At the National Enquirer rumor station, which pumps out more toxic fumes than Exxon, it was reported that Elizabeth Edwards wants to divorce her husband John Edwards because she now thinks he was a serial cheater vs. just having had an indiscretion with Rielle Hunter. An indiscretion I may add that led to the birth of a child.
As someone who specializes in marriage and divorce, I arched my eyebrows like half moons and immediately called my colleague, Dr. Bonnie Eaker-Weill who wrote "Adultery:The Forgivable Sin."
"What are the odds of that being true for most women?" I said.
"Very low," laughed Bonnie.
Because the truth is that most women who marry powerful men find it easier to accept serial cheaters vs. having them involved with one special person.
As Bonnie said, "When it happens over time with many people, wives can justify that it's like a flavor of the week, an addiction, a love drug."
More or less like sky diving, where the guy looks for a thrill over and over again and then comes home to the wife. The wife is willing to make this Faustian bargain as Hillary Clinton did because she can say that he doesn't love these women, he just can't help himself. The wives find ways to justify the behavior by blaming the other women's values that are as low as the plunging necklines of their Versace dresses. Because deep down they know that the guy eventually comes home to the bosom of his nurturing and far more wholesome family.
And that thinking isn't too far off. Guess what the stats are of powerful men leaving their wife after an affair? Less than 3 percent eventually married their lovers.
Oh and here's another juicy statistic that should give some predators something to think about. The ones who get married to the lovers that caused the family break-up? Those couples have a 75 percent divorce rate. And the vast majority have ironclad pre-nups. (Or as iron-clad as they can be.)
But the real threat to a marriage is when the man gets emotionally involved. When he cares, when he offers financial support. When he claims, as Gov. Mark Sanford did that he loves the other woman. Those sincere heartfelt words bruise like bubbling acid which is part of the reason that Jenny Sanford ditched her hubby on the mea culpa podium. And most likely why Silda Spitzer did not.
When it's not a woman he loves, it also gives the wife a narrative to explain the affair to the children who can't help but see the on-going drama in our seamy stake-out culture with 24/7 cable rotations. But make no mistake about it, the children are still scared and scarred.
"I found it much easier when I knew my father was a serial cheater," Dr. Bonnie Eaker-Weill told me.
He later told me he had a relationship with someone for over three years. I had looked at his serial cheating as though he went to a movie and had ice cream and one year he wanted banana, another time strawberry. It didn't feel as threatening. But when I found out he had had one special person for that time, it was gut-wrenching. It hits you in the gut. I felt so bad for my mother.
Because no one wants to be replaced. No one wants to feel disposable.
But Elizabeth Edwards reportedly feels differently. And she may. Each of us processes pain differently. But most of us haven't performed on a media circus where the precarious balancing act was implying it was not a chronic problem. This latest revelation could be just too much to bear and the woman has gone through so much.
When I look at what is happening, it makes me think of one of my clients who ping-ponged between being angry and numbed by pain. Elizabeth has endured both physical and emotional pain. Her anger has been marinating a long time and she may be ready to finally fry her husband.
What is the tipping point in a marriage? Each one is different.
But Bonnie and I discussed what happens behind closed doors when affairs have been revealed.
Sixty-five percent of marriages break up after adultery. One of the reasons is that the betrayed finds it almost impossible to not bring up the hurt in the couple's day to day life. It permeates each dinner, each trip to the grocery, each night in bed. The person who has gone back to the family doesn't want to hear about the indiscretion being dredged up day after day. And it's risky.
When the other spouse brings up the other person, it reminds him/her of the thrill which he/she is trying to get over. That doesn't mean the injured party shouldn't have a place to discuss it. But it should be in a therapist's office or a pre-scheduled allotted time where one can just vent and get it out of their system and both wear the emotional equivalent of bulletproof vests. If someone holds in pain, it festers and can cause disease and heartache.
So how long will a guy listen in these scheduled venting sessions? "Between one minute and ten. No more," says Bonnie. And I agreed. Though many of you will think this harsh.
This is not to say that men haven't suffered from affairs. But in our experience, women need to talk about it more. These gender distinctions don't mean that the pain is any less searing. It just means that it's dealt with in different ways.
And whether it's a man or a woman who cheats, it is still a selfish act. When a spouse says that their serial cheater isn't in love with anyone else, that's not completely true. They're in love with themselves. And the sweet gooeyness of the other relationships is actually dripping with poisonous venom that hurts and scars the family and especially the children.
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