Politicians, celebrities and affairs:
the lessons they’ve taught us
By Lisa Merlo-Booth
When it comes to extra-marital affairs, politicians and celebrities are an endless source of learning. From David Letterman to John Edwards, they and their mistakes have much to teach us. If we pay attention, their affairs can save us from the same pain, humiliation and hurtful relationship moves they’ve had to endure. For what we can learn from their mistakes, I thank them. I’m sorry, however, that their families have had to bear the brunt of these painful events.
Let’s start the learning process.
Lesson 1: Affairs can happen to anyone; no one is immune. John Edwards is a classic example of this lesson. Many people — including his wife — never thought he was capable of an affair. He appeared to be the nice, boy-next-door type of guy; a rare breed in politics. His wholesome appearance led many to think he was above affairs. This is dangerous thinking. Everyone is capable — and potentially culpable.
Where did John go wrong? He didn’t protect his marriage (as so many of us don’t). Although we could say this about all politicians and celebrities who have affairs, John is a particularly good example of this. While he didn’t go out looking for an affair, he certainly didn’t do anything to stop it when his mistress came at him. John’s first meeting with his mistress was one BIG red flag. As soon as she greeted him with, “Man you’re good-looking!” he should’ve run. When he realized that he felt good when she said that — he should’ve sprinted.
Lesson 2: Don’t blame the ‘other woman’. I’ve seen this time and time again: the men cheat and the wives are angrier at the mistresses than they are at their husbands. I agree that the mistresses are wrong and in some cases exhibit zero self respect (not to mention zero respect for families and other women), however, the mistress did not make the man have sex with her. The idea that the men couldn’t help themselves is a ridiculous lie that women tell themselves to lesson the pain of the affair. Stop it. If your husband cheats he did it because he CHOSE to not because he was a helpless victim. They are both wrong — however the one you need to be the most concerned and angry with is your husband.
Lesson 3: It is the offending partner’s job to support YOU!!! In countless scandalous affairs with politicians, the wives are up on the stage supporting their husbands. I can’t even begin to tell you how backward this is. The list of wives who have torturously stood by their man after his secret has been outed have included Governor Eliot Spitzer’s wife Silda Spitzer, Governor James E. McGreevey’s wife Dina, Governor David Paterson’s wife Gayle Paterson, former President Bill Clinton’s wife, Hillary Clinton. And that’s only the beginning of a long, sad roll. The bottom line is the offending party is the one who needs to do the supporting. Period. They are responsible for repairing the damage. Allow this repair to happen, insist it happens and know you’ll survive on your own if it doesn’t happen.
These press conferences have glaringly taught us how brutal it is to ask your wife (or betrayed partner) to publicly stand behind you so you don’t look so bad. Asking them to stand before God and others showing their undying support of you — is sadistic. It does not help you look good. If anything you look even worse. The one saving grace for John Edwards is he took the hit all by himself at first. That was a decent move on his part. Elizabeth showed strength when she didn’t show up for the press conference.
If you’ve had an affair, know that it’s your job to support your partner. Take ownership of your behavior and step up! You need to be the supportive one — NOT the other way around. If you’re in the public eye, be strong enough to take the hit yourself. Protect your family from further humiliation — it’s the LEAST you can do.
If your partner has had an affair, don’t allow the fear of losing the relationship make you play small. Feel the fear and stand up for yourself anyway. If you don’t respect yourself, your partner certainly won’t.
Lesson 4: Be clear about where you stand, what you’ll need and what your bottom line is. Once you have been clear — follow through on your words. Jennie Sanford, wife of Governor Mark Sanford is an excellent example of this. When her husband asked her if he could see his mistress, she was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “Absolutely not. It’s one thing to forgive adultery; it’s another thing to condone it.” When he chose to secretly visit his mistress anyway, Jennie asked him to move out of their house. She informed her husband that she was willing to work on the marriage, however, she would not do that if he continued with the affair.
Following through on your words is vital. If you say you’re going to do something — do it. This takes enormous courage, resolve and strength and is imperative for the future health of your relationship. If you continually threaten your partner yet seldom act on those threats you teach your partner to not believe you. Threats without action are empty. They result in your partner taking advantage of you and you feeling bad about yourself.
Think carefully about your bottom line. Know what it is and be sure you will be willing to act on it should the need arise. What your bottom line is specifically is not as important as following through on it. If you’re not going to leave the relationship then don’t threaten to. There are many more steps in between leaving and staying that can also be effective such as: not being sexual, moving out of the bedroom, demanding you both get into counseling etc. Know what your bottom-line is and be determined to act on it.
Affairs are heart wrenching. They impact men, women and children of all ages and their effects last long into the future. Should you or your family be affected by them, learn from the celebrities and politicians.
Last but not least, know that you can get through this. If your partner continues with the affair, isn’t remorseful or is not accountable — know that you can make it on your own if you have to. It’s scary, difficult and may not be your first choice but if necessary have faith that you will survive and perhaps even thrive. Make any plans necessary to help support you and give yourself options. Staying because you love your partner and want to see if your relationship can heal is a viable choice. Staying out of fear of losing your partner and being on your own is not a choice, it’s a death sentence. Respect yourself enough to feel the fear and make the right choice — not the easiest one.