By CATHERINE FITZPATRICK
of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staff
With grim resolution, Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist stood on the steps of his south side home and admitted on live television that he had engaged in a lengthy sexual relationship with former aide Marilyn Figueroa. Norquist's wife of nearly 15 years, Susan Mudd - mother of their 8-year-old son and a dedicated environmentalist - stood mute that December day. Dressed in funereal black, she gazed balefully upward at her unfaithful husband, looking as forlorn as a human being can look.
Headlines trumpeted the steamy story. The citizenry feasted on every intimate morsel, and wondered: Why on earth do wives stay with husbands who stray? "Some women stay out of weakness, others out of strength,"concludes Baltimore psychologist Shirley Glass, a nationally recognized authority on infidelity.
Oversimplification? Admittedly. Glass and others who study such matters say the motivations range from blind love to total denial, from concern for the kids to fear of financial freefall. Reasons as complex and varied as the women themselves. And so, in an era when rocky marriages are tossed away like old packages of cigarettes, we question why some spurned wives choose to hold theirs together.
Two years after the fact, public debate still percolates about why former first lady Hillary Clinton would tolerate indignity so complete that she has been caricatured in a Claymation bout with Monica Lewinsky on MTV.
Nine months after former Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura's alleged actions at a post-prom partyled to felony charges of sexual assault and child enticement, some marveled at how his wife Lynda could walk up to a podium and state in a clear, strong voice: "I'm here with my husband because I love him very much, and I vowed to be with him through thick and thin . . ."
Infidelity resonates throughout contemporary society. Studies by the University of Chicago reveal about 22% of men and 15% of women have fooled around outside their marriages. Add "emotional affairs" and sexual intimacy short of intercourse, and the numbers for both genders skyrocket. Most of us endure such crises in secret. But for those who live in the spotlight, the glare of public scrutiny compounds the misery. Not every famous wife of every infamous philanderer holds tight when scandal strikes, of course. When it was clear to everyone on the planet that Prince Charles' interests extended well beyond ecological farming methods and into Camilla Parker-Bowles' personal acreage,
Princess Diana grew emotional, and litigious.
When Donald Trump cast more than an admiring glance at Marla Maples, Ivana held out for $10 million or so, a $4 million housing allowance, the couple's 45-room Connecticut mansion, an apartment in New York and a ton of child support, all contingent on keeping her mouth shut. Which she did not. "I don't care how you cut it, (divorce) is just horrendous," Ivana complained. Sometimes it is the wife's torrid desires that fracture the state of the union, of course. Sarah (let's play toesies)
Ferguson and Meg (my marriage was a shambles anyway) Ryan come to mind. But the list of celebrity wives who remained committed to a union tarnished in the public eye is far longer. Rose and Jackie Kennedy, for starters. "Happy" Rockefeller. Kathie Lee Gifford. Susan Mudd. Lynda Chmura.
Why a wife chooses to remain a wife is often elusive, and always intriguing. Here are some of the reasons that motivate a woman to stand by her man, for better or worse.
At the top of nearly every expert's list are our deeply entrenched notions about how men and women are expected to think and act. "Gender roles make it more acceptable for men to have high sexual desire, to want more than one partner," says Janet Hyde, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a specialist in women and sexuality. "And there is the passivity of the female role, and the tradition that women were supposed to 'just take it.' Underscoring
this is the fact that many women have been reared to accept the lion's share of responsibility for the success - or blame for the failure - of the marriage, adds California psychologist Richard Tuch, author of "The Single Woman-Married Man Syndrome" (Jason Aronson, 2000, $30). Jacqueline Kennedy's perceptions about husband-wife roles were learned early and reinforced later on, Glass says. "Her father was Black Jack Bouvier, a famous philanderer. Her father-in-law was old Joe Kennedy.
"Boys will be boys' was the family tradition."
Some women choose to stay married to Don Juans with deep pockets because they're afraid they can't make it on their own. The wives of wealthy men often differ enormously from their husbands in terms of education, caree prospects and earning power, Hyde points out. Even in states with marital property laws, wives worry about hammering out a divorce settlement across the table from her husband's pricey pit-bull lawyers.
Beyond the jewelry, the live-in maid and fat stock portfolio, an even more precious commodity is at stake: the lure of remaining Mrs. Notable. A left-behind wife stands to lose a lifestyle built around being pampered, or in the public eye, or both. "I'm sure (Susan Mudd) felt extremely humiliated, devastated and hurt" that day on the front porch, Glass says. "But there is something in it for her. She is still the wife of the mayor."
Some high-profile wives stand by their man, at least temporarily, in the belief their troubles are nobody's business but their own "These people really love each other," says Anne Shindell, attorney for both Mudd and Norquist in a sexual harassment claim filed by Figueroa. "We're not entitled to their hearts and minds just because they work for us." In some segments of society there is a strong norm about keeping family matters private, notes John DeLamater, a University of Wisconsin-Madison sociology professor specializing in sexuality. During the media onslaught that follows the unveiling of a celebrity affair, that can motivate the family to pull together. Presenting a united front can work to the wife's advantage in another way, Tuch points out: "These women are wondering what the public is thinking. Has she failed in holding onto her husband? Has she failed to attend to his most basic human needs as his soulmate? It's not just her husband's hide she's trying to save, but her own." And while she weighs the perks against the pain, a public relations team engages in damage control.
When warring couples choose to stay together - forever or for the time being - keeping the public image pristine while the personal life collapses around them is often a concern. In the rocky period after football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford was caught huddling in a hotel room with a flight attendant, Kathie Lee was praised for publicly forgiving him and maintaining her television obligations. Even critics who normally gag on Kathie Lee's pieties refrained from gloating at the
misfortune of a woman so valiantly demonstrating what a resilient marriage looks like.
Don't assume every wife wants to divorce her swine of a husband, experts say. "There is an underlying assumption that divorce would be automatic in these cases," Hyde says, "but historically, people didn't divorce, and there were plenty of men who were straying all the time." In a 1998 People magazine poll, only 17% of female respondents said they would definitely leave their spouse if they found he had been unfaithful. Also, consider this: The wife might not have been surprised by her
husband's infidelities. Or she might have quickly forgiven him, either in hopes he will reform or in acceptance of the fact that he might not. We might think the guy's a lout, but she might very well still love him. "If the man not only shows remorse but is empathetic about the pain he caused, then the woman feels loved and validated," Glass says.
Maybe the option of fooling around was always part of the marital bargain. "It's entirely plausible that some couples have an agreement that one or both of them can have other sexual partners," DeLamater points out. Or maybe the wife is in denial. "She may search for some explanation that she can live with," Glass says. Hillary Clinton once traced the causes for Bill's serial liaisons to his unhappy childhood experiences, thus distancing herself or the state of their marriage from culpability.
Insulating young children from the mudslinging is often a paramount factor driving cheated-on women to remain in a marriage. "In every situation where families are faced with (this kind of) challenge and stay together, what you see is that family is the most important thing," Norquist attorney Shindell says.
Many marriages survive infidelity. And sometimes the once-spurned wife is better off in the aftermath.
"The marriage can reconnect, can become stronger," says Elissa Gough, author of "Infidelity – Your Complete Guide to Awareness, Prevention, Intervention and Recovery" (Avery Publishing paperback, 2000, $11.95).
After reading an out-of-state newspaper article about the Milwaukee's mayoral scandal, Gough sent a copy of her book to Norquist and Mudd.
But even in the best scenarios, Glass points out, there remains a sense of broken trust.
Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Jan. 21, 2001. Contents copyright 2001 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. You are receiving this e-mail because a friend or acquaintance sent it to you. If you no longer want to receive these messages, please contact sender not the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.