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Health & Sex

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Standing by Her Man: Why?

Experts say emotions ranging from rage to humiliation affect the cheated-on spouse who decides to stay.

Standing by Her Man: Despite Rage? continued...

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 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.

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