Outed: What Happens When Your Philandering Goes Public?

"In most any other marriage, this would have been a private issue between a husband and a wife. Very private. Obviously it is not here."

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., stood quietly beside his wife, Wendy, while she spoke those words to the press Monday. As the senator looked on, she discussed the difficulties she and their family have faced since word that the senator was a client of the D.C. Madam was publicized last week.

The senator and his wife say they reconciled in private a year ago, and they begged the press to respect their privacy.

"It's been terribly hard to have the media parked on our front lawn and following us every day…Yesterday the media was camped at our church," Wendy Vitter said.

The motives and psychology of the forgiving wife -- whether it be Wendy Vitter, Hillary Clinton, or someone else -- are often discussed when public figures stray. Their personal strain and the private motives behind their public actions are explored at length.

But how does the philandering politician -- especially one like Vitter, who has already reconciled in private and is apparently attempting to reconstruct his marriage -- respond privately to the public scrutiny that intrudes on that process? Does the publicity jar personal attempts to reconcile with his wife, or can it actually prove cathartic and help the couple move on?

Setback or Catharsis?

The days of the press standing quietly by while President John F. Kennedy entertained countless women are long gone. Today it is taken for granted that if a politician has an extramarital dalliance, their status as a public figure gives the public the right to that information.

"When you step into the public light, isn't that part of what goes on? As a public figure I think they're held to a public life," said Gary Shriver, who cheated on his wife 15 years ago but has since reconciled with her. The couple co-wrote the book "Unfaithful" about their recovery from his affair.

Shriver said that all affairs have consequences, which vary from person to person depending on their individual situation. For Vitter, one such consequence is a public airing of his fault. "It is part of his past and it is part of my past, and there are consequences to my sin," Shriver said.

If public discussions of private infidelities are unlikely to go away anytime soon -- particularly because politicians across the aisle have an interest in politicizing the incident -- what sort of effect does it have on a contrite man's ability to move forward in private?

Several marriage infidelity counselors and individuals who cheated on their spouse told ABC News that the publicity will likely make the recovery process for Vitter and his wife more difficult.

Bonnie Weil, author of "Adultery: The Forgivable Sin," claims that 98 percent of couples she treats stay together. She told ABC News that publicity only increases the humiliation felt by the adulterer, making it much more difficult to move beyond the affair.

"It's unfortunate because adultery should be a private thing. I think it's harder for [Vitter] now," she said.

Emma, 35, who spoke on the condition that her real name be withheld, cheated on her husband three years ago, and has since reconciled with him. She said that public scrutiny from individuals unfamiliar with the relationship is often blunt and unforgiving.

"Absolutely [publicity] would have slowed down the process [between her and her husband]," said Emma. "The preconceived ideas that would inevitably come from public opinion, it would have extended the phase of feeling terrible guilt."

"As the adulterer, it's too easy to get caught up in public opinion and think that you're terrible and wrong and there's no hope for reconciliation," Emma said.

But answering to reporters for one's faults can also be the best safeguard against future acts of infidelity.

Willard Harley, a marriage counselor and author of "His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage," said that bringing word of the affair beyond husband and wife is essential to rebuilding the relationship.

Now that everyone knows about the first incident, Vitter will be much less likely to stray, Harley said.

"One of the most important things to do if you've had an affair is to tell the world that you've had an affair. Tell your children, tell your in-laws, tell your friends…and tell them that you want them to hold you accountable from here on out," Harley said.

Johnnie, 72, who nearly cheated on his wife 15 years ago but resisted because his wife came down with a serious illness just as he was about to embark on his affair said, "I think it will help because what he has to realize now as an unfaithful husband is that everybody knows about him now. He's got to walk the straight line." He also spoke on the condition that his full name be withheld.

And Elissa Gough, a marriage counselor who has written several "infidelity guides" for husbands and wives both betrayed and unfaithful, said that public airings of marital transgressions, while painful, helps bring home to Vitter and to the public the consequences of infidelity.

"If you think of the consequences then it wouldn't be that enchanting and that exciting," Gough said. "People in those situations do not look beyond their particular need at the time."

For Vitter "reality has set in," she said.