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When Love Turns to Scandal

When I was a young, mouthy conservative, I expressed a lot of strong ideas about marriage. Now, twenty-one years into my own marriage, I have to concede that so-called traditional marriage is anything but traditional.
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I always feel sorry for husbands on the morning after these political sex scandals break. How many thousands of dark looks are being exchanged across breakfast tables?

"Where were you just now?"

"Upstairs, shaving."

"And where were you before that?"

"In the shower."

"And before that?"

"For goodness sakes, you saw me yourself! Sleeping..!"

When I was a young, mouthy conservative, I expressed a lot of strong ideas about marriage. Now, twenty-one years (to the day) into my own marriage, I have to concede that if I've learned anything over time, it's that the so-called traditional marriage is anything but traditional. When it works, it's a bloody miracle.

When (yet another) middle-aged, married politician is caught with (yet another) hotter, younger thing -- and we endure (yet again) the sad spectacle of a once-spectacular wife relegated to the best-supporting actress role in Sordid Scandal: Part 9,182,798 -- I have to admit that the first thing I do is look over my shoulder. Still being married at this age makes you feel a bit like a soldier charging the beaches on D-Day. The bullets are whizzing past, your comrades to the left and right are falling, mortally wounded. Will you be next?

I no longer believe that there is any single formula for successful marriage. Contra Tolstoy, I would go so far to assert that unhappy families are all alike; every happy family is happy in its own way.

These public scandals teach us, sadly, that to all the world you might seem to have the perfect "partnership": a full, satisfying life in which you have jointly constructed an enviable family life, home, and exciting careers. You may have made many mutual sacrifices, nursed each other through illnesses. You may appear to admire, respect and enjoy your spouse's company above all others. Yet nonetheless, this great partnership was not great enough to prevent one partner from weighing all the pros and cons -- and succumbing to the cons.

Some analysts of marriage insist that the solid marriage requires "work," as if love, sex, and loyalty might be guaranteed through the implementation of a marital Five Year Plan. Others insist there are certain "types" of marriages, and it's important to understand what "type" you have. Romantics reply (and I must say I'm partial to this explanation myself) that it's either there or it isn't, sparked at that first meeting long ago. Over time, the spark becomes something like the pilot light on a furnace. Whatever hardships, problems, difficulties the couple may endure, the pilot light still burns, ready to relight the main system when needed.

Enduring love is kept tendered by many things: effort, sympathy, understanding, trust, generosity, "date nights," "me time," romance without sex, sex without romance, not going to bed angry, self-sacrifice, and everything else you've ever read on the subject in a women's magazine.

But maybe the one quality that fans the initial spark into a steady pilot light is this: An overwhelming determination never to hurt the other person. In other words, whatever pleasure a certain action might grant you, you could not possibly bear the pain it would cause your wife or husband. You would rather scald your own hand than see the other's scalded. You would throw him or her the last life preserver rather than keep it for yourself. It's that basic. And it's, of course, mutual.

That's why the tears of Sanford, Spitzer, Edwards, etc. are so galling. If they cared so much about their wonderful wives and families, why then would they risk destroying them? And if they were no longer satisfied or happy in their marriages, why then wouldn't they have ended them in a more civilized, respectful way (as Mrs. Sanford even asked to do!) rather than by hurling in a stick of dynamite?

As for me -- and the rest of us still-marrieds -- all I can do is keep charging into the enemy fire, praying my husband has my back, as I have his.

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