Initially, Helena went into a relationship with a married man just for the fun of it.
With time, feelings started creeping in and now she spends all her time longing for him. Whenever they are together, they talk about the amazing future they will have together.
Then out of the blues, her lover decided to stick with his wife, and left Helena. She felt deceived and dejected.
She wonders how she got sucked into the relationship in the first place.
‘We are getting a divorce. The relationship is over. She does not understand me’ are just some of the lines the man used to lure Helena into the relationship.
Blantyre-based extension worker Naomi Shaba observes that the best one can hope for from a relationship with a married person are secret meetings, celebrating special events alone and many cancelled dates, to mention a few.
Shaba explains: “You only meet secretly because he or she spins you the line that they do not want their partner to find out about your relationship until the time is right. That right time may well never come.
“In addition, if the lover has children, then obviously their offspring are likely to be the reason for cancelled dates; and if you dare complain, then you most likely get the self-righteousness line of ‘you know I love my children. They will always come first’”.
Marriage counsellor, Inkosi Chimalizeni says agreeing to date a married person is agreeing to be second-class.
“Such a person becomes a toy and is merely used by the lover whenever they feel like it. Dating a married person is like throwing a stone that will hit you back when you are married,” says Chimalizeni.
Psychologist, Wezi Chisiza says it is never easy for the ‘side chick’ who constantly tries to keep the relationship a secret.
She says such practices hinder people from enjoying the important aspects of a relationship such as spending quality time and walking together freely.
“Also, one may have a high level of anxiety, constantly fearing for the worst that might happen if they are caught. They may continually think ‘what if the spouse shows up at my work place and disgraces me? What will my friends and co-workers think of me if they find out?’” she adds.
Chisiza notes that it also causes serious trust issues on the spouse being cheated on.
“Once trust is broken, it is difficult to restore. Even if the marriage ends, he or she may still find it difficult to trust another partner in subsequent relationships. The damage is usually long-lasting,” she adds.
The psychologist further says it can cause emotional turmoil, sending the spouse on an emotional roller-coaster.
Being cheated on can also cause serious damage to one’s self-esteem as the person being cheated on may start doubting their self-worth and wonder where they went wrong, or if they are not good enough, according to her.
From a neuropsychological point of view, Chisiza likens cheating to abruptly stopping a drug addict from taking drugs.
“When you fall in love with your spouse, you have an ecstatic feeling (just like someone taking drugs for the first time). With time, you get used to the feeling of having them around. When your spouse cheats on you, your brain experiences conflict as the neuronal network structure responsible for feelings of trust and love towards your partner can no longer be maintained (just as a drug addict who no longer receives drugs on a regular basis experiences withdrawal symptoms).
“The brain then has to re-adjust the neuronal network structure to meet the demands of the current situation. This process, however, can be very stressful and if not timely addressed may result into major depression,” she warns.
From her point of view, even the cheaters can be psychologically affected by their actions being eaten up on the inside from the guilt that usually comes with cheating.