From the Dog House to the White House – Marital Resilience and The Clintons

From the Dog House to the White House – Marital Resilience and The Clintons
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Hillary and Bill Clinton with Buddy the dog at The White House. The Clintons give us hope that partners can not only survive but thrive after overcoming infidelity.
Hillary and Bill Clinton with Buddy the dog at The White House. The Clintons give us hope that partners can not only survive but thrive after overcoming infidelity.
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However strongly you may feel about the Clintons, whether positive or negative, the fact that their marriage survived infidelity is a major marital and personal accomplishment. This is not an easy feat to overcome.

The shock, betrayal, and major break of trust following infidelity make it one of the most difficult challenges a couple can face. It is also one of the most difficult problems to treat according to psychologists. As we witness the Clintons working together to support Hillary’s presidency, we see that their relationship has not only “survived” but has truly been “revived” from the work they have put into it. How they got there needn’t be a mystery. There are 5 main ways to bounce back from infidelity and rebuild a strong and resilient partnership.

Knowing when NOT to be political

When an affair has been discovered, spouses often need to know what exactly occurred. It’s important for the cheating spouse to really come clean about what has happened. Many people who get caught want to hold back the “difficult parts,” afraid that telling the whole truth will cause further relationship damage. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is the “answering all questions fully” that starts the painful process of healing and building back trust. Any slight mistruth will lead to further investigating, worst-case scenario thinking and rumination by the spouse.

Bill had denied any affair with Monica Lewinsky, until about 6 months after the scandal broke. According to Hillary he stated he was “protecting her and Chelsea” but on August 15, 1998 he was able to come clean and tell Hillary the “whole” story and they were able to start the process of moving forward.

Making Decisive Decisions

It is important for couples to making a decision to either a) work on the relationship or b) not work on it. Refusing to stand in a constant state of ambivalence shows commitment. It is accepting the reality of what has occurred with an attempt to break the problem down in order to move forward. Without this decisiveness, relationship improvement is not possible. One would be left focused on their ruminations and “What if’s.”

Hillary had stated in her book “Living History” that staying married to Bill was one ‘’The most difficult decisions I have made in my life…” Though she want to “wring his neck” she loved him and made a decision to build a healing bridge. Commitment to making decisive decisions and then making them work is not only characteristic of a healthy mindset but is also an excellent quality for a leader.

Bill Clinton with Hillary by Veni Markowski (2008) Creative Commons License

Balancing the “Budget” by Doing High-Cost Behaviors

Working on a marriage after an affair takes more than the hurt partner simply forgiving. The cheating spouse needs to do his part, too, which are called doing the “high-cost behaviors.” This is an example of “actions speaking louder than words.” For instance, building trust by anything from: giving access to all your personal communication or installing tracking devices, to putting all the assets in your spouse’s name to show your commitment.

It wouldn’t have been enough if Bill had simply apologized. To this day, his actions DO speak louder than words. There has been accountability in the relationship regarding their monogamy. Since leaving oval office, he has continued to publicly endorse his wife, speaks admiringly of her, stands by her side and supports her dreams of the presidency.

Understanding HisStory

When couples stay together after an affair, it’s important for them to examine their history and the events leading up to the affair. Many couples report stressors such as job changes, having children, or the death of a family member as events preceding an affair. When there’s difficulty in coping with these types of changes, marriages can be vulnerable to affairs. Understanding doesn’t take away from the gross betrayal, but helps put the behavior into context for better understanding.

A close friend of Hillary: Diane Blair suggested that Hillary understood how Bill having lost his mother, step-father, and close friend Vince Foster left him in a vulnerable place at the time. This in addition to being a world leader, living with worldwide scrutiny as they dealt with making time for their relationship and the marital challenges of raising a teenager, in public no less.

Bipartisan Communication

Learning how to listen and especially validate your partner’s feelings, even when you don’t agree, is key to moving on from an affair. Seeing the good intentions in your spouse’s perspective without taking the “difference” in opinion personally is just as important. It is important to not talk at the level of anger when discussing problems, but from under that anger to the hurt and fear that hides beneath. These tools will get each other’s messages heard.

It’s likely that Bill and Hillary have learned to communicate more effectively since their affair. Ever since the scandal, there have been no more reports of Bill spending any time on the couch. If they are able to communicate half as loving and supportive with each other as they’ve been able to do in front of the camera, they are winning for sure.

Rebuilding a successful relationship after an affair can be difficult, but definitely achievable. The Clintons give us hope that partners can not only survive but thrive after overcoming infidelity. If you take the steps outlined in this blog you can too. Who knows, soon the “act” of reviving your marriage with the same 5 steps as the Clintons may eventually be termed giving your partner a “Hillarinski.”

Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP is author of The Other Woman’s Affair – gambling your heart and reclaiming your life when your partner is married.

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