McGreevey and his wife, Dina, and Utah Sen. Larry Craig and his wife,
In each case, the man was allegedly not faithful. And in each case, the wife
stood by her man -- at least temporarily.
The latest case, as the others, brings up a host of questions for most of
us: What are the cheated-on spouses feeling? Why do they stand by their
partners? Why do they stay?
Experts consulted by WebMD say they don't know enough about the Spitzer case
to comment directly on it, but through their years of experience working with
unfaithful couples or researching fidelity, can suggest dynamics that might be
(Why do men like Gov. Eliot Spitzer
seek out prostitutes ? Read one expert's opinion on WebMD's Sex Matters
Standing by Her Man: Despite Rage?
"The immediate reaction to the news of infidelity is a profound trauma
for people," says Don-David Lusterman, PhD, a psychologist in Baldwin,
N.Y., who is well known for his expertise in treating couples with infidelity
"Men and women [both] are very traumatized," he says of the
cheated-on spouse. "They really enter marriage thinking they are going to live happily ever
Terror can be the next emotion, after digesting the news, Lusterman tells
WebMD. The spouse may ask herself or himself: "What else do I believe
[besides thinking he was faithful] that I shouldn't have?" They may
experience the anxiety of wondering what part of their life is as they
perceive it and what part is not.
The immediate reactions to infidelity are "primal," says Marion
Rudin Frank, PhD, a Philadelphia psychologist who works often with couples.
"The green-eyed monster is there," she says. Cheated-on spouses
typically are also fuming and grieving for the marriage they thought they had and the
investment they have made.
Spouses betrayed by their partners, understandably, tend to be "furious
at every level," says Helen Fisher, PhD, a cultural anthropologist at
Rutgers University and a leading researcher on love, romance , and attraction . Profound embarrassment can creep in,
especially in a betrayal so public as a politician's.
Humiliation is common, too, she says. "There's the fact that some people
will laugh at her." They'll wonder why she stays, even temporarily.
Oddly, another emotion may take over once the couple is facing the music --
or in the case of the powerful, the press conference. "She gets to look
noble by standing by him," Fisher says.
Why Do They Stay?
The reasons some spouses stay in a union after infidelity are multiple,
experts concur, and differ depending on the dynamics of the marriage.
Staying may be about keeping the status quo, says Frank, especially if the
woman is the one experiencing the infidelity. "Women tend to have grown up
more [than men] with the message of 'Don't rock the boat,'" she tells
There's the old "I can change him" mentality that can creep in, too,
Or a woman may believe the behavior is an aberration, Lusterman says, a
The couple may need each other's skills, says Fisher. "There are many,
many reasons you stay in a marriage and it's not all sexual."
The relationship may still work for some women, Fisher says, even after
infidelity. "She might need money or his contacts, or he may pay the
A woman married to a powerful politician may have him on a pedestal, says
Frank. Or a woman may see other qualities in their partner that can compensate
for the bad behavior, Lusterman says.
Some women may look at the marriage as a whole, he says, and see enough good
to hang in there, Lusterman tells WebMD. Those with children may be unwilling,
at least immediately, to upset their idea of family.
What the cheater does in the wake of the revelation can tun the tide, too,
experts say. "He may turn into one of those guys who stays so sweet and
charming she gets swept back in," Fisher says of someone who cheats and
hopes to stay with his wife.
Advice for the Betrayed
The action a spouse who has been cheated on takes -- after the betrayal is
revealed -- is crucial to determining if the relationship can survive,
according to Lusterman.
He advises couples experiencing infidelity to separate for a period of time.
The betrayed spouse should ask the one who cheated to get help to overcome the
infidelity, Lusterman says. The betrayed partner needs to ''make a new
contract," he says, being sure the unfaithful partner knows the behavior
won't be tolerated.
In his experience working with couples, a marriage has the poorest chance of
surviving if the unfaithful spouse engages in what he calls "pursuit
behavior." This type of infidelity, he says, doesn't involve a one-night
stand and a temporary lapse of judgment but a deliberate planning of the
Those who pursue infidelity, he says, may need to have extramarital sex to
feel powerful, not just to have sex.
By Kathleen Doheny
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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