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A Time For Compassion Or For Judgement - 7/25/2008

All of Sherry’s suspicions of the past ten months had proved true.  There was no longer any doubt.  Jeff was involved with another woman.  She had known it all along but, she didn’t want to.  It hurt too much.  Finally, when the gnawing feeling in her stomach wouldn’t go away, she  hired a private detective.  His  report said  they met early each morning, worked out at noon and occasionally spent time together prior to Jeff going home after work.

No matter how much she thought about it, Sherry couldn’t understand why it happened.  Jeff constantly said  he loved her.  They loved vacationing together and had long-term retirement plans.  Even more, they were actively involved with their children, their religion and their community.  It was so confusing that Sherry was in a quandary.  Should she leave, confront Jeff, or live with the knowledge that it had happened, then take solace in the fact she lived a good life, didn’t want to break up her family, hurt her children or give up the comfort of her marriage and the security it afforded?  After weeks of sleepless nights, she decided she could bear it no longer.  Amidst tears and hysterics, she confronted Jeff, who initially denied the relationship, later owned up to it and finally apologized profusely.  He said, “You put me last, behind the kids, tennis and your girlfriends.  I tried to tell you, but you never listened.”  Finally, he said, “I couldn’t extricate myself from the relationship.  I didn’t want to hurt her and I certainly didn’t want to hurt you and the kids.  I’m asking for another chance.  But I’m also asking that you recognize I need more from you.  I need to know that I’m a priority, because I haven’t known that for a long time.”

Sherry heard his words, but she questioned her ability to forget, let alone forgive.  As a result, she sought counseling, first for herself, and then together with Jeff.   In therapy, they discovered a new way of communicating that was more honest and open than ever before.  They learned to share feelings and emotions and make themselves vulnerable.  Fortunately, they were supported in their endeavor by their families and friends.  Today, their relationship appears better than ever before. It took the potential loss of the relationship to make each of them aware of how much they valued it and loved one another.  The conflict that almost ended their marriage also opened the door for a new, healthy relationship.  It forced them to look at their own behaviors and to change them. The result is a marriage and relationship that many of their friends now envy.  

Let me caution you that I am not recommending you have an affair to improve your marriage.  There are far too many pitfalls, foremost of which are the emotional wounds that periodically reopen and fester.  For example, the hurtful memory of betrayal.  Fortunately, in Jeff and Sherry’s case, her wherewithal to forgive overrode these factors and allowed them to experience a relationship that, as noted before, is enviable.  I’m sure all of you can appreciate their accomplishment.

I wish I could say that this story is typical.  It isn’t.  On a daily basis, I deal with individuals whose history sounds the same, but whose marriages end differently.  I suspect, for every ten couples I see whose, marital problems involve adultery, eight to nine of them either divorce or stay together in unhappy unions.  Although I am strongly opposed to divorce, I feel they and their children would have been better off if they had gone their own ways and built new lives, hopefully happy ones that would also serve as far better role models for their children.  

Certainly, a healthy resolution of marital problems is the best alternative but, when that isn’t possible, divorce becomes a viable alternative.  I strongly suspect most of you agree.  That being the case, I ask why are so many of you, particularly women,  angry with the Mrs. Clinton, Spitzer and Davidson?  Why are so many of you appalled at wives who stand beside their husbands who have been brought to the public’s eye and condemned as adulterers?  You might say, “They do so because of their own hidden agendas.”  Others would say, “She stood up because she’s a politician’s (or athlete’s wife) and that’s the role they play.”  Still others would state, “She’s a poor role model for womanhood.  She should have kicked him out, ended their relationship and gone her own way.”  I have heard countless women condemn their behavior and describe them as weak individuals, lacking a backbone and controlled by their spouses.  But, what if I were to suggest that it took more strength to stand up than not to?  What if I were to say that, in some instances, these woman still loved their husbands, wanted a relationship and were doing what they thought would achieve that end?  

Ask yourself why it is that you are so much more judgmental of these women than you are of Sherry, or would be of one of your friends, if she found herself in the same position.  I recognize that many of them later wind up filing for divorce and I wonder, is it because of  the scorn their behavior elicited?  Were they unable to get the support of their family and friends, or the general public, all of whom might be far more forgiving of  the woman next door, or their sister, whose husband hypothetically made the mistake of searching for what he wanted outside his marriage, instead of inside?  I further ask why, in almost every instance, the most vitriolic criticism of these women has come from other women, female reporters and writers.  Do they think, “there, but for the grace of God, go I”?   Finally, I ask, is it possible that your emotional support and understanding could have helped mend these women’s marriages?  

Let me add one last thought.  Perhaps it takes more strength to stand up, in spite of hurt and embarrassment, than to hide behind anger and vitriolic behavior.  So, I ask you, is it a time for compassion or judgements?

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