Why Women Stay With Men Who Cheat
What keeps women with the men who betray them? Fear, shame, security – and even love.
-April Daniels Hussar
And … another one bites the dust. Tiger Woods is only the most recent in what feels like a never-ending string of high-profile guys who cheat. As the details emerge in the form of naughty voicemails and proof of Tiger’s penchant for sexting his mistresses, all eyes will be on his wife Elin Nordegren Woods. Will she stay? Will she forgive (but surely never forget). Or will she leave, taking their two beautiful children and a hefty settlement with her?
While it’s easy for most of us to imagine Elin leaving Tiger, we’re probably less likely to understand why she might choose to stay. We may say David Letterman’s an idiot, and wonder why his wife – as well as all the wives of public figures caught with their pants down, from the poster-girl-for-women-scorned, Hillary Clinton, to Silda Spitzer and Elizabeth Edwards – don’t just get up and leave. Or, better yet, kick the horndogs out.
But maybe it’s not that simple. Psychologists and divorce lawyers told BettyConfidential there are a lot of reasons why women stay with men who cheat … from the need for security, to concern for their children, to blaming themselves, in part, for the betrayal. And then there is even the question of love. Yes, they still may really love the guy who has done them wrong.
Afraid to Leave the Security of Marriage
Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media 2008) says, “In my practice I’ve seen women stay even when he’s abusive, mean to the kids, and a cheat. In those cases, staying is most likely an indication of the woman’s fear of handling life on her own.” Vikki Ziegler, a celebrity divorce attorney who, for the past fifteen years, has been dealing with cases where women have been cheated on concurs. She says women initially stay with their cheating husbands for three reasons: money, children and security. Eventually, they can have a change of heart, which is why they end up in Vicki’s office.
Gwynne, 31, was married for seven years before finally leaving her unfaithful husband when he got his girlfriend pregnant. Why did she stay in the first place, after he continued to betray her trust? “Fear. Desperation. I was a stay-at-home mom, going to college full time, with no way to support myself. We were struggling as it was, and for me to walk away from his income? I couldn’t do it.” When she felt she was able to cope on her own, she left him.
To Save Their Families
Melissa*, 34, has been married for 13 years; they have 8-year-old twins and a 4-year-old. Their youngest was 4-months-old when Melissa discovered her husband was cheating on her with a mutual friend.
When she first found out, she described herself as being “hysterical,” and feeling “complete disgust” for her husband. “I broke the glass in every wedding picture over the mailbox. At times the sight of him made me want to throw up. I was so upset and depressed that if I wasn’t nursing a baby, I am pretty sure I would have starved or worse.”
At first she stayed “out of spite.” Then, she says, “I stayed because I thought there might be a chance … He was truly remorseful and slowly regained my trust by being one hundred percent accountable.”
Melissa says, especially at first, her children and their future were big parts of the reason she did not leave. “I was crazy thinking that ‘she’ would be raising my daughters. I would have done anything to prevent that. I literally pictured them together as a family at dinner and felt sick.”
However, she says, the children’s needs alone wouldn’t have been enough if her husband hadn’t ended his affair, and worked with her to move forward. “The initial reason for staying got me to stay long enough for actual changes to take place. That said, there is a point where if he refused to end his affair with that woman, I would have had to leave.”