Cheating on a Sick Spouse

"My heart went out to her and for the embarrassment she is suffering," said one New Jersey woman, whose husband has been having an illicit affair for the past seven years, but won't admit to it. "I just wish I had an answer."

The 53-year-old, who works in marketing, said her husband of 33 years recently had quadruple bypass surgery after a clandestine weekend with the other woman. As his wife, she stood by his side at the hospital.

"I was miserable," said the woman, who didn't want to be identified. "He was at death's door. I am no angel, but I didn't want to make the situation worse or add to the stress. I was trying to make things easier for him."

In her time of need -- during eye surgery and later for a cancer test -- he wasn't there. "He couldn't take the time off from work," she said. "He just has excuses: That's his nature.

"I was there every day for him and sat there thinking he would go through a big metamorphosis and turn things around," she said. "I don't know why I am still here. I told the kids, 'He's in your hands now.'"

Michigan therapist Bob Huizenga anonymously coaches clients on his Web site and in his book of the same name, "Break Free From the Affair." He said women who have been wronged have a wide range of responses.

"Some cave in and feel victimized and others say, 'Screw it,' and fight and win," he told ABCNews.com. "It's utterly devastating."

One woman sought help from Huizenga when her husband turned to a girlfriend after her breast cancer metastasized. "Not only are you losing your body parts and vitality, but also losing what you perceive to be your dreams, your family and your social status," he said.

"It's worse than someone dying."

Many couples don't survive the betrayal, but power couples like the Edwardses often save their public face and work things out.

'High-Ups' Struggle With Infidelity

Some of Huizenga's recent online patients have been "high up" in Washington politics, he said.

"Spouses are having affairs and have nowhere to go," he said. "It's a safe relationship talking to me anonymously. They wonder how to deal with the mistress or with the cheating spouse."

Like Edwards, they worry about their reputations and being exposed, according to Huizenga.

And when a woman has cancer, she has to consider the financial repercussions of leaving the spouse -- and his insurance -- behind. And, as in the Edwards' case, there are sometimes young children to consider.

"It's very difficult for someone like [Elizabeth Edwards] to leave in this situation," he said. "She has a high investment in maintaining that relationship. She may submerge a great deal. Political wives do. They have an investment in the political arena as well."

But, he said, in all cases it's hard to take the high road in infidelity cases. "I am not sure what the word forgiveness means, but they never forget," he said. "It's always there."

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