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Article in USA Today, June 10, 2003
(Peggy's comments in italics)

She stayed with a president who strayed
Now it can be told: How to 'realign' a broken relationship

By Karen S. Peterson
USA TODAY

Note: There were three parts to this article (all included below):
—Why did she stay with him?
—Estimates are far apart: Statistics on extramarital affairs are contradictory.
—Should the matter be kept from the kids?

Why did she stay with him?

Hillary Rodham Clinton remained with Bill Clinton during the public humiliation of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Now, in interviews and in her memoir, Living History, she is choosing to answer some of the questions about how she handled her husband's infidelities.

She indicates, in part, that marriage counseling and religious faith helped her through the darkest days. Her comments raise questions in the minds of the less celebrated: Why do people stick with partners who philander? And how do you restore trust when a sacred bond has been broken?

''Women look to other women like Hillary to share their feelings,'' says Debbie Then, a Los Angeles psychologist and author of Women Who Stay With Men Who Stray. ''Every week, you see somebody in your friendship circle or at work or in the popular media who has committed adultery. This topic just never goes away.''

Most couples do stay together, says marital therapist Michele Weiner-Davis. ''If they did not, we would have a divorce rate of 80%.''

Marriages endure after infidelity for a variety of reasons. ''When you add them all up, a betrayed partner would be foolish to leave,'' Vaughan says. She includes as reasons to stay together:

* Love. Perhaps one of the most obvious reasons is one often overlooked, she says. ''Many people still love a partner'' who strayed.

* A shared history. ''They have this incredible bond. They want to be grandparents together. They don't want to compromise the future, or be alone as they get older.''

* The children. Many partners will keep a marriage together ''for the sake of the kids.''

* Finances. Practical reasons can be primary, such as the financial hit both may take when giving up a treasured lifestyle.

* Perspective. The betrayer is not seen as ''bad.'' The person who is betrayed ''can recognize that this is not a bad person and not let this one thing define him or her.''

Marriages endure when partners are mature enough to ''realign the marriage after a disappointment,'' says Anita Wyzanski Robboy, a specialist in family law in Boston. Partners who can ''renegotiate the marital contract'' after such disappointments end up ''remarrying each other, time after time.''

Many partners turn to their religion to sustain them. Clinton told ABC's Barbara Walters on Sunday that her faith was primary in helping her endure tough times, and she ''had to get on my knees'' to pray for guidance.

Practical reasons for sticking it out include divorce statistics that are higher for second marriages than for first ones, says family therapist Bonnie Eaker Weil, author of Make Up, Don't Break Up. ''In today's world, you may be getting rid of a person, but you are not getting rid of a problem,'' and you could carry the same mistakes into a second union.

Couples who stay together face a tough task: healing the wounds and restoring a tattered bond.

''It is very hard to overcome a betrayal of trust,'' Then says. One common problem is that often ''others know about it -- your community, your co-workers, parents, in-laws. A betrayal is very hard to overcome when it is public.''

There is no one magic formula to resurrect trust. But with time and a great deal of work, it is possible to ''emerge stronger than before,'' says psychologist Les Parrott of Seattle Pacific University. ''These breaches of trust can be the price we pay for a deeper level of intimacy.''

Partners, he says, ''should not flee into action, but retreat into reflection. The most important thing to do immediately is nothing.''

The partner who has had the affair must be prepared to do a great deal of talking.

Vaughan's research on more than 1,000 spouses whose partners have been unfaithful shows the key to personal recovery and to staying together is a willingness to talk about the betrayal over a long period of time. ''There is no quick fix,'' she says.

Healing from infidelity is ''not a straight line,'' says Weiner-Davis, author of Divorce Busting. ''It is a jagged line with many setbacks.'' The partner who has been unfaithful may be willing to talk at first but will balk when the subject is brought up again and again. Recovery takes ''endurance and patience and compassion.'' And, she says, ''honesty is the best policy.''

The aggrieved partner also must look inward, says Parrott, co-author of When Bad Things Happen to Good Marriages. After making the decision that the marriage is worth fighting for, he says, both must ''take ownership of their piece of the pie. If you are the victim, and your spouse made a terrible decision, what did you bring to the picture?''

The toughest step, he says, is granting ''forgiveness for the hurt we didn't deserve.'' Next comes ''commitment: the ability to say that in spite of the mistrust, pain and hurt, the one thing that is rock-solid is my relationship with you.''

Clinton told Walters that she eventually was able to forgive her husband, ''but it took a long time'' to reach a point when she could let go of her anger and disappointment. Marital counseling helped her decide she wanted to preserve both her love and marriage.

It is realistic, Weiner-Davis says, to accept that the affair is never really forgotten. ''It does become a part of who you are as a person or a couple.'' But over time, ''there is a gradual weaning away from the need to focus on it. The betrayed person may have flashbacks to the affair. But he or she has to take responsibility finally for changing the channel.''

Estimates are far apart
Statistics on extramarital affairs are contradictory. Estimates include:

"20% of wives and 44% of husbands have had extramarial sex."
—Shirley Glass, Not Just Friends: Protect Your Relationship from Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal.

60% of men and 40% of women will commit adultery.
—Peggy Vaughan,
The Monogamy Myth.

66% of women and 68% of men in first marriages have had an affair.
—Annette Lawson, Adultery: An Analysis of Love and Betrayal.

80% of women and 65% to 85% of men have never had an affair. —Edward Lauman, The Social Organization of Sexuality.

Should the matter be kept from the kids?

By Karen S. Peterson

Whether to tell children when an affair rocks a marriage is a subject of fierce debate.

Marital therapist Michele Weiner-Davis is "adamantly opposed to adults talking to their children about adult matters such as infidelity. . . . A parent's relationship with a child should be separate from the relationship the parents have with each other. Just because a parent has been a philanderer does not necessarily mean he or she is a bad parent."

Children often get used as pawns in a fight between parents, Weiner-Davis says. "It is selfish wanting to tell your child, 'I am the good parent, and your dad (or mom) is a bad guy.' That is not in the child's best interest."

Other professionals disagree. Children should be told by parents before they find out from someone else, says Peggy Vaughan, who has studied extramarital affairs for 25 years. "It is almost impossible to keep this a secret" from a child, she says. "Someone, somewhere will know and tell," she says, whether the secret-bearer is a relative, a friend or another child the youngster might barely know.

Children who do not understand what happened or why it happened could end up "repeating the pattern," having an affair themselves when they are grown up, says Bonnie Eaker Weil, author of Adultery, the Forgivable Sin.

"Let children know in a caring way," Weil says. The approach should be age-appropriate. And children should be told that their parents "love them very much, and no matter what has happened, it is not their fault." If possible, the child should be told his or her parents want to work things out, she says.

An affair "can happen to any good person and in any good marriage," Vaughan says.

"I believe keeping kids in the dark is the greatest disservice you can do them," she says. "People are so concerned that the child will fall apart if you tell him. Your child will only fall apart if you fall apart."

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