What are your thoughts on the John Edwards scandal?
During John Edwards' campaign for President, I saw him speak twice in person. I thought he was passionate and communicated sincerely and effectively about the issues facing the United States and also spoke convincingly of his plans for addressing them as the next President of America. Ultimately, I was not an Edwards supporter, but I liked him-- his presence engendered admiration.
A big part of his appeal was the feeling that he was a good person, an honest person, a family man who was there for his wife as she repeatedly battled through cancer and a man who cared greatly for his country. That image was shattered last week when the story was disclosed of his affair and possible child with another woman. Why?
Why-- when many people have affairs, both women and men-- do we think it's a big deal that John Edwards did?
Here is why:
A man or woman that betrays a spouse by having a secret affair first harms themselves. They lead double lives. They leave a life of integrity and internal wellbeing to live a disconnected life run by their secrets. By deceiving their spouses and their families they break trust for years or even a lifetime. A spouse can become sick when they "feel" that something is off and are being told lies (perhaps this played a part in the illness that befell John Edward's wife, Elizabeth, twice). And betrayal by a parent (who is also a public figure) can bring shame on the members of the family-- the children suffer ridicule from their peers and can have emotional scars for years.
While this is damage enough, that is not where it ends here.
John Edwards choose to run for the highest office of government knowing that his "secret affair" could be found out. Besides knowing that he could jeopardize his own image and the wellbeing of his family, he let thousands of people invest in him with their time, expertise, money, and other resources for his campaign to get elected knowing that his secret affair-- if found out-- would end it all. And he chose to let millions of Americans believe him to be a person who he wasn't. He also chose not to have care or concern for the Democratic Party-- for if he won the nomination, it would have ended any chance of winning the election. In general, he betrayed the country as a whole.
He betrayed himself. He betrayed his wife. He betrayed his children. He betrayed his campaign workers. He betrayed the Democratic Party. He betrayed America.
Why would you want to care about anything he had to say again?
What could he have done to stop the perpetuation of lies and betrayal and instead strengthen his image and all the good work that he had wanted to do?
First he could have been honest with himself about his dilemma. He then could have told his wife he was struggling with sexual feelings for this woman and they could have sat down and decided together what to do... to put more energy into their sex life, to get help from a sex therapist, agree to an open marriage, commit to their marriage being "a business arrangement or separate." Third, he could have sat down with his wife and children (of an appropriate age, thirteen or older, and possibly with a counselor) to discuss what decisions their parents were making (kids are smart and they know the truth anyway). Fourth, he could have been upfront from day one of pursuing his run for office; he could have given the people planning to work with and for him, his party, and the public a "heads up" such as, "In order for this not to threaten the campaign, I am going to share information about my private life before we start. My wife and I have agreed to a marriage of convenience," or, "My wife and I have discussed that I have had an affair and we are working through our options for what type of relationship we want to have. We don't know what track we're going to take yet."
However, that kind of healthy communication and decision making would require real integrity and in fact, the character of a real leader. But I believe that America would actually be refreshed by this kind of high level, candid honesty and come out and enthusiastically Cheer!
Note: If you feel that you're facing this type of relationship challenge in your own life, have respect for both yourself and your partner and get help beforehand to prevent it from happening. A good first step would be to listen to "Fireworks in Your Love Life" to reignite the passionate spark and trusting connection in your current relationship no matter what stage or critical point you might be at.
Please share your comments about the John Edwards scandal, or affairs in general, here on my blog. I'd love to hear your opinion!