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 infidelity of a powerful man
brought up other similar images of late -- Bill and Hillary Clinton, former New
Jersey Gov. James McGreevey and his wife, Dina, and Idaho Sen. Larry Craig and
his wife, Suzanne.
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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
"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 after."
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
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.