Wednesday 13 November 2019

Mind & Meaning: Revenge is sweetest for women spurned

Do men and women react differently to infidelity? The well-known quote from 'The Mourning Bride' by William Congreve (1670-1729), "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned; Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned", suggests that they do. And it seems women do it with great venom.

History is replete with examples of women who extracted revenge on their miscreant spouses/lovers by ruining careers in a controlled, planned and determinedly vengeful manner.

The pages of the press are currently taken up with the story of Chris Huhne, the British Energy Secretary. He has ambitions to lead the Liberal Democrats now that Nick Clegg's star is fading. His plans have been derailed by his wife.

He left her a few months ago and has been conducting an affair with his bisexual former aide. He broke the news of the affair to his wife unceremoniously, by simply announcing his departure as he was walking out the door.

His wife is now claiming that he asked her to take his penalty points for speeding so as to save his career. She is also penning a book.

The most notorious in recent history was the story of Lorena Bobbitt, who severed her husband's penis and tossed it out the window of her car. She then called the police, who found it, leading to a successful re-attachment.

Then there was the story of Robin Cook, the Labour Party Foreign Secretary in Britain, who informed his wife, a doctor, that he was leaving her. The venue for the disclosure was Heathrow Airport.

She subsequently wrote a book, 'A Slight and Delicate Creature', in which she alleged he had a drink problem and was serially unfaithful. Then there was the gory story of three women who realised that the husband of one of them was sleeping with all three simultaneously.

Aided and abetted by his wife, they lured him to a motel in Wisconsin where they super-glued his penis to his abdomen. The ritualised degradation makes for harrowing reading.

Traditionally women express deep sadness on learning of their partners' deceit and cope by forming tighter friendships with friends and family. This provides practical and emotional support.

Men, on the other hand, become angry and sometimes violent. Stalking, with its attendant danger, sometimes follows.

Interestingly the reactions differ with respect to the type of infidelity also.


Men react more strongly to sexual infidelity while women do so to emotional infidelity. The latter often begins as a friendship that shifts from being platonic to romantic.

The intimacy is not just sexual, indeed sometimes there is very little, but there is a sense of closeness, of speaking the same language and of being understood.

Both genders express closeness both sexually and emotionally but emotional intimacy takes second place to sexual intimacy among men, whereas for women sexual closeness stems from emotional intimacy.

Evolutionary psychologists believe that these relationship differences and our responses to them are hard-wired, stemming from our evolutionary history.

According to David Buss from the University of Texas, men, as hunters and gatherers, provided for their families and sexual infidelity by the female partner could result in him unwittingly having to provide for another man's child. Hence the primacy of sexual fidelity for males.

Women, on the other hand, required commitment so as to provide for the family, hence their concern for emotional closeness as the glue to the continuing relationship.

These theories are not accepted by all relationship researchers and some now show that the male/female divide is changing with respect to emotional and sexual infidelity.

The slew of reports of so many cases of women reacting with venom and anger suggests that the reactions of men and women to infidelity are coming closer and that the divide described above is changing.

Whether this is true or is simply an impression due to the publicity attaching to them, these stories of revenge make for disturbing reading.

There is no dignity in public vengeance, no glory in humiliating another and the result is likely to be bitterness rather than justice.

Perhaps the mercenary advice of Ivana Trump is worth remembering: "Don't get mad, get everything."

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