Standing by Her Man: Why?


Fashionably dressed and smoothly coiffed, New York first lady Silda Spitzer’s expression seemed to convey a mixture of sadness and rage during the Monday press conference where her husband, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, publicly apologized over his alleged involvement in a prostitution ring.

The news videos headlining the alleged 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 WebMD.

There’s the old “I can change him” mentality that can creep in, too, experts say.

Or a woman may believe the behavior is an aberration, Lusterman says, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

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 rent.”

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 turn 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 infidelity.

Those who pursue infidelity, he says, may need to have extramarital sex to feel powerful, not just to have sex.