I am hearing the same questions daily from friends and clients: "What was Elizabeth Edwards thinking when she penned her latest book, Resilience, where she discussed her husband's infidelity and her reaction when she first learned about it: scream, cry, throw up. How could she leave such a legacy to her children? What was she thinking?"
But Elizabeth Edward's motivation in writing was to escape the pain of thinking. She did not want to think about a child said to closely resemble her husband, born to another woman, with whom he clearly had a relationship, one that has led to a federal investigation into monies given to her. Instead, Mrs. Edwards wrote to cope, to justify, to protect, to keep her hard earned family together. And also to deny.
Resilience is being marketed as a book to help those facing life's "burdens" and "adversities" and will no doubt sell very well. It advises those facing turmoil to not cling to lost dreams, to live in the present, to create a "new reality." Mrs. Edwards encourages viewing the entire frame of a life, not just a bitter betrayal. Though angry at her husband, she believes that together they are at work on their new reality.
It is important to look closely at Elizabeth Edward's actual reality, not merely her new one. An appealing and articulate woman, who merited her own "Elizabeth Edwards for President" campaign buttons during her husband's Presidential candidacy, Mrs. Edwards does not have the luxury of looking too hard or thinking too much. Her burden is not merely infidelity. She has terminal cancer and three children who need a father and an intact family.
To cope, endure and protect, Elizabeth Edwards skirts around her charming husband's character issues, minimizing his grave ethical limitations and how easily he lies, distorts and manipulates. John Edwards told his wife about a one time involvement with another woman two days after declaring his run for Presidency. He would not heed her counsel to drop out of the race to protect their family. Soon after they learned that her cancer had returned. Soon after that she learned that her husband's involvement with another woman was far more involved than a one night stand. She chooses, however, to see this as not part of her life. To her, Edwards is a good man who has done a bad thing, a man who despite an "awful error in judgment," did not leave the race for president because he wanted to "hold on to our lives."
Clearly to achieve this perspective and maintain it, Elizabeth Edwards needed an outlet for her rage. Her verbal flames are directed toward women with idle time who hang out in fancy hotels trying to take and destroy another woman's hard built life rather than work to make their own. According to Mrs. Edwards, Rielle Hunter (whose name is not mentioned in her book) semi-stalked her husband, calling him "hot." According to her, she and women like her are the true culprits.
Though Elizabeth Edwards claims that John does not know why Hunter attracted him, he is, of course, also responsible for their relationship. Though Rielle Hunter does not seem to be a sweetheart, what is really going on here? Marital humiliation is nothing new in the political world and in far less public ones. Yet, how could and why does a man who consistently professes love, adoration and devotion to his wife, even to the extent of a 30 year marital vow renewal in 2007, perhaps as an affair continued, make such seemingly baffling statements and choices.
Every marriage is unique, but one marital pattern that John Edwards lived consistently almost always spells big trouble. When a man marries, needing a woman to be at his side constantly, glued hip to hip, for him to pursue and attain his ambition, he will usually hurt her in myriad ways, public and private. For he resents this dependency, and yet believes he cannot live without it. In these marriages, both one night stands and affairs are common. This enmeshment is far different than an interdependence where there is devotion and availability, but each member can work and achieve without being continuously hip to hip. Further, passion in such unions, if it was ever there, burns out quickly. And physical intimacy can become forced and incomplete. Such men frequently have a secret life, as well as periods of private emotional isolation, and their partners often compensate by finding comfort elsewhere, often in eating patterns that become unmanageable.
It is common for women who love too much to have seen their mothers suffer in poor marriages, as was the case with Elizabeth Edwards, who asked for only one marital gift, fidelity. They see adult men as dangerous, and they are attracted to what feels like the safety of being needed by a man who primarily wants nurturing and protection and therefore will never abandon them. Women attracted to these unions are ever making excuses for their husbands, and in order not to lose them, work harder and harder to be indispensable, thus, without ever meaning to or realizing it, tightening reigns that are already choking.
I have seen introspection lead to self awareness and growth in such marriages, but frequently one partner leaves, seeing that trust is forever eroded. In reality, Elizabeth Edwards does not have one iota of freedom to even think seriously about the second option. She loves her children too much; she is too vulnerable.
And so she has written Resilience, which as its core does what she has ever done: protects her husband as well as makes excuses for him, and at the same time claim him eternally hers. Perhaps a healthier Elizabeth Edwards would have in time said to her rival: "You want the bastard. Take him. He's all yours." Instead, her Resilience is a determination to resurrect her shamed husband, as well as curse and blame her unnamed contender til the end of time.