Image: 123rf.com

Raymond has seen his fair share of curious cases in over 10 years as a private investigator (PI). But in July, he got one of his more memorable assignments.

A Singaporean man phoned him at his agency, Apac Investigation and Consultancy. Hesitant to reveal his full name, age or occupation, the man asked Raymond to check if his girlfriend – a middle-class professional in her 30s – was having an affair.

She was behaving suspiciously, he claimed, saying she had to fly to Hong Kong for work when in fact a chat with her colleague revealed no business trip had been scheduled. The woman had told her office she was going “on leave”.

It would have been an ordinary case save for some unusual facts: the woman was not the man’s wife, but his mistress. She was also married, a mother of three and, as it turned out, a multitasking lover.

Raymond found this out after tailing her to Hong Kong. There, he discovered that she had planned a secret rendezvous with a second boyfriend – a mainland Chinese man whom she had likely met in the course of work.

“Adultery cases are not so straightforward these days,” he says, noting that this is the second serial adulteress he has come across. “In the past, it was women who came to me, looking for evidence of their husbands’ infidelity. Now, it’s the other way around.”

Five years ago, 80 per cent of Raymond’s adultery investigations stemmed from women who wanted to check on their partners. These days, however, men who suspect their wives of cheating make up as many as 60 to 70 per cent of his cases in a month. Their suspicions usually prove right.

The phenomenon of cheating wives is growing in Singapore, say three lawyers and two other PIs. While no one can pin down when the trend started, the consensus is that it has become more pronounced in the last five years. A rise of 20 per cent is a safe estimate, with some claiming that the numbers of female adulterers are almost on a par with men.

DARING LIAISONS

Belinda Ang, a partner at law firm Belinda Ang Tang & Partners, reckons that cheating wives was the reason behind 20 per cent of the adultery cases she handled 10 years ago. These days, she sees equal numbers of men and women having affairs.

“People used to be more conservative and concerned about their reputations,” she says. “Now, female clients are more heong (Hokkien for ‘daring’). Some will ask how soon their divorces can be finalised so they come out into the open with their boyfriends.”

Divorce lawyer Carrie Gill has seen a four- to five-fold increase in female adultery cases in the past five years. A partner in the matrimonial department of Harry Elias Partnership LLP, she now handles up to 20 such cases a year.

One extreme case involved a wife who repeatedly brought her lover home when her husband was away on working trips. They had sex in the hallway and kitchen, while her children were asleep in their bedroom just metres away.

“Thee maid caught them one day and had to clear up the used condoms in the hall the next morning,” Carrie says. “I was shocked by how brazen she was about the affair and how careless she was of her children’s welfare as they could have walked in on them anytime.”

In this case, Carrie represented the husband. “The wife claimed that her husband was more interested in work than spending time with her. He said he had been working hard for the family’s upkeep and complained that this was the sort of ‘repayment’ he got.”

A SILENT TREND

Image: 123rf.com

If so many wives are cheating, why haven’t we heard about it? One reason is that official data paints a reassuring picture. According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, the number of divorces under the Women’s Charter caused by adultery fell from 115 to 88 in the last 10 years. Of these, cases in which husbands accused their wives of adultery also declined from 44 to 24.

But the figures don’t tell the whole story. While infidelity might be why a marriage breaks down, many couples choose not to file for divorce for “adultery” because the defendant may resist being legally labelled an “adulterer”. e divorce process may then last longer, and be more expensive for both parties. The courts will also require photographic or video evidence of the infidelity.

So, it is common for couples to cite “unreasonable behaviour” instead. is broader, more fluid category encompasses “improper associations” with third parties – a euphemism for infidelity and a more palatable way to finalise a split.

Last year, there were 2,648 divorces attributed to unreasonable behaviour – 49 per cent of all divorces under the Women’s Charter. And we’ll never know how many of those involved cheating wives.

There’s also a culture of silence around female adultery. “It’s taboo. Not many people want to talk about it,”
says Arati Mali, a counsellor at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware). “In contrast, there are so many news reports about men cheating that we read them and go, ‘Ah, yet another case.’” 

Arati thinks people have been desensitised to the idea of straying husbands due to constant reports of celebrity cheating scandals. She recalls counselling more than one straying husband in the past year who said: “Hillary Clinton forgave Bill for having an affair, why can’t mine?”

However, it’s rare to hear about famous women who cheat, though they exist – comedian Whoopi Goldberg and country singer LeAnn Rimes have spoken publicly about their affairs in recent years. “Many women are reluctant to seek help because they don’t know where to go and they’re afraid of being judged,” says Arati. that’s apparently true of husbands, too.

“When adultery occurs, it is usually the betrayed spouse who seeks counselling,” says Sarah Poh, counselling manager at Focus on the Family. “Most husbands aren’t willing to do this. They prefer to cope with the issue by doing something else instead of talking about it. It’s also more embarrassing for a man to admit to being in such a situation.”

While researching this story, I approached nine lawyers, PIs and social workers requesting to speak with their clients – either women who had strayed or husbands whose wives had cheated on them. I also asked at least five personal contacts if they knew of cheating wives.

Despite promising anonymity, my requests were almost always denied with reasons like “they’re uncomfortable talking about it” or “they want to put the past behind them”. So it’s little wonder that female adultery is rarely spoken about. 

“I WAS DATING TWO MEN AT THE SAME TIME”

Image: 123rf.com

Back in 2000 – the fourth and penultimate year of her marriage – Gina*, now 36, an industrial designer, began an affair with a married co- worker as “all women need love, care and concern, and my husband had shown me none after we got married”.

During their courtship, he had been the perfect gentleman and confidant. Then aged 21, Gina had become pregnant, leading to a shotgun marriage. She thinks this was the root of their problems. “He felt forced into marriage and regretted it.”

Gina claims his resentment pushed him to have an affair. Though he never admitted it, she found a photocopy of a woman’s identity card hidden in his belongings and a photo of her in his wallet. There were constant late nights – he would sometimes return home at 5am. His suspected infidelity sparked many quarrels.

When Gina was five months pregnant, he stormed out of the house after a fight, returning a few days later to pack his belongings. “I cried and begged him to come home for the sake of our baby,” she says. “He accused me of fooling around first, which was untrue.” He then raped her – a memory that still angers Gina.

Her unhappy marriage caused her to look elsewhere for emotional support. As it happened, a married colleague, who had long nursed a soft spot for her, confessed his feelings one day. “I was so touched I cried,” she recalls.

Their affair began. “He was different from most men. He treasured me and even lent me $1,000 after my divorce to help me pay for a flat,” she says. The affair was Gina’s way of getting back at her husband, who never found out.

Gina filed for a divorce a year after the affair started. But two years into her new relationship, she started dating a business associate on the quiet.

Five years later, tired of concealing her duplicity, Gina came clean with her first boyfriend, leading them to split
up after seven years. Ironically, she found out later that the business associate was also cheating on her and dumped him. Asked why she two- timed her boyfriend, she says: “He never spoke about leaving his wife or getting a divorce and could not promise me anything.”

Today, Gina is dating a divorced man she met about two years ago via an online chatroom. The relationship is going smoothly, but she hints she won’t rule out “revenge cheating” if he ever strays. “If your boyfriend cheats once, he’ll continue to cheat. If that’s the case, why should I stick with one man? The trust will no longer be there.” 

INNOCENT AT FIRST

“A woman won’t stray if her husband is perfect,” says Yvonne*, a divorce lawyer who declined to reveal her real name to protect her clients’ identities. One of her clients, an auditor, had to put up with her company director husband’s drinking, gambling and sleeping around with multiple women.

Yvonne claims her client was “not a flirt by nature” but was so troubled she found solace in a married colleague who was also having marital problems. 

They started as confidants, swapping stories of their woes, and the relationship blossomed into romance. “He was a decent, soft-spoken man who didn’t drink or gamble, the opposite of her husband,” Yvonne says.

Experts say there is an indirect link between rising female adultery and the emancipation of Singaporean women in the past few decades. The movement of women into the workforce has created the same opportunities (or temptations) that husbands have always faced.

“In the past, it was common to hear of men who got involved with someone in their office or trade simply because they spent more time with that person than their spouse,” says Carrie. “The same is now happening with professional women.

“It is natural for feelings to develop for another man when you spend so much time working together, especially if the marriage is already facing problems.” The
lawyers and PIs I spoke to all confirmed that the third parties in affairs are usually co-workers or business associates.

But it’s simplistic to say that feminism is making women more prone to cheat – an assumption Arati calls “unfair” and “penalising”. “No one enters a relationship intending to have an affair,” she says. “Most of the time, it is an innocent friendship with a third party that crosses the line.”

However, Arati feels that women might be more willing to consider separation as an option these days. While there’s still a social stigma attached to straying, the financial fall- out of an affair – such as losing a husband and breadwinner – is less acute for today’s independent woman. at may be why lawyers are seeing a spike in female adultery cases ending in divorce.

“I HAD MULTIPLE ONE NIGHT STANDS WHILE MARRIED”

Image: 123rf.com

Rachel*, 31, a physiologist, cheated on her husband repeatedly during their two-year marriage. As a teenager, she dreamed of a boyfriend who could give her the stability she never had at home.

In her first year of junior college, she met Robert*, 11 years older and a marketing manager, through a phone chatline service and they started dating. When she ran away from home at 19 after a fight with her parents, he took her into his home and she was his live-in girlfriend for two years until they wed.

“I guess I mistook the security he provided for love,” she says. “He was a paternal figure, rather than a lover, and wasn’t affectionate. But I held on to the relationship because he was financially stable and I thought he would make a good husband.”

By the time they were planning to marry, Rachel was in university and growing closer to a university mate, Dan*. “Unlike Robert, he was caring, affectionate and thoughtful, and I developed a soft spot for him.”

Six months before the wedding, they both confessed their feelings for each other, and their relationship started. “Robert got along with Dan and didn’t suspect a thing. But just before the wedding, Dan called things off because he felt guilty about being the third party. I was upset but agreed, so we parted.”

From the start, her marriage didn’t go smoothly. “Robert was controlling and we rarely had sex. I craved physical affection. So for six months, I got my
‘fix’ two or three times a week on average through one-night stands with different men I met in clubs. Once, I even slept with Robert’s cousin.”

She resumed her relationship with Dan. But after eight months, Rachel admitted her affair to Robert as she was tired of lying. She broke up with Dan again, and the couple tried to save their marriage but “I felt I had found my soulmate and it wasn’t Robert.”

One Sunday, after hearing a sermon in church about living a lie, Rachel told Robert she was leaving him. “Furious, he threw a $10 bill at me for my cab fare. He knew I was still a student and financially dependent on him. I packed and left anyway.” Wanting to be self- sufficient, she bunked in with friends and worked part-time as a waitress to support herself.

Dan eventually found out about her through friends and two months after she’d left Robert, they started dating again. When Rachel’s divorce was finalised two years later, they got married. “Five years on, I’m very happy in my marriage. Dan and I don’t keep secrets from each other. My first marriage taught me that you can’t depend on someone else to make you happy. You have to make choices for yourself.” 

THE POWER FACTOR

“Today, women are generating the resources they traditionally relied on men for, like money,” notes Associate professor Norman Li, a psychology professor at the Singapore Management University. “Losing a man may not hurt as much financially.” 

In April, Dutch psychologists found that power, measured by one’s career and financial status, is more crucial than gender when it comes to cheating. e study, which surveyed over 1,500 men and women, showed that powerful women – think those in managerial or director positions – were just as likely as powerful men to stray.

“As more women are in greater positions of power and considered equal to men, then familiar assumptions about their behaviour may also change,” said lead researcher Joris Lammers. Women are also setting the bar higher for husbands these days. As a result, it’s more common for couples to have conflicting expectations, says Chang-Goh Song Eng, head of Reach Counselling, which specialises in marital and family work. “Nowadays, wives expect their husbands to be more romantic and emotionally expressive,” she says.

When the men don’t get it, that’s when the problems start. Song Eng tells of a marriage preparation course she recently conducted with five couples. The men and women were split into two groups and asked to list their expectations in a partner. e women wanted their husbands to be more emotionally attuned to their needs, such as surprising them with sweet gestures. In contrast, the men said their wives should not to be “too drama” or “expect too much” of them.

“Men’s ideas of their roles don’t seem to parallel today’s changing gender roles,” says Song Eng. “It’s also possible that they are unsure what these new expectations are.”

There are no easy solutions, but social workers like Song Eng and Arati feel that helping couples communicate better can help pre-empt problems – and ensure that an unhappy marriage doesn’t spiral into adultery. “Men and women must know how to convey their needs to their partners,” says Arati.

She concludes: “People have affairs for many reasons but one of them is that their needs – be they emotional, social, financial, physical or sexual – aren’t being met at home. And when that happens, they might look for fulfilment somewhere else.” 

*Not their real names

 

This story was originally published in the December 2011 print issue of Her World.