Sunday, July 26, 2009

Revenge cold or hot?

Are men more prone to revenge?
Sally Antia faces jail in Dubai for adultery after the father of her children ‘tipped off’ police.

And he’s not the first husband to act in this way

It doesn’t surprise me that it was a man, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, the author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, who recognised that revenge is a dish best served cold.

From my experience the male psyche is much more adept at “striking” with premeditated force when wronged.

Sally Antia, 44, the British woman currently in custody in Dubai, awaiting trial for alleged adultery, has had three long weeks to ponder this.

In the midst of an acrimonious divorce, her husband Vincent Antia, originally from Lincolnshire, allegedly reported her to the United Arab Emirates police.

This is a country in which adultery is punishable by up to a year in prison, swiftly followed by deportation.

If charged, Antia could lose custody of her children, aged 11 and 13.

I suspect that it never crossed Sally Antia’s mind that she would find herself in this dire situation.

That’s because she’s reasoning from within the female psyche.

Women tend to wreak temporary havoc when seeking revenge.

They’ll do a “Sally Moon”.

Once styled as Lady Sally Graham-Moon, the wronged wife famously cut the sleeves off her unfaithful husband’s Savile Row suits, then gleefully gave away his fine wines to neighbours.

In another case, the ex-wife of Jack Kidd, Jodie Kidd’s polo-playing brother, sent a revealing e-mail to 200 of his friends and business associates informing them that her relationship with Kidd was over after he had admitted being unfaithful during their six-year marriage.

But the anger over ruined clothing or a damaged reputation pales against losing access to one’s children.

This is something that Marnie Pearce well understands.

Sally Antia’s story mirrors that of Pearce, 40, who spent three months in a Dubai prison after being found guilty of cheating on her Egyptian husband.

She was pardoned when it was found that the allegations of her ex-husband, Ihab El Labban, were untrue.

In the meantime, though, Pearce lost custody of her sons — something that might never have happened if the court had known that she’d been wrongly accused.

She has now appointed a lawyer and is hoping to regain custody. “Being separated from your children is the worst punishment a mother could imagine,” she said recently. “Not being able to wake up with them feels as if I am serving a life sentence.”

During my years as a relationship counsellor I have found that women leap at symbolic acts of revenge rather than going for something more profoundly destructive.

This, I believe, is due to some key differences in the way we handle relationships.

On the whole, when feeling angry and wronged, women act with more speed and less thought of exacting long-term damage.

They tend to want an instant rise out of their partner.

They find immediate release from the stress of the situation by letting their emotions run riot.

Men tend to bottle things up more and are extremely goal-directed.

This plays out even when planning their exit from a relationship or — as Sally Antia and Marnie Pearce found — when aiming to get custody of children.

When such men have bottled up hurt feelings, they start to consider their long-term goal.

Take the experience of Michael, 42, who found out that his wife of 15 years, Cathy, had been cheating on him with a colleague.

He discovered the affair at least four months before he let Cathy know.

Typically of many men in this situation, he gathered as much information about what was going on before presenting his “case” to her.

In the meantime, Michael took sums of money from their joint account, placing them in his personal savings account.

He slyly asked her to make purchases on her credit card that he might normally have made.

By the time Michael announced to Cathy that he knew all about her affair, he had amassed a nest egg that she would have difficulty getting her hands on after the break-up.

Roger, 37, also bided his time before letting his live-in partner, Hannah, 35, know that he had found out that she had told colleagues their relationship was “heading for the scrap heap”.

Feeling betrayed and hurt, he took time to find a studio to rent, leaving her high and dry with large rental costs for the flat that had been rented in her name.

Of course, some men react in vengeful ways instantly — just as some women carefully plan revenge — but I find that men are more likely to channel such feelings to a particular end.

Women want to get such feelings out of their system and move on to the next task, be it dealing with a break-up or discussing plans for custody.

It’s as if women want to purge themselves emotionally and to start with a clean slate.

This reflects the way in which women often handle disagreements in a relationship: they want to sit down, face to face, and sort things out.

Many men want to mull things over first.

As the child psychologist and Times columnist Professor Tanya Byron says: “Revenge is revenge — men and women just approach it differently.”

In general, when it comes to the children, she adds, “some parents punish them by playing out their anger for a failed relationship through them.

This is reprehensible, but sadly it’s something I see a lot.

Parents can often get so caught up in their own bitterness that they use the kids as the weapon.”

The desire for revenge can be so powerful that it overrides a person’s sense of right and wrong.

As Byron acknowledges, revenge extracted through the children in this way “is a very immature way of dealing with problems in a marriage; it’s like being in a playground and telling on someone to get them into trouble.”

Sadly, the real victims can often be the children.

In the long term, children who are trapped in the midst of a bitter divorce can themselves develop psychological and behavioural problems: “

Their outer behaviour manifests the inner turmoil within the family,” Byron says.

They can develop acute anxiety, anorexia, and start to refuse to go to school.

As they grow up, these children may themselves have issues with trust and intimacy and problems forming loving relationships.”

Certainly, I’ve witnessed playground-type behaviour from partners who might normally behave better.

But when it comes to feelings of betrayal, I always ask people to put plans for revenge on hold and revisit their idea a month later.

A cooling-off period usually gives time to reinstate their good judgment.

It’s also a good idea to get third party mediation with couples counselling.

Most importantly, couples with children should always put themselves in their young shoes and consider how they’d feel witnessing such bad behaviour in their parents.

Dr Pam Spurr - Times

No comments: