There is relationship wisdom to be gained from the dramatic fallout of a one-time fairytale romance.
The first date between John Edwards and Elizabeth Anania back in the seventies ended with him kissing her on the forehead. Years later she reminisced of that kiss, “It was just really sweet. I wasn’t used to men being sweet.”
Sweet is a word Elizabeth stopped using to describe her spouse long before her 2010 death from breast cancer.
Nothing excuses the sociopathic behavior exhibited by the former Presidential candidate, which culminated in his being tried for campaign financial malfeasance. That he allowed his daughter Cate to sit in the courtroom day after day listening to the testimony documenting his immorality should sentence him to a special corner in hell.
Few couples believe when they walk down the flower-strewn aisle to join their lives together that they will wind up characters in a Pinter play. However, while not on as massive and certainly not as public a scale as the meltdown of the Edwards’ union, my vantage point as a relationship therapist has allowed me to witness up-close and personal the carnage that can befall couples who, like John and Elizabeth Edwards, start out with the best of intentions when they slowly but relentlessly allow themselves to release their hold on basic tenets of healthy relating.
DON’T TRY THESE MARITAL MISSTEPS AT HOME:
PUBLICLY DISRESPECTING YOUR MATE. In Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin write, “Elizabeth was forever letting John know she considered him her intellectual inferior. She called her spouse ‘a hick’ in front of other people and derided his parents as rednecks.”
No matter how angry you are at your mate, keep disagreements private. Even if he or she meekly accepts the drubbing, such lack of discretion can lead to a severing of trust, passive aggressive behavior or in John’s case, a feeling of entitlement wider than the Grand Canyon.
IGNORING YOUR PARTNER’S NEEDS. In 2007 when Elizabeth suffered a reoccurrence of the breast cancer she’d originally been diagnosed with in 2004 the couple decided John should continue with his bid to become the Democratic Presidential nominee. He did so with a vengeance – not just keeping up with the campaign but starting an affair, conceiving a child with his mistress, and then lying about said affair and child. When Elizabeth confronted him about his infidelity in front of staffers, ripping open her blouse to reveal the evidence of a double mastectomy, while sobbing, “You don’t see me anymore,” John walked away and boarded a plane for his next campaign stop.
It is difficult but not impossible to combine a pressure-filled career and healthy marriage - hello, Barack Obama. If you can’t put the well-being of your spouse, especially when he or she is ill, ahead of your ego and ambition the only living being that should be reliant on your care and love is a hamster.
MAKING THE MARRIAGE LOW PRIORITY. If insider reports are true, getting her husband to the White House was more important to Elizabeth Edwards even than to her husband. Neither comes off well in Game Change or Andrew Young’s The Politician.
What makes the end of their marriage even more tragic is how much the couple had endured in their 33 years together – the death of their son Wade, her initial cancer diagnosis – yet greed for power ultimately seemed to rule the day.