Business-owner Brandon, 49, often goes on long outstation and overseas trips due to his work, while his wife Fong, 40, a schoolteacher, remains at home, with their children and occupies herself with community work.
That may sound like any other typical Malaysian family, except that in their situation, Brandon is having an affair.
“I grew close to my personal assistant who basically ran all my operations so we spent a lot of time with each other. We even went on business trips together and it gradually became ‘more’,” he reveals.
Brandon and Fong have a 17-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter.
Emotional connection is very important in a marriage. It’s normal for a couple who are lonely in their marriage to seek other methods to fill up that emptiness, says couples and family therapist, and Marital and Family Therapy Association Malaysia vice-president Bawany Chinapan.
The Andolfi Family Therapy Centre co-founder adds that when a couple is no longer able to meet each other’s needs, it opens the door for an extramarital affair to happen.
“When the couple faces this emotional disconnection – whether it’s because of lack of communication, different interests, or taking each other for granted – they are no longer able to fulfill each other’s needs. The relationship then moves towards an unhealthy way of responding to each other and they may find other means (work, hobbies, another person) to feel good and get their needs met,” says Bawany who is also a senior lecturer (Masters in Counselling) at Help University.
“Brandon and Fong are both in their midlife stage and busy with their own careers. They’re focused on their work and may have neglected their relationship and taken each other for granted,” she says.
“We got married when we were very young. We were very much in love and I still love her and always will,” says Brandon. “But we just grew apart because I was on the road all the time and she was busy with her community work. We started spending less and less time together, and began to rely more on other people.”
“Perhaps they’ve distanced themselves from each other and keep themselves busy with other stuff to fill the emptiness. Brandon seeks the closeness and connectedness from his personal assistant with whom he spends time daily, while Fong occupies herself with their children and her community work,” explains Bawany.
“I was shocked, extremely hurt and devastated when I found out,” says Fong. “I couldn’t accept it at first even though the signs were so obvious, but I was in denial,” she admits.
Fong turned to her family and close friends for emotional support.
Bawany says that an affair is a relationship trauma and the couple should seek marriage counselling and therapy, especially if they wish to work it out.
“Brandon and Fong need to rebuild their emotional connection and repair the relationship trauma in therapy. Their teenage children are likely to align themselves with the mother as they would see her as a victim,” she says.
“However, we need to remember that a relationship first becomes unhealthy before any third party can be present. If you’re happy and satisfied in your marriage, you’ll safeguard it,” says Bawany.
She adds that whether a couple decides to stay together depends a lot on their upbringing, values, faith and religion, and what they still cherish about their spouse.
“Because of our upbringing and religious background, divorce is not an option for us,” the couple concurs.
Brandon and Fong have decided to go for marriage counselling and couples therapy, and are trying to work it out.