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Elizabeth Edwards 'goes public'
By Peggy Vaughan

Elizabeth Edwards has 'gone public' with her private struggles and tragedies (death of a son when he was 16 years old, terminal cancer, and her husband's affair). She wrote a book aptly titled "Resilience"—and was interviewed by Oprah. I watched the show and have read the book.

I have been an admirer of Elizabeth for quite some time, and her writing and her interview only reinforced my image of her as an exceptional woman—although she repeatedly declares in her book that she is NOT special. And she goes out of her way to describe others who have shown the kind of 'resilience' she sees as so essential.

Unfortunately, I saw the TV show before I got the book—which was published the day of the show. The interview set a tone that would lead you to believe the book was primarily about dealing with the affair, but nothing could be further from the truth. The only reason Elizabeth said so much about the affair in the interview was because the affair was the focus of almost all the questions—and she tried to honestly respond to every question.

Not surprisingly, a focus on the affair is also behind the comments by many journalists, pundits, and regular folks. And most of them are offering their opinions about Elizabeth's decision to 'go public' in this way. Most ask, "Why did she do this? What does she hope to gain?" The very act of asking WHY reflects a mindset and judgment that she should NOT have done it. This critical/judgmental attitude has both saddened and infuriated me.

I know something about the fallout from talking publicly about your private life. James and I were the first couple to ever publicly discuss their experience in staying together after affairs. We published our first book and went on "The Donahue Show" back in 1980 - almost 30 years ago! While we received a great deal of appreciation from people who were helped by our public sharing, we also had to put up with those who were critical and 'second-guessed' our decision.

In our case, at least those who judged us were 'on target' in focusing on the fact that we were talking almost exclusively about the affairs—but that is not the case with Elizabeth Edwards. Her book is about dealing with so much more than just an affair. (In fact, the affair seems to be one of the lesser struggles she's faced.) So I strongly recommend that those who publicly question Elizabeth's decision to 'go public' will READ THE BOOK before commenting.

In fact, the book is not exclusively about Elizabeth's struggles; it also includes stories of others who have shown a lot of 'resilience' in dealing with difficult challenges. It's sure to be a source of great strength and inspiration to people in dealing with their own life challenges. While I've never come anywhere near facing the kinds of difficulties she has faced, I was definitely inspired by reading her innermost thoughts about her own struggles and those of others she describes.

Although her reaction to the affair is only one (and not the primary one) of the many difficult experiences she writes about in the book, most people will still focus primarily on the part about the affair. So I want to make some comments specifically about those who are critical of her decision to 'go public' in discussing it.

People who stand 'outside' and judge the choices of someone whose spouse has had an affair "don't have a clue" as to what it's like to be in that position. Unless/until it happens to you personally, it's wise to just stay quiet about the choices made by those who have faced this issue. Even those of us who have 'been there' (in that we've dealt with our spouses' affairs) are in no position to judge someone else's way of dealing with it.

As I've written in the past...
"We should respect and support each person's individual choices about significant issues in their lives—even when we disagree or fail to understand."

Frankly, it seems to me that when someone like Elizabeth can face such tragedies as the death of her 16-year-old son, her husband's affair, and being terminally ill... she has the right to say or do anything she wants. In fact, I think it's a miracle that she is willing and able to speak so thoughtfully and intelligently about her experiences.

I have previously posted a number of articles on my website about other well-known women, including Hillary Clinton and Silda Spitzer, who have publicly acknowledged their husbands' affairs. Here are links to those articles (as well as some related pieces).

Why did Hillary Stay in her Marriage?
Silda Spitzer's Public Pain
Exposure of Affairs of Politicians and Celebrities
Our Fascination with Extramarital Affairs

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