Should you stay married or get a divorce?
By Peggy Vaughan

During the past few years there has been a lot of discussion and debate about whether the wives of famous men whose affairs are exposed should stay or go. Many people have very strong feelings about what they consider to be the 'right' course of action. But women do seem to show a bias toward believing that a wife who is 'publicly humiliated' in this way should get a divorce.

For instance, there seems to be a lot of support for Jenny Sanford and Elizabeth Edwards in deciding to get a divorce—while there's criticism of many of the other wives for continuing to stay married. But there's far more to this issue than just whether to get a divorce. When and why they decide to divorce is extremely important.

For instance, even though Elizabeth Edwards and Jenny Sanford are now divorcing their husbands, they didn't make this decision when they originally found out about the affairs. Jenny Sanford waited about 6 months before reaching this decision. She spent that time trying everything possible to determine whether her marriage could be saved, and it was only when that seemed impossible that she finally decided to get a divorce.

And Elizabeth Edwards waited several years to reach the decision to divorce. In fact, although John Edwards only recently acknowledged publicly that he was the father of the other woman's child, he told Elizabeth 6 months prior to going public with this admission. But she waited until even more facts came out before finally deciding to get a divorce.

So both women didn't decide to get a divorce until they felt they could make a 'rational' decision (based on the prospects for the future of the marriage) rather than just emotionally reacting to the pain of discovering the affairs. It's not just the final decision that a person makes, but when and why it's made that determines whether or not they can best live with the decision.

Some people think if someone spends time trying to see if they can save their marriage—only to eventually get a divorce—that it's unfortunate they didn't go ahead and leave in the beginning. However, after 30 years of hearing from people who did quickly get a divorce, I've found that they forever second-guessed themselves, thinking "would I, could I, should I" have done more. So they have a very difficult time going on to fully live their lives without wondering whether they did the right thing.

But if you make a decision to divorce only after doing as much as you can for as long as you can to save your marriage, you're better able to go on to live a fulfilling life looking forward, rather than backward. And this seems to be precisely what both Elizabeth and Jenny did. (And at this particular time, it appears that Elin Woods is also following the path of waiting to see about the prospects for the future of her marriage before making a final decision as to whether or not to divorce.)

Frankly, our 'approval' or 'disapproval' of the choices women make in dealing with this trauma is not appropriate, primarily because no one is in a position to judge the best decision for someone else. As I've often explained, when someone says, "If it were me, I'd..." you can ignore the rest of the sentence—because no one knows what they would do unless and until it happens to them. In the meantime, we should respect and support each person's individual choices about significant issues in their lives—even when we disagree or fail to understand.

For those who can't comprehend how a woman can decide to stay married after public disclosures of her husband's affair, see an article I wrote about a dozen years ago: Why did Hillary Stay in her Marriage?

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