May 17, 2011 -- 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."
Wives Often Unwilling to Give Up on Men to Whom They've Devoted Years, Built Family
Without any personal acquaintance with Sinclair, Brooks said she interpreted her early proclamation of Strauss-Kahn's innocence "as a sign they have a pretty strong bond." Brooks said that after almost 20 years of marriage, "she's devoted her life to him. You're asking her to reject her whole identity and sense of self and everything great he's done in the past 10 years, politically trying to bail out the world's economy. You're asking her to say it was not all worthwhile and was a horrible joke."
One of the first political wives to publicly support a husband accused of straying from his marriage vows was Lee Hart, after Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., in 1987 admitted to being on a boat called "Monkey Business" with a young woman named Donna Rice. "When Gary says nothing happened, nothing happened," she asserted.
In more recent times, Suzanne Craig remained calm and composed when then-Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, addressed allegations he'd propositioned a man in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall on June 11, 2007.
In 1992, Hillary Clinton, then a Yale-trained Arkansas lawyer, went on a PR offensive, appearing on CBS' "60 Minutes," to address allegations that her husband, then-Gov. Bill Clinton, D-Ark., had cheated on her. That's the interview in which she famously said: "I'm not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette," before blaming the infidelity accusations on "a vast right-wing conspiracy" seeking to derail her husband's presidential candidacy.
Some political wives have forgiven their husband's carnal sins. Wendy Vitter, wife of Sen. David Vitter, R-La., defended her marriage in July 2007, after her husband's name appeared on a Washington, D.C., madam's call list.
"To forgive is not always the easy choice, but it was the right choice for me," she said.
Cathy Paladino, wife of 2010 New York GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, said she forgave her husband after their 29-year-old son died in a car accident and Paladino confessed not only to an affair, but to fathering a love-child with the woman. In an interview with The New York Times, Cathy Paladino said, "When you lose a child, everything that seems so important, or that you would find disagreeable -- it doesn't matter."
Often, these wives cannot sever emotional bonds to their husbands.
"A lot of women feel the husband has been on their side for certain things that we don't know about,with financial support, emotional support, being good to them in some ways," Then said.
In some cases, when the initial shock wears off, wives feel betrayed. Dina Matos McGreevey, stood zombie-like, by her husband, then-Gov. Jim McGreevey of New Jersey, in August 2004 when he admitted he'd slept with a man, was gay and was resigning. She subsequently divorced him. In a 2007 book, she revealed she never would have married McGreevey, nor had a child with him, had she known he was gay.
"I thought it was the American dream, and it turned out to be a nightmare," she told Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America."
When wives "begin to see that the behavior of their partner has actually been that destructive, that's when you quite often will have an internal collapse, where they fall apart, become depressed, where they feel like they've been used," Kirschner said.
Athletes' Wives Experience The Same Betrayals
Like politicians, star athletes -- rock-stars of the ring, court or field -- have ready access to willing women.
Lynette Taylor said her husband, N.Y. Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, was "set up" by a 16-year-old girl who accused him of rape in 2010. Earlier this year, Taylor struck a deal in which he pled guilty to patronizing a prostitute and a count of sexual misconduct, which kept him out of prison for statutory rape, but required he register as a sex offender.
In June 2003, L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman at a Colorado resort where she worked. Bryant's wife Vanessa stood by his side at a news conference when he maintained the sex was consensual and said he was "disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery." Three days after prosecutors announced the charges, Bryant bought his wife a $4 million, 8-carat purple diamond ring.
There are times when a husband's contrition and a wife's acceptance can make a marriage stronger, Kirschner said.
"That's if they're willing to go into therapy and there is true remorse on the part of the person who has cheated, and a willingness to make reparation and a willingness to ... build a new level of intimacy and openness," Kirschner said. "I've seen that work out in therapy, but not typically when there's been serial cheating, when the guy is a player, when there's been coercion and illegal acts."