to fulfil their suppressed desires? How can couples reconcile and learn to become more content and appreciative of their partner?

A writer and social activist from East Java offered the following commentary on the subject:

“To talk about infidelity means to discuss the position of the marriage institution in a culture; how does society value this institution? Is it something sacred or dogmatic, or profane and transactional? This will also depend on the society in which it is installed – is it conservative or liberal? The villages in Indonesia form networks of a ‘big family’ where everyone carries responsibility for each other; this means that an affair becomes a family affair. Honour and accomplishment are collective possessions and need to be held high. The cities are made of complex social layers, in which individuals hold contrasting values, and there are fewer family bonds. This forces the city people to become more individualistic and their interaction pattern is more transactional – the social cement does not exist or is not optimally functioning. This does not necessarily mean that city marriages are sterile of romanticism and commitment.

“In the city, when the couple love each other and their guardians permit it, marriage can follow. While in the village, many aspects need to be included, like the kyai (Islamic priest), priest, elders and family network. This causes the village marriage institution to have more supervisors, which narrows down the possibility of an affair in the future. In short, I think that infidelity is something that might happen to anyone. But if communication is always going well, if both sides openly and honestly explain what they want or do not want from their partner, I think the chances of an affair are slim.”

Yet it takes time. Indra believes that patience is the key in developing more trust, intimacy and commitment: “If we are indeed worthy to be trusted, we do not need to demand to be trusted. We need to continue to deliberately grow the vibrating love between husband and wife. Marriage to a partner is just a possibility, yet loving the person we marry is a decision.”

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