Why did Hillary Stay in her Marriage?
by Peggy Vaughan

When Hillary Clinton decided to stay in her marraige after learning of her husband's affairs, everyone seemed to be asking the question: "Why does Hillary Stay?"—but the question itself reflects a way of thinking that implies a woman "shouldn't" stay if her husband has an affair. When you're thinking in an abstract way (or regarding someone else), it seems simple to decide to leave. But when it happens to you, it's anything but simple. For instance, those who say (or think) "If my husband had an affair I'd kick-the-bum-out" actually have no idea what they will do unless and until it does happen to them.

Those who disagree with a decision to stay seldom base it on a thoughtful consideration of the question. They're more likely to have an emotional reaction or to simply say she should leave "on principle." In fact, criticizing a wife who stays may seem to reflect genuine concern for her, but it actually has more to do with the person making the statement than with the wife who is personally facing the situation. If we look closely at people who are upset about women who stay with a husband who has affairs, we're likely to find a lot of fear: fear that it could happen to them, and a feeling that "punishing" men for affairs will somehow "protect" them from being faced with this problem in their own lives or in the lives of those close to them.

While I certainly can't speak for Hillary Clinton, I can offer some perspective as a wife who has "been there" (in that my own husband had a series of affairs earlier in our marriage) and as a professional who has worked with this issue since 1980. While most people recognize that concerns about children or finances often influence women to stay, there are also some important reasons why Hillary (or the countless other women in her position), might choose to stay:
She may still love him. (Yes, despite the hurt and anger, love can still survive. This was an important point for me personally.)
She may value their shared history. (My husband and I had grown up together, been childhood sweethearts, and been married eighteen years when I learned of his affairs.)
She may value their shared goals and commitment to important causes. (This is especially true for political wives.)
She may recognize that his affairs are less a reflection on her and their marriage than on broader forces in their environment that undermine monogamy. (Having affairs has more to do with other factors than with who is a "good" or "bad" person or has a "good" or "bad" marriage.)
She may consider the prospects for the future of their marriage if she stays. (If I had left when my husband told me about his affairs 24 years ago, I would have missed all those years of an honest, monogamous marriage—and the satisfaction of having a marriage that has now lasted 50+ years.)
She may look realistically at his other qualities and find that on balance she prefers him to other potential partners. (Although being alone is a perfectly legitimate choice, many women prefer to have a mate.)
She may, especially due to being in the "public eye," feel a bond with her husband in confronting the public outcry. (Being faced with a situation where it's "you and me against the world" can strengthen a sense of togetherness. Anyone who has watched Hillary defend her husband on TV has seen a vivid demonstration of this solidarity. What she does in private is her own business.)

So while there are many reasons a woman might choose to stay in her marriage, the overarching reason is that she has been able to think clearly about the whole complex situation instead of just reacting emotionally. Despite the general tendency in society as a whole to "feel sorry" for people in this situation and see them as being "humiliated," women in Hillary's position are likely to have an understanding of affairs in a much larger context. They understand that this is not a personal reflection on them as a wife and that it's not even "necessarily" a reflection on their particular marriage. They recognize that affairs are (and have been for some time) extremely prevalent in our society, both among well-known people and among the faceless masses. As I explain in my book, The Monogamy Myth, they reject the simplistic notion that affairs are due only to personal shortcomings and failures within a few specific marriages; that while this is clearly a personal problem, it is also a societal problem.

Certainly, this does not "justify" or "excuse" affairs. (For instance, my admiration for previous political figures such as Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., has been diminished by learning of their affairs.) But far from feeling their wives were humiliated by their actions, I only feel great admiration for the way their wives dealt with such a difficult issue. Of course, since the public was unaware of the affairs at the time, these women were not subjected to the kind of public outcry that reaches current political wives (or other high-profile wives) about staying with their husbands. But you can be sure that these three extremely bright women were aware of their husbands' affairs—and chose to stay for many of the reasons listed above.

While I've tried to explain why some women choose to stay with men who have affairs, I want to be very clear that I'm not saying a woman "should" stay. As a woman, wife, mother, and grandmother, what I am saying is that we should respect and support each woman's personal choice about how she deals with this issue—even when we disagree or fail to understand.

Note: For a related piece, see: Exposure of Affairs of Politicians and Celebrities

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Hillary Speaks Publicly about Staying in her Marriage

It was 10 years after Hillary Clinton faced the public disclosure of her husband's affair that she finally spoke publicly about it. On January 18, 2008, she appeared for a full hour interview on the Tyra Banks Show, discussing a wide range of issues, including her feelings when she learned of her husband's affair—and how she made the decision to stay in her marriage.

When she finally did this interview, she confirmed the validity of most of the points I had made back in 1998 when I posted the above article on my website, offering insights into what might have been part of her thinking/motivation.

Below are excerpts from Hillary's 1-18-08 interview with Tyra Banks

How did you persevere during this darkest moment in your life?
Well, because I had tremendous faith, number one. I really had to dig down deep and think hard about what was right for me, right for my family. And I never doubted Bill's love for me, ever. And I never doubted my faith and my commitment to our daughter and our extended family. But I had to decide what I had to do. I think it's so important to be able to hear yourself at a moment when it's hardů

Were you embarrassed?
Well, sure, all of that. But also, I was just praying so hard and thinking so hard about what's right to do that I couldn't let anything else interfere with that. You know the momentary feelings. You know you're mad, you're really upset, you're disappointed, all of that goes through your mind. But I have found you really shouldn't make decisions in the heat of those moments. You have to think about that.

Do women come up to you and asků "What do I do?"
Yes, all the time. I say you have to be true to yourself. No one story is the same as any other story. I don't know your reality. I can't possibly substitute my judgment for yours. But what I can tell you is you must be true to yourself. You have to do what is right for you. And that may not be what anybody else believes.

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