Rethinking Infidelity and Vulnerability

The psychologist looks out from the brightly lit stage and asks the audience, “How many of you have been affected by infidelity? As a family member? As the one who is cheating? As the betrayed partner?” The truth is almost all of us have been affected and infidelity is, as many other transgressions, painful and disruptive.

However, the psychotherapist Esther Perel has tried to reconsider what infidelity means in her new book “State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity” (link to Perel’s webpage with the possibility of reading an excerpt). I haven’t read the book just yet as it only came out last month, but wanted to share the news of it with you, as I think it will be an interesting read for all interested in long-term relationships for a couple of reasons:

  1. If its half as good as her Podcast with the brilliant name “Where should we begin”, or the TED-video (see embedded below) on the same topic (the question she ends the talk with was mind-blowing!) and a worksheet that I think can be helpful to any couple struggling with the aftermath of infidelity. If just half as good, the book will be useful.
  2. I loved her earlier book. The ideas clearly are a continuation of Perel’s earlier book on relationships called “Mating in Captivity” and loved it! I think I loved this book because of its duality: merging practical, practitioner’s advice by generously sharing cases on the one hand, and theoretically thinking through what a monogamous relationship really is on the other. In this first book, Perel elegantly argues that a long-term love relationship really is about. Perel says it is about “reconciling the erotic and the domestic” and walks us through how impossible and paradoxical that is. I remember her asking a question in the book: Would you be more upset if your partner had cheated or if s/he never had? Here she is suggesting that a partner staying mysterious and secret to some degree ignites our interest in them, as one does not fall in love with a partner that is inseparable from oneself. Hence an affair or at least the possibility of it, on some level might be positive. On the other hand, and this is the paradox, a long-term relationship is by definition an institution we are supposed to trust. How can we rely on someone who lies about the most intimate aspect we share?
  3. Finally, the intercultural approach Perel takes to relationships makes sense to me. Not only is the world a global village these days with many couples looking something like the one I am in (Ghanaian -Swedish), on some level all couples are two cultures integrating, right? (not just two nationalities but also Engineer- Social scientist, Gen X – Millenial, working-class – middle-academic-class and so on). This New York Times article explains her intercultural approach (and as a bonus critiques her work effectively).

An excerpt from Perel’s new book asks some questions and suggest we should discuss them in a relationship before we are in “a storm” of infidelity. Among others, the questions are:

“Has monogamy outlived its usefulness? What is fidelity? Can we love more than one person at once?

For me, these conversations are part and parcel of any adult, intimate relationship. For most couples, unfortunately, the crisis of an affair is the first time they talk about any of this. Catastrophe has a way of propelling us into the essence of things. I encourage you not to wait for a storm, but to address these ideas in a quieter climate. Talking about what draws us outside our fences, and about the fear of loss that accompanies it, in an atmosphere of trust can actually promote intimacy and commitment. Our desires, even our most illicit ones, are a feature of our humanity.”

This suggestion of talking about difficult, but real things, reminds me of another favorite self-help writer of mine, sociology professor Brene Brown. Her new book on vulnerability says exactly this – by being vulnerable, imperfect, even failing (perhaps like dealing with infidelity as a couple?), we can connect with others. The book is “Braving the Wilderness” where the first word in the title is also a clever acronym on how to be brave in the wild…

Now, in the world we are not just rethinking infidelity and vulnerability, we are also rethinking what a book is. If you do not have time to read all the details, but still think the above sounds relevant, you have videos and other free online content there for you. I suggest you start with these two videos!

Photo above by CMEarnestOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link 

 

Three Weeks without Social Media: Was I Happier in the End?

To be able to have a completely restful vacation, I took three weeks off social media this summer. What I intended was to not read or post anything on my three favorite social media platforms: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. As a total social media freak (I am someone who often hails social media as the revolution of our time), I was interested in this hiatus also from an experimental point of view: would it be difficult to keep off? Would I miss my social media timelines? My ubiquitous scrolling? What would be the effects?

The first few days

The first few days I kept a diary, this is what I noted:

Day 1 – I have set up my blog post on my social media break to post automatically in the morning, later in the day I went into Instagram in the evening to post the same info on my break. By mistake, I clicked the Twitter app. Closed it quickly. I have already deleted the Facebook app from my phone, now I put the remaining apps in a “social” folder on my phone and put it on the last screen, not the first.  Regretted when I thought of the art exhibit I’ll attend tomorrow and the conference next week. Else felt happy. Baked, finished a book. Had a glass of wine. Watched a tv-program.

Day 2 –  I have had a packed day and at the art exhibits and food fair I went to I wanted to post, that’s how I usually take in an event. Instead talked to a friend. It was good, but very different from how I usually experience such a happening.

Facebook sent me an email saying I had memories with my family. It felt a little bad to not see the memory, but also what a cheap trick that is to bring you in!

Day 3 – Methodically canceled all remaining social media app notifications. Went to a book club meeting and was present throughout. Watched in amazement when others drift away from the conversation with real people to check their screens all the time. In the evening, I had a question I wanted to post to my social media network. Later googled the question instead and found an answer.

Day 4 – I got messages from Odekro from parliament straight to my locked screen. Scrolled thru. That’s not strictly checking one’s timeline, right? I think this is because I “follow posts” on Twitter and I do not want to turn that off. (But really why not?)

Day 5 –  I am spending more time on WhatsApp actually having conversations with people. At an outing, I took very few pics, because now that I can’t share them…I feel calm and cut off from reality.

Day 6 – I realize I have read no news since I stopped social media. I went to my blog to see if anyone had commented on my blog post about the social media break. But people rarely comment on blogs anymore. I was inspired to read my favorite Instagrammers’ blogs.

 

What I Learned

  1. Notifications are Mean

It is no surprise that notifications of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are engineered to draw us in, have us watch just a few more photos on our timeline and just see one more video, but how difficult it was to get signed off from everywhere surprised me.  If you want to dig deeper, I enjoyed this medium article: This is How or Fear and Outrage is Being Sold for Profit.

  1. I read most my news from links on Social Media

We sometimes talk about echo-chambers; this seems to certainly be true for me. Totally unconsciously, I have read or watched no news at all in the last weeks, but solely relied on my husband to tell me crucial headline stories. For a political scientist, this is major.

  1. I get most event information on Social Media

Few people called, I heard of few events, I saw few people these weeks. I realize I get most of my information about events and parties, art openings, and meetings thru social media. Perhaps not surprising, but also completely excluding, as one then have to be on social media to meet people offline.

  1. I take photos to share them.

When I was doing research on photo storage last year, I came across an article that said storage will be superfluous in the near future as what people want to do with pictures in to share them. This was true for me these weeks. When I saw something nice, I’d remember I would not get to share it for the next weeks, then I thought to myself, what is the point?

  1. I should have considered going off the Internet completely for a fuller rest.

I thought I still need to be on WhatsApp (but really why? I could have set an away message) and have access to the Internet (you know, to…Google stuff). But those opportunities were exploited by my synapses (a.k.a. me) and I read many, many blogs, even had one or two late night surf-binges, and that was not what I had intended for my social media break. I think that is how I filled the “scroll-void” or the habitual social media checks.

 

New Habits

I will now more consciously decide when and how much I will be using social media. To be honest, as I am easing my way back into social media, I am feeling a little bit disgusted by the whole speed of all timelines, beautiful photos, and heated opinions. It seems they all flash by only to be replaced by another. When I started work this week, I have the following habits in mind:

  • I will give myself some time during my commute to specifically follow what news is discussed and what events are on and then again during the evening commute.
  • I will give myself some time during my commute to specifically follow what news is discussed and what events are on and then again during the evening commute.
  • I will turn my phone off in the evening, after 9 pm and turn it on in the morning. I will continue to keep the gadgets outside the bedroom – they should be charged elsewhere! Listen to Arianna Huffington on this!
  • I need to do something about my news intake as well, but do not have a solution yet.
  • I will continue to have all push notifications turned off.
  • I will spend less time on Instagram and more on reading my fav blogs/listening to fav podcasts. This as I feel Instagram particularly makes me feel someway bi, and the blogs have many times the same photos, but with more context.
  • I did miss Twitter and the flashing by of all kinds of information. I will engage less in political debate…hm, no, that is not realistic, but I will compliment major conversation with some further action: petitions, small donations, offline engagement, and so on.
  • I will continuously take a yearly break from social media and the Internet.

 

Did Being Off Social Media Make Me Happier?

I did spend more time reading, sleeping, playing with my children, talking to my husband, but being off Social Media did maybe make me relax more, but not make me feel happier. I would have to say no, I actually felt sad!

Sad as I “couldn’t” share interesting things I experienced with the world, but at the same time the time off gave me some perspective on the way social media builds on human psychology and how, once the notifications come off, we can start using it for what we want again.

Have you ever taken a social media break? Do you limit your social media intake in some way? Let’s learn from each-other!

Celebrating 10 Years of Living in Ghana

This week, I have a major life anniversary: 10 years of living in Ghana! On April 17th, 2007, I stepped on the Kotoka tarmac in Accra with two big suitcases, and was hit by a hot wind of promise. 

And Chale, Ghana has delivered…

(Our wedding slideshow has more than 21 000 views!)

But despite worldly successes, the transition from a cold, Scandinavian country to a hot Tropical one has not always been easy. In my home of 10 years, I continue to be an outsider who hear “Welcome!” every single week. While I smile and say “Thank you!”, it hurts to know I can never fully be accepted here. I often say “I am a 7-8-9, now, 10-year-old in this context…” and I like that image as it often accurately reflects how much – or how little –  I understand of my surroundings. Many things (traditions, greetings, events, ideas, relationships, ends of relationships) here still surprise me, actually surprise me more than during the early days in Ghana.

In addition, 10 years away has made me start to feel like a stranger in Sweden. Swedish politics, fashion, topics for discussion throw me off, makes me raise my eyebrows. While I can walk the streets in Sweden totally blending in…ok, maybe not when I sport my colourful wax print in the sea of black, gray, and beige…but, at least, without hearing anyone welcoming me, I increasingly feel like a stranger who look around with a surprised face. I am reminded of what a family friend who grew up somewhere else said about living a life abroad: “soon, you don’t belong anywhere”.

Missing being close to my Swedish family is unfortunately a feeling that grows with time.

I am not saying the above because I want to complain, no! Life in Ghana for 10 years has undoubtedly been good to me,  or else I would not have stayed. My dreams have come true! But life in Ghana is not just good, rather it is continuously the adventure of my life.

I am still thinking of how to mark this milestone, if you have ideas, write a comment below. Thanks!

 

 

What do you have in common with your spouse?

Holding Hands

You know these couples who you can see about town together – busily chatting while driving to work, shopping for the weekend, elegantly dressed and smiling at an evening event? Clearing the farm silently side by side, donning matching funeral blacks, walking the beach hand in hand? Mr and Mrs, enjoying each other’s company? Well, I don’t have that and I am not sure its what makes unions last.

I do envy the “Mr and Mrs”-couples (or the “Mrs-and-Mrs” or “Mr-and-Mr” as the case may be), especially when I am at an event on my own and drive home alone. Or do I? Because at the event, I will stay as long as I find it fun, socialize with new people,  and in the car home, I will play the music I love, on high volume and sing along. Is that really bad?

I am in a relationship since 13 years and married for about half that time. When we first met, I bragged to anyone who wanted to listen (and probably a few more) that I had found someone who was just like me, a twin-soul. I believed that the “Mr and Mrs”-coupledom was equal to happiness and planned my week around time with my man.

However, soon I could not hold back a yawn when watching football with my spouse and he could not keep his eyes open for yet another art-exhibit. We discovered one of us was more of an extrovert and the other more introvert in personality. Where I have made a name out of my blog and social media presence, my husband belongs to the few who never even got on Facebook! (He does like LinkedIn, the one social media site that does not interest me much). My husband is big on Ghanaian traditions; funerals, family sit-downs, and chieftaincy politics – I enjoy keeping my weekends open to cooking/baking, house parties and time with close friends and family.

After 13 years together, my spouse and I have accepted we are different people. We do converge around late night talks on politics or “Sunday”-special type meals in our garden. We have our children, bank accounts (sort of, but that’s another post), and some future plans in common. But when it comes to interests, we are like night and day. My spouse simply says “opposites attract”, but I think we actually have some key values in common, like freedom, joie-de-vivre, and not-wanting-to-pretend, that we honour by following our own path. That means more often than not, you will see one of us in town alone or with friends, later going home with much to tell.

Photo: Soulascriptura.com

This post is the first in my new series of more personal posts to be posted on Fridays, Personal Friday.