I selected the topic for this column with reluctance as my thoughts may not find resonance with some readers, particularly the younger ones. I have of late come across a mushrooming of incidents involving marital infidelity. While I consider these cases to be intensely personal, unsavoury and sensitive, one cannot adopt the role of a silent bystander simply for the reason that the trend is ruining innocent lives and destroying families.

Researchers generally cite three major reasons for this regrettable phenomenon. First, there is the sudden exposure of either party, particularly if it comes from a conservative background, to a highly socialised liberal environment. Secondly, vulnerabilities developed in the event of either side passing through an incompatible and unhappy marriage and lastly, character weaknesses driven by ambition, avarice and moral degradation.

It is interesting to note that there was once a time when cases of infidelity were few and far. Many social scientists are of the view that such incidents were rare because of the presence of the joint family system. I tend to agree with this view because of strong commitments and ties that were inherent in this system. The patriarch of the family (or in some cases the matriarch) helped to gel the smaller components together and the whole provided support and succour when individual members were faced with an emotional crises. I say this with conviction because I have seen the system functioning in my own family with seamless efficiency.

In the age of technology and travel resources, a joint family system does not necessarily require the members to be present physically in the same premises. The concept will work as long as the family has the emotional connectivity to interact with one another on a regular basis irrespective of geographical distances.

Decision making in such a system is not the work of an individual, but that of the whole unit. This makes the collective decision makers responsible if the decision goes wrong, thereby eliminating single recrimination and making mitigation, damage control and rectification a shared task.

There is, perhaps, only one drawback to the concept - that it tends to become dictatorial and personality centric. I have seen the passing away of this single gelling factor and the resultant disintegration and decline of entire families. Nonetheless, the benefits of a joint family undeniably outweigh the arguments that its detractors put forward in the blind pursuit of a lifestyle, which is now being debated, even in Western cultures.

A befitting finale to this week’s column is the story of the middle-aged European couple, who invited me to their home during one of my trips abroad. As we sat chatting over coffee, Ethan and Kathy began asking questions about Pakistani lifestyles. I told them about our traditions, our way of life where the joint family played a vital part and where there was never a dull moment with our family home always full of children and grandchildren. My hosts told me that they envied me, as they missed their children, all of whom had ‘flown the coop’ leaving them to spend lonely evenings in an empty nest.

As they talked, I could see them becoming more and more emotional, until in a rare display of uncharacteristic emotion and much to my amazement they began sobbing.

The writer is a freelance columnist.