by Peggy Vaughan
When Hillary Clinton decided to stay in her marraige after learning of her husband's affairs, everyone seemed to be asking the question: "Why does Hillary Stay?"but the question itself reflects a way of thinking that implies a woman "shouldn't" stay if her husband has an affair. When you're thinking in an abstract way (or regarding someone else), it seems simple to decide to leave. But when it happens to you, it's anything but simple. For instance, those who say (or think) "If my husband had an affair I'd kick-the-bum-out" actually have no idea what they will do unless and until it does happen to them.
Those who disagree with a decision to stay seldom base it on a thoughtful consideration of the question. They're more likely to have an emotional reaction or to simply say she should leave "on principle." In fact, criticizing a wife who stays may seem to reflect genuine concern for her, but it actually has more to do with the person making the statement than with the wife who is personally facing the situation. If we look closely at people who are upset about women who stay with a husband who has affairs, we're likely to find a lot of fear: fear that it could happen to them, and a feeling that "punishing" men for affairs will somehow "protect" them from being faced with this problem in their own lives or in the lives of those close to them.
While I certainly can't speak for Hillary Clinton, I can offer some perspective as a wife who has "been there" (in that my own husband had a series of affairs earlier in our marriage) and as a professional who has worked with this issue since 1980. While most people recognize that concerns about children or finances often influence women to stay, there are also some important reasons why Hillary (or the countless other women in her position), might choose to stay:
So while there are many reasons a woman might choose to stay in her marriage, the overarching reason is that she has been able to think clearly about the whole complex situation instead of just reacting emotionally. Despite the general tendency in society as a whole to "feel sorry" for people in this situation and see them as being "humiliated," women in Hillary's position are likely to have an understanding of affairs in a much larger context. They understand that this is not a personal reflection on them as a wife and that it's not even "necessarily" a reflection on their particular marriage. They recognize that affairs are (and have been for some time) extremely prevalent in our society, both among well-known people and among the faceless masses. As I explain in my book, The Monogamy Myth, they reject the simplistic notion that affairs are due only to personal shortcomings and failures within a few specific marriages; that while this is clearly a personal problem, it is also a societal problem.
Certainly, this does not "justify" or "excuse" affairs. (For instance, my admiration for previous political figures such as Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., has been diminished by learning of their affairs.) But far from feeling their wives were humiliated by their actions, I only feel great admiration for the way their wives dealt with such a difficult issue. Of course, since the public was unaware of the affairs at the time, these women were not subjected to the kind of public outcry that reaches current political wives (or other high-profile wives) about staying with their husbands. But you can be sure that these three extremely bright women were aware of their husbands' affairsand chose to stay for many of the reasons listed above.
While I've tried to explain why some women choose to stay with men who have affairs, I want to be very clear that I'm not saying a woman "should" stay. As a woman, wife, mother, and grandmother, what I am saying is that we should respect and support each woman's personal choice about how she deals with this issueeven when we disagree or fail to understand.
Note: For a related piece, see: Exposure of Affairs of Politicians and Celebrities
It was 10 years after Hillary Clinton faced the public disclosure of her husband's affair that she finally spoke publicly about it. On January 18, 2008, she appeared for a full hour interview on the Tyra Banks Show, discussing a wide range of issues, including her feelings when she learned of her husband's affairand how she made the decision to stay in her marriage.
When she finally did this interview, she confirmed the validity of most of the points I had made back in 1998 when I posted the above article on my website, offering insights into what might have been part of her thinking/motivation.
Below are excerpts from Hillary's 1-18-08 interview with Tyra Banks
How did you persevere during this darkest moment in your life?
Were you embarrassed?
Do women come up to you and asků "What do I do?"