Unfortunately affairs are ordinary. Atwood and Schwartz in the Feb.2002 Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy estimate 50-60% of married men and 45-55% of married women have affairs. Affairs are most often symptoms that something is missing in the primary relationship. It is disingenuous of Elizabeth Edwards to not even consider that she has any responsibility except to forgive. Her husband was involved with someone for an entire year! In the Oprah interview she says “If you take that piece out (cheating) I have a perfect marriage.” This is a very superficial understanding of what has happened. It wasn’t a one night stand which was the first lie John Edwards told his wife. Is Elizabeth so consumed with pretending/denial that she really doesn’t understand that he may have been unhappy even though she was happy? Two people in a relationship can have two different experiences that’s why talking, talking and talking about hard things is so essential. It doesn’t surprise me anymore when men acknowledge they are afraid of their wives. Is John afraid of telling her the truth or does he know she doesn’t want to know? Is he upset she gained weight? Elizabeth worried about this in the Oprah interview but didn’t seem to have asked John if it was true. Had their sex life disappeared while campaigning? There are endless possibilities and perhaps her part is only 15-25% but 0% is something I have never seen in over 30 years of working with couples. Did they lose their emotional connection and start taking each other for granted. Did Elizabeth seem boring after 30 years of marriage compared to an independent film director? The point of all these questions we’ll never have answers to, is that it’s not the entire picture to blame John and Rielle. I’m suggesting that Elizabeth needs to look more deeply inward and claim ownership of her 15-25%. Trust can only be restored on honest dialogue about what’s been missing in the marriage prior to the affair.
If you want to prevent affairs in your own relationship use your anniversary as a report card and honestly dialogue about the drawbacks and how to make things better. Affairs are a complicated business and usually it’s a dance that all three people participate in. While John got carried away with his own ego needs it is important to remember that affairs don’t happen to the completely innocent.
Elizabeth’s position of being more angry at the other woman than at John is an ordinary reaction. It is always easier to assign blame to the person you don’t live with. While it is ordinary and very human it is another way to deflect the harsher reality. Again, her belief that establishing paternity to the baby “doesn’t change anything” is evidence of erasing another complex reality. Denial is the most powerful force in the universe. Denial is more powerful than love. Denial most likely offers relief to Elizabeth. She has suffered the worst thing that can happen; the death of a child. It is impossible to rebuild an authentic marriage on a boat load of denial. Affairs can be a crisis that turns into the opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure of a marriage for the long haul. Both people can learn, grow and change for the better. Simply returning to the past is unlikely to be satisfying for anybody.