Monday's revelation that Anthony Weiner was caught in yet another sexting scandal—made even more shocking by his reckless choice to photograph himself in his boxers lying next to his young son—is nothing less than devastating to him, his marriage, and his family.
With a name like Weiner—engaging in the same self-absorbed, impulsive behavior that cost him his reputation and his Congressional seat in 2011—it would be easy to descend into a middle school mentality of snickering or contemptuous joke-telling.
But I can assure you that Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, and other women and men like her whose partners have been chronically unfaithful, aren't laughing.
Surviving repeated revelations of chronic infidelity is gut-wrenching and humiliating. Yet all too often the betrayed partner is blamed for the other person's bad behavior.
Here are five things no one should ever say to Huma Abedin—or any partner going through a similar ordeal.
You should have left him a long time ago.
Sounds like such an easy solution, doesn't it? But most people who discover that their partner has been chronically unfaithful don't necessarily call it quits immediately. In Abedin's case, the first time she was confronted with Weiner's indiscretions she stood by her man—which is more the norm than the exception.
Part of the equation not to be overlooked is that when someone is chronically unfaithful, or struggling with compulsive behavior, there are layers upon layers of lies that have obscured and hidden the truth—making it nearly impossible for the betrayed partner to get the information she needs (and deserves) to make informed and critical choices.
Many partners stay with an unfaithful spouse because they have years—or even decades—invested in the relationship. They also stay because they want their children to grow up in an intact family. They deeply hope their partner will stop doing what he's doing, and their marriage can be rehabilitated and salvaged. If the unfaithful partner makes a sincere effort or demonstrates honest remorse, it's understandable that the wounded partner would want to hang in there to give the relationship a chance to heal.
I thought you had a higher opinion of yourself.
Why are you still with him?
This one is simply a put down. Again, length of time invested in the relationship, minor children still living at home, and a variety of other factors figure into the reasons a betrayed partner stays. And while not true in Abedin's case, some partners are financially dependent on the person who betrayed them—making it more difficult and complicated to separate or divorce.
Why did you pick someone like him?
This question plagues many of the partners of the chronically betrayed I've worked with over the years. And worse, sometimes a therapist asks them a version of this question—implying that there must be something wrong with them to have chosen such a person for a long-term relationship. Again, blaming the victim.
The reasons we choose a particular person for a long-term committed relationship are complicated, opaque, and sometimes downright undecipherable. So when you add this complexity to the fact that the person you got in a committed relationship with was lying and deceiving you about who he—or she—really was, the net result is that you didn't have the complete picture of who they truly were prior to these dark revelations.
There must have been something wrong with your sex life.
Otherwise, he wouldn't have done what he did.
While there was clearly something wrong here, it's even more wrong to jump to the conclusion that it was about the couple's sex life. Many couples have sexual concerns and problems. However, sexual problems are never a reason—or an excuse—for secretive, extra-marital misbehavior.
In Weiner's case, there are likely a variety of factors contributing to his behavior including untreated mental health issues, or perhaps a past trauma he's re-enacting. These aren't excuses for bad behavior, but until he gets to the bottom of what's driving his extremely reckless actions, he's doomed to repeat the same mistakes and risks losing even more than he's lost already.
Couldn't you have just sexted with him, if that's what he wanted to do?
Many people who've discovered their partner has been chronically unfaithful are counseled by well-meaning—yet ill-informed—couples therapists who tell them to buy some lingerie or join the other person in watching some porn (if that's what the other person is in to) as a way to resolve the issue. The assumption here is that if you become a willing participant in your partner's previously secret sexual activities—problem solved!
In theory it sounds like it might work—in practice it rarely does. Even if the betrayed partner is a willing participant, there is a huge hurdle for the partner to get over the longstanding deception. And the truth is, most people who are trapped in a compulsive cycle of secretive sexual behavior aren't interested in talking to their partner about it, or incorporating their extra-marital activities into their committed relationship.
So here's what Abedin—and every partner in her situation—needs:
- Someone to simply listen—in the most non-judgmental way they can.
- To her tell her story and share her feelings. This one thing can be life-changing.
- Someone who will help her discover the "right" answer to her problem, rather than telling her what "right" is.
- Someone to honor and support the choices she makes for herself and her child(ren).
Simply, a real friend.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW, CSAT, SEP is the author of Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts. For more information, please visit her website.