Article in USA Today, October 2, 2002
(Peggy's quotes are in italics.)

Add to the list of affairs to remember:
Inquiring minds want to know why powerful men risk it all

By Karen S. Peterson

The list of influential men whose careers have been derailed by adultery is growing longer.

Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton this week tearfully acknowledged an affair and announced that he would not run for the U.S. Senate. Respected Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene resigned last month after acknowledging that he had a sexual relationship with a girl in her late teens whom he met through his column. He said there were ''indiscretions in my life that I am not proud of.''

They join others, including Rep. Gary Condit and President Clinton, who have had affairs to remember.

These are smart, sophisticated men. Perhaps someday the list will include well-known women in prestigious careers. But so far, the names in the news tend to be male.

So much is at stake in the office and at home. Why would these men take such a chance? Those who study extramarital affairs say a few extra factors are often at play when the very powerful stray:

* A sense of entitlement. ''For certain prominent men, (it) goes along with their position. It is part of the culture they live in,'' says Baltimore psychologist Shirley Glass, who researches extramarital attachments. ''They do not consider their behavior unusual as they look around at their peers.''

These men have a different mind-set, says Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth. ''There is a sense among the very powerful that they work very hard and deserve whatever they want. They are 'go-ahead' guys accustomed to getting whatever they want. They don't ask themselves why. They ask, 'Why not?' ''

Michele Weiner-Davis, a marital therapist in Woodstock, Ill., says: ''They believe they are above it all. They won't be found out. They can outsmart the system.''

* An ability to compartmentalize. They can put different aspects of their lives into different emotional drawers. ''These men do not think they are harming anybody. The interesting thing is, many would consider themselves committed to their families and marriages,'' says Glass, whose book Not Just Friends is due in January.

They are able to ''ignore, rationalize and not consider the consequences,'' Vaughan says.

* An expectation of silence. ''There is a certain collusion, an acceptance'' of the affair among the peers and associates of the powerful, Vaughan says. Her Web site,, provides information on dealing with affairs. ''The men act as if this is normal, and the people around them will often go along with that. In effect, associates support the affair and say it is business as usual. People will cover for the boss.''

* A need to take risks. Many powerful men ''love the danger. They thrive on it,'' says family therapist Bonnie Eaker Weil, author of Make Up, Don't Break Up. ''They need the high. It gets them going and makes them feel whole,'' especially as they age, she says.

* A magnet for women. ''Certain women are definitely attracted to power,'' says Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman, author of Grow Up! ''We turn powerful men into sex objects who often have women chasing them. And as a rule, men are just not very good at saying no. Their pants come down and their brains fall out.''

Influential men also share characteristics with their not-so-famous neighbors who have extramarital affairs, experts say.

''Powerful men have affairs for the same reasons other people do,'' says Weiner-Davis, author of Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage. ''That may be lust, ego-building, sensual pleasure, something lacking in the marriage.

''Affairs are not well-thought-out things. They are usually impulsive, even if there is a lot at stake. And that makes it impossible to consider all the ramifications, powerful or not.''

Those having affairs actually experience a change in brain chemicals akin to a high, Pittman says. ''The impact is a little like using cocaine. They get a little manic. They think they are bulletproof and that there will be a safety net under them to keep anything bad from happening. And they use grotesque judgment.''

Weil calls the change in brain chemicals during an affair ''the biochemical craving for connection.'' And it often kicks in at times of ''stress, loss or separation.''

Influential women exercise bad judgment, too. So far, the headlines don't feature high-status women having affairs. But that day might come, experts say.

''There is still a double standard,'' Vaughan says. ''Men's affairs are winked at, but there is a higher risk for a (married) woman in power. And women are still not accustomed to power as a group. If someday 75% of our CEOs are women, you could expect to hear about extramarital affairs.''

It is not about gender, she says. ''It is all about that assumption: 'I can do whatever I want.' ''

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