As I listened to CNN cover the aspects of the Anthony Wiener story, two questions stuck with me from the various reports:
1. Is Sexting Cheating?
2. Why does his wife stay?
This post will explore the second question: “Why does his wife stay?”
(See the previous post: The Case of Anthony Wiener – Part 1 for “Is Sexting Cheating?”)
Anthony Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, has come out in public statements maintaining that she forgives her husband and chooses to stay by his side. There is much discussion about the shocking reports that he is doing his sexting thing ….AGAIN. There are questions about why his wife would stay. She is an intelligent woman who has gone on record to say she forgives him and he is a good man.
Why does she stay? While I can only speculate about the Weiner-Abedin marriage, or go on reports in the press which report that she forgives him and can’t leave because of their 19-month old child, I can make comment on the couples I see in my practice.
Why would a woman want to stay with a man who betrays in this way? Should someone stay in a marriage when this type of betrayal is involved? There are no easy answers, especially when a child is involved.
I think of three different cases for consideration.
When people exhibit type of behavior exhibited by Mr. Weiner, there are negative consequences, and when it is repeated, we must consider the possibility of addiction. If this is the case, healing is possible for people who struggle in this way. Properly diagnosed and treated, people can change, and change can be sustained. One of the hallmarks of living a changed life is humility. Addictive behavior is a very selfish act. Those acting in humility have the capacity to understand their that actions have an effect and impact on others around them. They show remorse. If there is addiction, there is a recovery plan. While there are no guarantees, when one is working a recovery plan there is hope for sustained long-term change.
What if the offending spouse begins a recovery plan and the person has trouble sustaining that recovery process? This presents a dilemma for the other spouse to consider. At first, recovery can be a shaky proposition. “Slips” require an increase in treatment plan and / or the recovery process to create a sustained recovery. Should a spouse stay now? The health of a marital system is sustained by the ability to hold healthy boundaries. If one’s boundaries continue to be crossed, we have to begin to question, Why would one stay? Only the person whose boundaries are continued to be crossed can make a determination of when enough is enough! By setting boundaries we teach others how to treat us.
The following are examples of boundaries a spouse might choose to set with their spouse who is struggling with addiction:
· “After the infidelity in our marriage, if I find out about the betrayal of infidelity again, I may be forced to file for divorce”.
· “I will not live in a marriage impacted by addiction without a commitment to therapy and an ongoing recovery process.”
· “If you continue the offensive behavior without being accountable to your recovery plan, I may be forced to leave.”
Boundaries are not set to control another – they are set to teach others how we will, or will not tolerate being treated.
This leads us to a third consideration. What If one stays in a relationship where there are repeated boundary violations? If an offending spouse is not working a recovery process when working a recovery process is a condition of the marital contract to continue, and the spouse stays in the relationship, the spouse is in essence saying: “it is o.k. for you to cross my boundaries. You can continue your offending behavior and I will stay regardless.” In essence: “I do not mean what I say”. Often the spouse hangs in hoping that change will happen. They stay focused on the hope of change rather than the reality of what is. They might believe the relationship will change when it actually is not changing as evidenced by the repeated boundary violations in this way. A spouse who is betrayed has to be prepared to follow through with the boundaries they set.
If there are repeated boundary violations in a marriage, I would wonder why one stays. Sometimes this willingness to tolerate intolerable treatment is a result of a condition called Trauma Bonding. Trauma Bonding, a term developed by Patrick Carnes, is the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person. Trauma bonding is an unhealthy emotional attachment. People who stay in troubled relationships often were in emotionally or physically abusive relationships growing up. It was their early experience of love growing up. In Al-Anon this is what is referred to “as the comfortable slipper”. It feels familiar, even if it is unhealthy and it was our primary experience of love.
If you find yourself unable to leave a troubled relationship and are trauma bonded, there is help. You don’t have to tolerate intolerable behaviors, you can learn healthy relationship behaviors, you can attempt to make change in your relationship, or if need be, you can learn how to get strong enough to leave.