David Ong saga: Powerful strayers may feel entitled, says counsellor

David Ong saga: Powerful strayers may feel entitled, says counsellor
SUDDEN EXIT: Mr David Ong quit his Bukit Batok MP position last Saturday. He is said to be involved in an extramarital affair with grassroots activist Wendy Lim.
PHOTO: Facebook / Bukit Batok PAP Woman's Wing

The stakes were high for Bukit Batok MP David Ong.

The People's Action Party (PAP) second-term MP was said to be well-liked by his residents and ran the estate well.

Married for more than two decades, he has three sons who turn 17, 19 and 21 this year.

Mr Ong's abrupt resignation from his MP role last Saturday after an alleged affair placed his family under public scrutiny and left him with a marriage to salvage.

His "personal indiscretion" raises the question: Why did he decide to risk losing what he had?

The Counselling Paradigm's founder and lead counsellor Willy Ho explained that love can be a big source of motivation.

Pointing to the dynamics of a married couple, Mr Ho said: "If this love is somehow not found or displayed at home, sometimes people want to go out and search for it despite the risks involved."

A 2011 Dutch study found that elevated power is positively associated with infidelity as power increases one's confidence in the ability to attract partners.

So could Mr Ong's MP status have something do with the alleged affair?

Marriage counsellor Chang-Goh Song Eng, however, cautioned against drawing the link between power and affairs too quickly.

While public figures like Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton made the news for cheating on their wives, the head of Reach Counselling explained that power may not have been the contributory factor.

UNSATISFACTORY

"As a general principle, when people are powerful, they may think they deserve happiness or partners. Coupled with an unsatisfactory (relationship), or if their needs are not met elsewhere, they may just get into situations," she said.

Affairs that involve a powerful straying partner come under the category of entitlement affairs, said Mrs Chang-Goh.

She explained: "For some people, they are better equipped (with fame, wealth or power), hence the sense of entitlement and getting into affairs."

But she emphasised that infidelity starts off unconsciously.

"Nobody enters a marriage with the intention to stray. That's why we say people slide into an affair," said Mrs Chang-Goh.

"You get into a friendship which provides a listening ear, comfort and admiration. It distracts and diverts your attention from unpleasantness, like coldness or conflicts at home.

"In that sense, you know that this is nice but what's at home is not so nice and you get drawn in.

"An emotional affair is also an affair by definition. A sexual affair is an easy next step."

She suggests counselling or talks for couples to help them heal from affairs. Reach Counselling is holding a marriage talk by renowned American marital counsellor Dave Carder on May 21.

Mr Ong's resignation brings to mind PAP's MP Michael Palmer and Workers' Party (WP) Yaw Shin Leong.

Mr Palmer admitted to an affair in 2012 and resigned.

In the same year, Mr Yaw was expelled by WP after rumours of an extramarital affair with a fellow party member.

Should competent public officials vacate their seats even if their actions do not constitute a crime?

Yes, said political observer, Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser.

The National University of Singapore's sociologist explained: "In our political culture, infidelity reflects moral failing and is therefore not tolerated.

"If we set high standards for our public officials, expecting them to be people of integrity, then moral failing is not acceptable, even though it may not be a crime and is a deviant act which is probably quite prevalent among ordinary folk.

"At the same time, a public office is not merely a job but comes with some expectation that office holders uphold the values deemed important in our society and thereby worthy of our respect, honour and trust."

Prof Tan said people are unlikely to look past Mr Ong's actions and allow him to continue being an MP.

"Cheating on one's wife, wrecking another person's family, bringing shame upon one's children and betraying the trust of the people have consequences beyond the person making the mistake and are therefore not something our society can condone," he added.

"But I believe that given that human beings are not infallible, there ought to be room for forgiveness, healing of relationships, restoration of trust and therefore a comeback should be possible, though I think it is improbable in Singapore at present."

fjieying@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 15, 2016.
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