When Anne Sinclair issued a statement expressing confidence that her husband Dominique Strauss-Kahn was innocent of rape, she joined a storied club of women who have stood by high-profile husbands accused of philandering, patronizing prostitutes or pushing themselves on unwilling sex partners.
"I do not believe for a single second the accusations leveled against my husband," the American-born French journalist said in a statement released Sunday night, before Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. charged her French husband of nearly 20 years with attempted rape, sexual abuse and unlawful imprisonment for allegedly forcing a hotel maid into oral and anal sex in a New York City hotel suite. Strauss-Kahn is managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Sinclair reacted as many spouses of powerful men initially react when their marriages, and potentially their worlds, are shattered by infidelity, whether or not there's potential criminality involved. In what has become a ritual of the last couple of decades, these women accompany their accused husbands to the podia at news conferences. Some give us a glimpse of their inner anguish, as when Silda Wall Spitzer stood, sad-faced, before photographers at a March 2008 news conference as then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, D-N.Y., admitted to bad judgment in patronizing a call girl ring.
Why would a wife, often accomplished and successful in her own right, agree to that walk of shame?
"She doesn't want it to reflect poorly on her," said Debbie Then, a California social psychologist who wrote the 1999 book, "Women Who Stay with Men Who Stray."
Sinclair, Strauss-Kahn's third wife, whose French parents fled the Nazis in World War II, hosted a popular French political talk show for 13 years until 1997, when her husband became France's finance minister. Since then, she has published several books, hosted a cultural program and launched a blog.
"What I found really interesting is that she came forward with a statement so quickly, before an arraignment, before everything is established," Then said. "Whether or not these charges stick, if he goes down, she goes down. That's why you see so many of these women stand next to their man saying they couldn't possibly have done X, Y, or Z. Some of them stand by them to the very end. They're trying to protect their own ego, and their own self-esteem."
Diana Kirschner, a New York City psychologist and author of "Sealing the Deal: The Love Mentor's Guide to Lasting Love," said wives of high-powered men are accustomed "to protecting the family's reputation, the family's success, the family's political standing, and finally, the finances."
"There may be considerable denial in that, so that they quite often don't quite believe allegations, especially when they first come out," Kirschner said. "There are women who will maintain their denial in the face of facts that are thrown in their face."
Sometimes, a wife will rationalize her husband's womanizing as a demonstration of illness, said Renana Brooks, a psychologist who directs the Sommet Institute for the Study of Power and Persuasion in Washington, D.C., near the IMF offices, and sees some IMF staff as clients. Silda Spitzer, she suggested, might see her husband's propensity for prostitutes as evidence of "a compulsion and a sickness. That's more understandable."