Why Men Like John Edwards Make Bad Husbands


The private pain of public figures can help us to examine our own lives, and know what is possible

There are lessons in public lives that, as unsettling as they are, can help us all to understand what is going on in our own lives. Such is the life and marital horror experienced by Elizabeth Edwards, whose husband, John, is now facing the possibility of jail, charged with using campaign contributions to keep an affair, pregnancy, and subsequent birth of his child from his wife.

Elizabeth and John’s 30 year old, newly married daughter Cate, an attorney, ran from the court room in tears last week, after hearing about a horrific episode: During the campaign outside a private airport hangar, her mother, in hysteria, ripped her clothing off of her breasts, after grueling treatments for cancer, screaming to her husband in front of his staff, “You don’t see me anymore.”

More about this tragic episode and what it can teach us soon……..

Again and again, when partners are betrayed by infidelity, I am asked if it is possible to once again rebuilt and renew trust. The answer is a resounding yes --- if each in the partnership wants this renewal and is willing to work hard toward it.

The ways to do this have been written about with frequency. Briefly stated, the contact with the one intimacy has been shared with must end – no ands, ifs, or buts! There must also be honest sharing, time to express hurt and pain, and an attempt to understand what went wrong and why. Sometimes there is what I call an “intermission,” where partners spend some time apart. (During this time, there must be fidelity. This is surely not a time to explore other intimate relationships.) Then, if there is reconciliation, there must be a true attempt to stop talking about this episode and move on together.

There is one personality profile, however, that one cannot ever trust to build with once again. Think John Edwards, whose reported lack of respect and compassion for his wife’s pain caused a loyal daughter to be sickened and leave the court room, loyally returning once she composed herself.

Edward’s reactions demonstrate the psychological makeup of one devoid of the ability to be a committed partner who can love sincerely and maturely as the years pass.  Instead, those with this type of personality seek to gain from the strengths of others whom they attract.  They need these strength and fear their loss.  But they can never truly understand pain their behavior has caused those they say they love. This kind of person is often described, in their private lives, as having ice water in his or her veins.

One who is capable of behaving in the coldest of ways toward a "loved one," however, is very often an excellent mimic of true feeling. But that said, please remember that the only real feeling experienced is threefold: fear of loss of one depended upon, terror that others will see him for who he is, and self pity for how wrongly the world has turned on him.

John Edwards, as reported by several who witnessed this deeply troubling airport scene, “did not have much of a reaction.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, May 3, 2012, p, A13). Rather than put his arms around a distraught woman, the mother of his children, one who had stood by him throughout their marriage, he called her doctor and boarded his plane without her for his next campaign stop.

Please learn from this episode.  Very few with this kind of personality make-up truly want to look at their behavior for what it really is and change.  Usually they only make the promise of change to manipulate family members.  Remaining with one with the ability to be this cold, unfeeling, and manipulative, with no sincere desire to change, can promise only one thing -- endless anxiety, humiliation, suffering, and emotional depletion.