The good wife stands firm

Article by Catherine Lambert /
Sunday Herald Sun /
April 29, 2012 /
Click here to view original /

THEY stand by their men through scandal and salacious headlines, gritting their teeth as they smile for the cameras and assure the world everything is all right.

These women, often strong, beautiful, successful women who have built careers and families, seem to stand passively by as their husbands apologise or explain away their actions.

Sometimes it is alcohol, or drugs. Maybe it’s a problem with money or gambling. All too often for these high-profile men, including politicians and sporting stars, it’s a sex scandal.

Each time news breaks of another high-profile man cheating on his wife or ending up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, we wait for the proud woman to either flee or banish the offending man, her head held high.

But more and more, the women stay in the face of excruciating public glare. Unfairly, it is more common for people to ask how could she could stay rather than asking how could he have done that to her and his family?

It is culturally implicit that men are more likely to cheat than women so, although there is initial shock when the news breaks, it is not so surprising.

As clinical psychologist Dr Simon Crisp explains, there is a danger when these betrayals are reported that their effect is lessened.

“The more we see it in the popular media, there is an increasing sense that it’s not that bad,” Dr Crisp said. “Raising awareness runs the risk of making something acceptable when it’s not. In different ways, we glamorise the scoundrel who gets away with something he shouldn’t. We do that in films and soap operas because it makes good drama. But the reality is very brutal and long-lasting. It can be glossed over as nothing very significant but we don’t pay much attention to the impact on the individuals.

“Generally, women are more forgiving of men and will be more prepared to sympathise with their situation, feeling they have to shoulder the burden of mistrust, probably because it is women’s instinct to internalise and nurture.

“It’s also more socially acceptable that men are unfaithful so, on some level, women feel it’s less of a betrayal. They might believe it’s in men’s nature to do this so they need to forgive them, but men are the opposite. They are much more critical of women who might have an affair, struggle more to forgive and feel that breach of trust is irreparable to the relationship.”

BUT the author of Cheating in the Sisterhood: Infidelity and Feminism, Dr Lauren Rosewarne of Melbourne University, said many infidelities were never exposed, so it was difficult to ascertain whether women were more likely to stay in a relationship. Yet the trend in celebrity or high-profile relationships is for the women to stay.

“Women devise a reason to rationalise staying,” Dr Rosewarne said.

The reasons are diverse despite society’s collective response that a woman should leave her husband or partner as soon as the betrayal is known.

“For many women, cheating won’t be the worst thing that can happen to her; that, in the scheme of things, she will be able to reduce the importance of the betrayal in favour of the other benefits marriage offers her.

“Many of the high-profile examples are relationships where the man has more status than the woman. And it is this issue that can prove a strong motivation for the woman to stay. It often gets called ‘doctor’s wife syndrome’ where the woman’s social status is elevated when she is married to the doctor; if they divorce, her status reduces.

“Women often benefit socially, financially, ego-wise, to stay in relationships with famous men; in doing so they retain the status of wife.

“This may lead them to do their own cost-benefit analysis and decide that staying is less costly than leaving.

“Sure, he did something horrible, but the woman still loves him so she will work out ways to rationalise his infidelity, often, for example, by blaming the other woman. Of course, some relationships do recover from infidelity — some couples even report that it strengthens their marriage; that both try harder afterwards — so it’s important to realise that the dynamics of every relationship differ.”

The marriage of former US congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin appears to have strengthened since the birth of their son Jordan in February. Last year, Weiner was caught sending sexually explicit photos to a group of young women on Twitter while his wife was pregnant. She has stood by him.

Hillary Clinton was not keen to stand by her disgraced man at first but did, seeking her own status and power in the process.

Never mind that her husband was the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, and he was impeached but acquitted over charges of lying about his relationship with a 22-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

And who could forget the excruciating press conference during which former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, confirmed his dealings with prostitute Ashley Dupre, while his wife Silda Wall Spitzer stood flint-eyed by his side, lending support.

Closer to home, Australia’s Simone Warne, who has reverted to her maiden name, Callahan, and Alex Fevola appear to have developed new confidence since finally bidding farewell to the dream of a mended marriage. Callahan worked for years to maintain her relationship with cricketer Shane Warne as he was embroiled in text message scandals and photographed cavorting in his underpants.

Fevola stoically weathered years of bad behaviour from her footballer husband Brendan, including drunken escapades and compulsive gambling, as well as a reported affair with bikini model Lara Bingle.

Last week, Australia was pondering what Parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper’s wife, Inge-Jane Hall, was thinking as documents were lodged accusing Mr Slipper of sexually harassing a much younger male aide.

Former head of Relationships Australia, Anne Hollonds, said infidelity was one of the hardest things to happen to a person, likening it to grief, but said it can be healed.

“The first step is for the person who has done the betrayal to acknowledge his actions,” Ms Hollonds said.

“There is a tendency to say ‘it’s nothing’, which makes the person who has been betrayed very deeply feel even worse, escalating their pain. The person who has done the betraying has to accept the actions have caused damage and that he will do whatever it takes to help the relationship heal.”

Self-examination is also necessary for the man to analyse why he has had an affair and for both parties to acknowledge there is a problem in the relationship.

It takes maturity and honesty to tackle the deep scars infidelity can cause.

“It’s not for the faint-hearted and takes a lot of courage and commitment to tackle it,” she said.

DR CRISP said there were often indications of a problem before an affair.

“There may have been transgressions in ways that are not as clear cut or hold the weight that we tend to hold with an affair,” Dr Crisp said. “It’s about understanding subtle psychological damages that have occurred. Relationships require ongoing review and maintenance. The risk increases when one or both people feel distant or less fulfilled and that needs to be addressed otherwise there is an increased risk of infidelity.”

Dr Rosewarne said there were many reasons why men committed adultery, largely because they believed they could, liked the thrill of the illicit, it heightened their feelings of power and because they feared ageing.

But Dr Crisp said there was a small percentage of people who were narcissists, only valuing themselves and seeing others as serving their needs.

“Such people hold the idea that they are entitled to greatness and are a great risk of having affairs and betrayal in relationships because they don’t feel beholden to others’ expectations,” he said. “I have clients whose husbands are like that.”