columnBy Beatrice Obwocha
Nairobi — For long, the society has tolerated married men having extramarital affairs. It is an almost forgone conclusion that a man has to cheat on his wife or partner at any one time.
This is why there are expressions like "Men are polygamous by nature".
The traditional African society also advocated polygamy.
Today, a high number of men continue to have mistresses and often get away with a mere slap on the wrist once their wives catch them.
But there is now a worrying trend of wives cheating on their husbands. This is more common among urban women, although similar cases have been reported in the rural areas.
Caught in the act
In the West, cheating by both husbands and wives is common.
In the US, couple therapists report a 50 per cent increase in female infidelity. In 2004, Newsweek magazine carried a main story detailing how wives were cheating on their husbands: "The New Infidelity: from office affairs to Internet hook-ups, more wives are cheating too," read the title of the article.
But woe unto those who have been caught in the act in the local scene. Tales of husbands beating their wives and lovers senseless or even killing them after catching them are commonplace.
No, there is a reason we got married and why should l cheat to hit back? I will confront him and find a way of sorting out the problem.
But with economic empowerment, more women have become aware of "their rights" and some have mustered the art of cheating.
Some years back, women would slip into depression over their husbands' unfaithfulness or any marital mistreatment, but today, some will spruce themselves up and go out to meet a lover.
What is the real reason behind this behaviour that is threatening to tear the marriage institution apart?
Some women told their story to Instinct under strict confidentiality.
Daisy*, 38, decided to have an affair as a form of revenge when she discovered that her husband was cheating on her.
"I was very hurt and confronted him but he denied. After this, he went back to his mistress," she says.
Daisy says the affair made her feel that she had "scored equally" with her husband.
"I feel triumphant. He started it, so it is tit for tat," she says.
But Daisy is positive that her husband does not know about her dark little secret. She is sleeping with a man younger than her, which, she says, "adds to the thrill".
No excitement in marriage
Mercy* who has been married for 10 years with three children, has been in an extra-marital affair for three years.
"I am doing this because the excitement in my marriage is dead. Everything, including lovemaking, has become a routine," she says.
Mercy says the first five years of marriage were bliss. But after the second baby, matters took a nose-dive.
"I was a mum and a career woman. My husband was also engrossed in his job and soon, we hardly made love," she says.
She adds that her husband no longer pays much attention to her.
"After some time, I met a married man at a friend's wedding and the attraction was mutual.
"The man appreciates me and he is not boring. He has made me very happy and injected meaning into my life. I have no doubt that I love my husband, but I need more since I am a human being with emotions," she says.
Mercy says she is no longer disgruntled in the bedroom because she is getting "hot loving" elsewhere.
"I believe this affair is keeping my marriage together, although I have to be very discreet because I never want my husband to find out," she says.
For June*, it is an issue of distance.
"My husband works in Mombasa and I live with the children in Nakuru. He rarely comes home except for a few days when he is on leave.
"I am a housewife and we have built a house in Nakuru. I cannot join my husband since we agreed that I should take care of the children and run the home," she says.
June adds: "I did not plan to have an affair; I was lonely and most of the time, this family friend was around especially in times of emergencies. Then it sort of happened."
She sometimes feels guilty but says having a lover helps because there are times she needs someone to talk to.
"When my husband and I converse, it is on pressing issues concerning the children or bills. There are things I cannot tell him on the phone because it is costly and time-consuming" she says.
Sex for money
Mary's* story almost borders on the sleazy. She is having an affair with her boss because she needs money to supplement her income.
She says her husband is a casual labourer and his wages can hardly sustain the family.
"I love my husband and I would never want him to find out. He does not know how much I earn and thinks that the extra cash is out of my own sweat," says the office clerk.
Nancy* says she and her husband have been having problems for some time and the tension has led her to have an affair.
"My husband is abusive and contemptuous. He never listens to my ideas even when they involve serious issues like investment. He takes me for granted which makes me unhappy," she says.
Her husband has also lost interest in sex and Nancy suspects that he gets it somewhere else.
"I have had an affair for six months with a man who finds me desirable and my views sensible.
"But I still love my husband despite the way he treats me and I do not want to leave him, especially because of the children," she says.
Ms Eunice Njenga, a counsellor, says women sometimes cheat due to lack of sexual satisfaction.
"Women too have sexual needs, contrary to the belief that they can take anything in the bedroom. If the longing is too much, they can be forced to get a lover to meet this physical need," she says.
She says this also explains why older women go for younger men. "They believe the younger men have more sexual prowess," says Njenga.
Some women also have affairs with men from their past.
"At times, an old affair can be rekindled if the woman is not happy at home," says the expert.
A woman's friends can also influence her to get a lover.
"Hearing friends narrate the thrills of their little sexual escapades can tempt her to try the same especially if she is in a drab marriage," she adds.
No to divorce
Njenga says women who have affairs always have reasons to justify this but hardly want their husbands to divorce them.
But she warns that the woman has to live with the consequences which can turn nasty especially if she is discovered. This is because the society is not tolerant of promiscuous women, more so, wives. The scorn is unimaginable.
"First, the cheating wife is always under emotional pressure since she has to carefully cover her tracks lest she is found out. Any slip-up can mean an instant end of her marriage," she says.
She is also forced to lie to her husband every time she has to meet her lover, which may eat into her consciensce, leading to stress.
The cheating wife is subjected to undignified behaviour since she has to hide from people who know her lest they tell her husband.
Men resort to violence
Grace Gatuai, also a marriage counsellor, adds that if the woman chooses to end the affair but her lover does not want to, he can tell her husband to hit back, leading to unimaginable consequences.
Njenga says there is also a risk of the woman infecting her husband with a sexually transmitted disease, so she lives under constant fear.
In the event of being found out, most men would divorce or separate from their wives.
"Women easily forgive cheating husbands but the reverse is not true," she says.
Even if a woman was doing it to hit back at a cheating husband, the latter would still not budge.
Njenga says men suffer from intense jealousy and one might resort to violence if he discovers his wife's affair.
"Cases of men beating or killing their wives together with their lovers are common. Men are egocentric and do not like sharing their women," she says.
Njenga says some women who cheat for revenge might not care much if their husbands discover, unlike those who do for excitement.
Gatuai says having an affair may not always be the solution.
"You can be with your lover but still miss your husband's arms. Thus, the affair makes you more depressed than happy," she says.
Gatuai advises women to face their husbands and address their concerns. If the man does not change, one has the option of walking away rather than engaging affairs that only add fuel to her guilt and fear.