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Coping With Scandal

Dr. Janet Taylor (Harlem Hospital Center)
Dr. Janet Taylor (Harlem Hospital Center)
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Dr. Janet Taylor
Psychiatrist, Harlem Hospital
Thursday, March 13, 2008; 11:00 AM

New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (48) announced his resignation Wednesday, apologizing for unspecified "private failings" as he bowed to mounting pressure to step down after being identified as a client of a high-priced prostitution service under federal investigation.

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Standing beside him was his wife Silda as she was Monday when he offered a vague public apology for his behavior in an unspecified "private matter." They have three daughters.

How does a family cope with such a public and personal crisis? Why does the spouse always seem to stand stoicly by? What's the effect on the children? Is there forgiveness?

Dr. Janet Taylor, an adult outpatient psychiatrist at Harlem Hospital in New York City, was online Thursday, March 13, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss how a family deals with a public scandal.

A transcript follows.

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Dr. Janet Taylor: Good Afternoon. I am glad to be here today to talk about infidelity, why women stay and how it plays out in families.

Please send your questions.

Dr. Janet Taylor

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Mesa, Ariz.: My 89-year-old mother watched Eliot Spitzer's resignation announcement. Later she wondered why his wife stood by him. "I would be packing my bags," she said.

I wonder about it too, and also how on earth the three daughters will cope, especially because of their ages. It is so sad.

The behavior itself does not bother me so much. It is the hypocrisy (law and order/moral high ground politician) and the disregard for his loved ones that I find so incredible.

Why do men behave so recklessly? And do the families actually forgive them?

Dr. Janet Taylor: Great question. When something like this happens, after the initial shock, there are so many questions. The natural first response is to "get rid of him", however for most that is easier said than done.

It is estimated that men cheat for a variety of reason. Some are thrill-seekers, other lonely and there are those who like to play out their sexual fantasies with other men or women.

Relationships are difficult. Once trust is lost, it may mean the end. Some partners can forgive, other's can't. It is a very individual and personal decision.

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Dublin, Ireland: Is it possible for a wife to have intimate relations again with a spouse who has been unfaithful, especially with a prostitute? Although divorce may not follow, surely the marriage is dead in all but name?

Dr. Janet Taylor: You are right, to many women, a cheating spouse kills the marriage. When you add the exposure and risk to sexually transmitted diseases, it creates an atmosphere of disdain and disgust for the partner.

There are women, who work through it and are able to have an active sex life after a lot of work and by regaining trust.

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Washington, D.C.: I hope Governor Spitzer's family can overcome the scandal he has involved them in. I just wonder if you have a high profile husband and you see others getting caught doing the same things does it ever cross the wife's mind that her spouse could be next? Also, if Governor Spitzer has been involved in this conduct for so long someone must have known about it.

Dr. Janet Taylor: I think that the gov's family will survive this. It will be a long and arduous process. I am also certain that someone in the gov's camp was aware of his side activities. Someone always knows something.

To honestly answer your question, I do have a high profile husband. There is always the risk of anyone, man or woman cheating. You can't live your life worried about the behavior of other's. In a relationship, you focus on your own communication with your spouse, awareness and great friends.

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Bethesda, Md.: According to MSNBC the call girl has been ID-ed. I would think that finding out who she is would make the situation even harder for the family. Comment?

Dr. Janet Taylor: When a spouse is found cheating. Usually the partner wants to know every little detail. First, how old, what she/he look like etc...For Silda, every stone will be unturned. I think that knowing everything will be so painful and definitely make it more difficult. It will be harder for the gov to deny any details and lies may emerge that are not based in fact that he will have to explain. They have a long road ahead.

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New York City: I know these women are in shock but why do they show up as if to support their spouses? Their children suffer the minute the announcement is out so why support him?

Dr. Janet Taylor: I talked about this yesterday on CBS, The Early Show. She showed up not to support him, but in support of her family. After the longest two minutes of her life, she has to go home to her daughters whose lives are now upside down. Kids, teens need consistency, and connection after trauma. Before any decision is made about staying or leaving, women (mothers) tend to pull families around them and gather themselves in times of distress. It doesn't change the suffering.

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Washington, D.C. : How common is infidelity in marriages today? What percentage of men cheat vs. percentage of women?

Dr. Janet Taylor: No one knows for sure. Estimates range geographically, country by country and state by state. I have seen stats that indicate that in the US up to 30% of women cheat and 45-50% of men.

It is the most common cause of marriages breaking up worldwide.

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Washington, D.C.: I think it's the roughest thing you can go through, cameras, address printed in the paper, but I found when my sister was arrested, she kind of liked the notoriety, wondered if her case would be in law books. As with Britney, I think there's something about public humiliation some people crave, as if they can't get positive attention, at least it's attention. Not sure why the wives take it though.

Dr. Janet Taylor: Here's the thing. Most men do not want to be caught. A high profile individual like Governor Spitzer knows how to get attention. There is a segment of the population that does crave notoriety, even if it is negative. Go figure.

Consider the spouses, families to be unwilling participants. They didn't create the situation, and are really victims here.

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Houston, Tex.: Why would a woman like Sildra stand behind him? When did the kids find out? What do they do now?

Dr. Janet Taylor: I am imagining that you asking that because Silda is professional woman, well-educated with numerous options. She is also a woman who presumably loves her husband. She looks hurt, confused and is probably not sure of her next move.

According to news reports, the gov found out over the weekend. It is not clear if Silda knew the extent of his activities. The kids probably were told on Sunday.

If I were Silda, I would let all of the information come in, settle down, take care of myself and my children and then decide what she can live with. This will be a process.

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washingtonpost.com: Photo Gallery: Gov. Eliot Spitzer's Political Career

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Woodbridge, Va.: Given that he has apparently engaged in this behavior multiple times over the past decade, how in God's name does he explain THAT to his girls? That it's all their mother's fault?

Dr. Janet Taylor: I agree. When a man cheats, he disrespects his mother, sisters, wives...all of the women in his life. Most men don't take that into account. Our daughters ( I have 4) will take into their own relationships the model of men/women that they observe and live in their own homes. His behavior will affect them for the rest of their lives.

THIS IS NOT THEIR MOTHER'S FAULT. Women need to get over self-blame for how their husband's behave.

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Albany, N.Y.: With all due respect, how much can you tell about the internal dynamics of any marriage, adulterous or not, without actually talking to the people involved and getting some idea of the individual case? There's been a huge amount of speculation, both in this newspaper and elsewhere (you should hear some of the stuff flying around political circles here)about what Spitzer is an example of and such, but what's this worth really?

Dr. Janet Taylor: I completely agree. I have never met anyone involved in this case. What I am basing my responses on are newspaper accounts, my own clinical experience and life events. I am also informed by the psychodynamics of relationships and individual functioning.

There are identifiable patterns of men and women who choose to be involved in adulterous affairs and certainly models of how the family members involved feel. But your point is well-taken.

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Burke, Va.: It's interesting to me that everyone is asking why Silda Spitzer stood by her husband in front of the cameras. I'd be more curious as to what possessed him to ask her to do so. Eliot Spitzer at least poses as a man of principles; why didn't he face his medicine alone instead of further humiliating his wife by dragging her onto the public stage with him?

Dr. Janet Taylor: He needs her. By all accounts, his behavior had nothing to do with the love that he has for her. Men are able to separate their emotions/feelings from their actions. He in particular given his history of "steamroller" business interactions seems to be very driven and not particularly worried about how others feel. He is driven by the end-result and the final prize or outcome.

Now he is in for the fight of his life with his marriage and family at stake. His priorities hopefully will shift to where they should have been , and he can look for internal understanding.

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Fairfax, Va.: Do you think the daughters will forgive their father? How do the children of public people caught in a scandal deal with this?

Dr. Janet Taylor: Forgiveness can be beneficial, but is very individual. It will depend on his prior relationship with his daughters and his ability to be very honest with them and himself. If he is guarded or blames others for his actions, I would not be very hopeful.

The good thing is that kids are kids. They want to fit in, be normal have fun and be noticed as little as possible. Because this is so public, and other kids and adults can be cruel, it's going to be very hard. Silda seems like a warm and good mom, who can help them transition through this pain.

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Washington, D.C.: You wrote: "In a relationship, you focus on your own communication with your spouse, awareness and great friends." I could not agree more.

The "awareness" part is the most powerful tool, I believe. It helps women feel something is wrong the moment it surfaces. And it does not necessarily come with education. Would you agree or disagree that many highly educated, extremely accomplished, women may not have this "awareness"? If Mrs. Spitzer were aware, wouldn't she have known that something was going on, way before the public did?

Dr. Janet Taylor: The awareness that I am talking about is a self-awareness about your own feelings and beliefs. When a spouse is cheating, certainly there may be signs or your own intuition that leads to you to snoop or do more investigating. That is all independent of being highly accomplished or educated.

Relationships involve two people. You can not control your partner. You can only control yourself. Most of us do not look for the worst in a situation, we trust and love and hopefully get it back.

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Saugerties, N.Y.: I find it amazing that a person would actually pay money for a sexual act. What kind of problem do these people have; are they that unattractive to women that they can't attract sufficient sexual partners to satisfy themselves?

Dr. Janet Taylor: Ahh... who pays for sex. Clearly more men than we realize.

The profile of men who pay for sex are the business type ( sex is just a transaction, no emotional connection), the romantic type (lonely, looking for a relationship) and the misogynist ( women-hating, power hungry, potentially violent, into s and m, or refusing to wear a condom)

These kind of men may be thrill seekers, addicted to sex or self-satisfaction and willing to pay.

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Charleston, W.Va.: My wife had a affair and I found out about it; that was 10 years ago. We are still together but do not share the bedroom anymore or hardly anything. I have no desire for her in any way but I don't want her to leave.

Dr. Janet Taylor: Thanks for sharing that. So often we hear about the man who cheats. Your pain is obviously still felt and that indicates that men can also be on the other end. It is interesting that the two of you are still together in what feels like an empty intimate relationship. More as "friends" than lovers and partners. Relationships also involve more than sexual contact, there are emotional bonds and dependency entanglements that keep us together. Why do you stay?

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Akron, Ohio: Can you please comment on the millions of sexless marriages in America and how the pressures on political couples to stay in them many lead to this type of thing?

Dr. Janet Taylor: I heard today that there are 40 million Americans who are in sexless relationships. Clearly that extends to more than political couples. That being said, there are certain CEO's whose business acumen are judged on their morals, values and ability to be consistent with "happy, perfect" lives and families. This does put pressure on them to keep the status quo and not be open with family conflicts.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm not married and I have no kids, but I was a teenage girl once, and I really feel for the Spitzer daughters. How will they ever be able to look their dad in the eye again?

My Dad used to take me along on many of his errands when I was young. A lot of the errands seemed really boring, like checking the post office box, waiting for him to finish updating the financial records of the social club where he was an officer, or buying lawn fertilizer and paint. But at least I know he wasn't catting around!

Dr. Janet Taylor: Lucky you. You spent quality time with your dad.

Hopefully, he can work on and repair his relationship with his daughters. They need a healthy, whole dad, whether he stays married to their mom or not.

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Edgewater, Md.: Dr. Taylor,

It seems to me that the greatest cost of infidelity to the relationship is loss of trust. After I'd learned my significant other of six years had cheated, her unwillingness to admit it, specify how it came about and answer questions pertaining to other elements of the relationship with the man in question made (and make) it virtually impossible to re-establish trust. Is this typical and am I off-base in my belief that absolutely open and honest discussion is the best way to start re-establishing trust?

Dr. Janet Taylor: Absolutely. Trust is the biggest factor in relationships. Finding out that someone you loved and trusted can be devastating. Part of the process of working it out, has to be a willingness by the cheater to tell you the truth and answer your questions honestly. If they hesitate or continue to lie, it is over.

The issue is also about your own healing. There are honest men and women out there. No one is perfect. By being aware of you own needs and facing resultant fears from being hurt, you can try to re-establish trust first with yourself and then gradually letting someone else in.

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Georgetown, D.C.: When a wife such as Silda Spitzer examines why their husband cheated, are they likely to blame themselves for becoming less attractive (e.g., aging) or being sexually limited?

Dr. Janet Taylor: Self-blame is a common result. The reality is that cheating often has nothing to do with the partner who was cheated on. 60 percent of men will report that they have a regular sex life. Instead of finding self-doubts or blame, the best thing that a woman or man who has been cheated on can do is step back and re-evaluate where they are in their lives. It truly can be an opportunity to make positive changes for themselves. By this I mean, get rid of people who don't support you, have emotionally abused you or generally don't have your back. Get on an exercise regimen to help with stress and improve general well-being. Get your finances straight so that you don't have to dependent. Seek counseling or the support of good friends. Don't buy into self -blame.

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Dr. Janet Taylor: Hello Forum,

Thanks for all of the questions. I am out of time.

Dr. Janet Taylor

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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