August 12th, 2008
10:25 AM ET

John Edwards - Cheating Myths

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Dr. Lisa Boesky
Psychologist, National Speaker & Author

John Edwards…many of those who didn’t want him for president still viewed him as a “nice guy.” A politician cheating? Not shocking. But, John Edwards, the squeaky clean devoted husband who let his cancer-stricken wife stand at his side throughout his entire campaign? Devastating.

Most of us have either cheated, been cheated on, or know someone who has been unfaithful. Yet, much of what we think about cheating is WRONG!

  1. Infidelity spells the end of a marriage: It definitely feels that way when you first find out—anger, depression, anxiety. There appears to be no way to work it out. But, with time (and a lot of work), it is possible to rebuild the trust. If couples seek professional help to deal with the aftermath of the affair, their chances of staying together are pretty good.
  2. People cheat because they’ve fallen out of love: Many unfaithful spouses report that they still love their wives or husbands. Whereas women often report being unhappy in their marriage, some men consider themselves in semi-happy, or even happy marriages—despite their affair. Cheating typically results from other relationship issues.
  3. Once a cheater, always a cheater: It depends. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. However, if someone cheats one time due to immaturity, poor judgment, impulsivity, intoxication or opportunity and receives tough consequences for their actions, they may learn from their mistake and never do it again.
  4. Spouses who are cheated on “know” at some level, but choose not to see the infidelity: Many spouses don’t have a clue that their husband or wife is cheating—especially if there is trust in the relationship and the cheater is a slick liar. Hindsight is 20/20–but during the actual affair, extra time at work, plans with friends, or weight-loss won’t automatically spark thoughts of infidelity.
  5. People cheat with someone younger, sexier, or better in bed than their partner: Many victims of infidelity are shocked that the “other” man or woman isn’t some young stud or hottie. It may be the other person’s witty banter, submissiveness, undying affection, heaps of attention, shared interests, unexplained chemistry, gifts/money or “understanding” that pulled at your spouses heartstrings.
  6. No sex = No affair: Deep and intense relationships are developing over the internet and as male and female co-workers spend hours upon hours together. Emotional affairs can be incredibly addictive due to their secretive and unconsummated nature. Commiserating about unhappy relationships can quickly turn into bonding, attraction, and desire.
  7. Women don’t cheat as much as men: The percentage of women cheaters is quickly catching up to men. Both genders report similar reasons for cheating, though some women in midlife feel they “deserve” to cheat after raising kids, being a supportive wife, and sacrificing their identify in a marriage. Women who marry young may feel trapped if they haven’t played the field—especially if their young husband doesn’t fit their idealized view of who she thought he was.
  8. A one-night stand is just as bad as a long-term affair: Long-term lying, betrayal, deception can have a much larger impact on marriages than a one-time mistake. Both can negatively affect the marriage and break the trust—but a one-night stand tends to have much less of an emotional component, which gives the relationship a greater chance of surviving.

If you find yourself looking outside your marriage for what needs to be fixed inside your marriage, talk to your spouse or a professional NOT your opposite-sex neighbor, co-worker, or friend!

Filed under: Ethics • John Edwards
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Justadream

    I was disappointed in John Edwards, because, I thought he and Elizabeth had a good marriage. The thing that bothered me most was that she was sick, and he hurt her. It was a shame and senseless on his part. I wonder how he feels now. And I wonder if this will hurt his political career. He should find out if the child the other woman had, is his or not. He has to pay for his mistake.

    August 15, 2008 at 2:55 pm |
  2. GF, Los Angeles

    I'm completely baffled as to why people would get married and make statements like Nicole did that maybe 20 years down the road she or her husband may cheat. Marriage is a serious commitment to the partner and children brought into the union which is why I've chosen not to do it. If people have any doubts about being faithful to their spouse whether it be a year or 30 years from when they get married, why even bother? As Tom Leykis says, there are not benefits to marriage other than to bring children into this world. Sleep around and don't get married if you can't be monogamous.

    August 12, 2008 at 10:04 pm |
  3. Carol, PA

    Are we supposed to be outraged and angry because he had an affair or because he lied about it? I'm being facetious, but either way, I don't really care. What does concern me is the money trail, but I guess we will just have to wait and see how that all unfolds.

    I wish the best for JE and family and hope this story will soon find it 's way out of the headlines. The family does not need all this unnecessary stress and besides that, there are more important things happening (that affect us all) that are getting very little attention!

    August 12, 2008 at 9:46 pm |
  4. Nicole

    I don't understand why everyone is so surprised and disappointed in Edwards. Come on people! Running for President doesn't make you superhuman that you don't have the same problems as everyday people. We all know that affairs happen everyday in marriages.

    I've only been married for 3 yrs and today I can say that I would never cheat on my husband but who's to say that either one of us would feel the same way after being married for 20 yrs. All I ask my husband is that if something was to ever happen to ensure he uses protection.

    August 12, 2008 at 8:11 pm |
  5. Pam - Californian now in Sydney, Australia

    It's too bad that we humans insist on setting expectations for ourselves in the form of vows and assumed moral and ethical behavior that just aren't attainable by the majority. All of our tireless attempts to separate ourselves from the animal kingdom over the ages have only strengthened the case that we're not. Humans, as Anderson can personally attest, stand out from the rest of the beasts for the most horrific capabilities and tendencies of all. We are self-serving beyond reason or need. Rarely is that behaviour found in the beasts, in fact, as it relates to fidelity, there are several animals that are monogamous and mate for life. Imagine that. We spend so much time proving how evolved we are when we can't even honor one another as members of the lower ranking occupants of the Earth do, and always have.

    August 12, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  6. Melissa, Los Angeles

    No Thor, monogamy does not equal success. A person can be in a monogamous relationship and both can still be unhappy therefore unsuccessful. I'm talking about MARRIAGE. Marriage means monogamy and having made a decision to forsake all others (or did you and your wife skip that part of the vows?). Marriage = RESPECT and cheating on a spouse is in no way respectful to the marriage, the spouse and more importantly – the kids.

    August 12, 2008 at 7:41 pm |
  7. Pat

    Dr. Lisa Boesky

    Thank you for your Professional knowledge and your time in sharing the same.

    I don't believe that most have cheated or been cheated on. Although the percentage today is much greater than a decade ago. And I don't think the rise in occurances gives many of us much joy.

    It's not the cheating that breaks the marriage/union it's the trust in one's spouse. I would bet that the majority of spouses or significant others who have been cheated on are not nearly as upset about the affair as they are about the lack of concern, care, respect, and trust their significant other demonstrated. Just like it's not the affair that puts John Edwards in a much dimmer light for me. It is his blantant lies about it in public, his unconcern about the affects on his Party, staff, wife and family. And in my view, a man or woman who hasn't the capacity tp understand the hurt, betrayal, dishonesty, disrepsect, negative image this projects upon their spouse didn't have many personal qualities that one would value and is greatly lacking in strength and Character. Just as I see John Edwards.

    August 12, 2008 at 6:50 pm |
  8. Presley from Michigan

    Wow Thor is taking a beating.
    The only thing from his original comment is maybe we rely on something that can only be created when two people commit and work for the same things and see the whole of a relationship not just pieces of it.
    I guess in some way, some couples just believe it is and do nothing regarding the upkeep necessary.
    I'm not taking Thor to literally.
    Monogamy however is a CHOICE and many equate it as sacred and all that it implies.
    And do not take it for granted.

    I do. I have lived the after math of infidelity, it SUX!
    And no, it didn't have any happy endings, period.

    August 12, 2008 at 6:49 pm |
  9. Lilibeth

    I can’t help but think that we will never fully understand what Mr. Edwards is going through or thinking of when he had the affair. I’m not justifying at all what he’s done; I’ll be the first to say that I’m disappointed in him. I’m just saying that we probably shouldn’t be quick to judge. It reminds me of the song, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.”

    Edmonds, Washington

    August 12, 2008 at 6:08 pm |
  10. Thor

    Melissa: See? For you, monogamy = success. That's not moral rectitude, that's petty jealousy sloppily redefined.

    August 12, 2008 at 5:53 pm |
  11. Kim

    You're right. I am a princess, and am treated as such, and my husband is a prince, and I treat him as such.

    If you and your wife are okay with stepping outside the marriage, that's not cheated or lying. Different ball game. But when one enters into a marriage with the anticipation of no other "partners," then it is cheating, and it does lead to violence, and then the kids suffer.

    August 12, 2008 at 5:28 pm |
  12. Melissa, Los Angeles

    @ Thor if you and your wife have an open marriage – that's your choice. Most marriages aren't (again why get married) and no Oprah didn't make marriage to equal monogamy. You can't generalize and say " all humans fail to live up" – maybe you're failure (and quite possibly your wife's) to remain monogamous is your issue and not "all" humans.

    August 12, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
  13. Thor

    Oh good lord... Adultery doesn't destroy lives. The premium placed on the "sanctity" is what destroys lives when eventually all humans fail to live up. My wife and I have been together for over twenty years, largely because we haven't bought into the soap-Oprah BS that fuels the kind of whining, hair-pulling, ignorant blather you girls are regurgitating here. Princesses.

    August 12, 2008 at 4:36 pm |
  14. Heather

    People who don't respect their spouse enough to be honest and say I'm unhappy cheat.Of course in Edwards case he has taken it to any entirely new level.I just love how he thinks being 99% honest isn't enough.I didn't realize you could be less than 100% honest and call it honest.Of course I don't think he was being 100% honest in that interview.Maybe 99.95% honest.He also seems to think that his wife being in remission makes it ok.Remission doesn't mean cured,and that's 100% not 99% just in case he's a little confused.He is the scum you find at the bottom of a garbage dumpster. He makes Clinton seem normal.

    August 12, 2008 at 4:22 pm |
  15. okerry

    Adultery destroys families. It destroys lives. It is a leading cause of domestic violence, including murder and suicide. Yet people who are supposed to be our leaders and role models feel free to indulge in rampant cheating as just another perk of their jobs. Time for everyone else to stop looking the other way.

    August 12, 2008 at 3:15 pm |
  16. Cathy

    John Edwards talks about the timeline and how it couldn’t be his baby. Why wasn’t he using protection?
    If he loves his wife so much to cheat on her, he must love her a lot more not to use protection!!!!

    August 12, 2008 at 2:45 pm |
  17. JC- Los Angeles

    I could care less about John Edwards cheating on his wife with a barfly, past her prime, attention-seeking, social climber or any rationalizations or myths attributed to weak-minded cheats.

    I do, however, have a major problem with the real story here which is about corruption, money laundering, campaign finance violations and possible inter-state wire fruad.

    Our nation has laws to prevent unrest; those laws apply to all citizens; please stay on the story and ensure that the likes of Edwards and Eliot Spitzer are held to the same standard as other low-brow, lying, double-talking, conniving, scumbag law-breakers.

    August 12, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  18. CaseyJ - Palm Springs, CA

    "I have wondered why people think that the cheated on spouse must have done something wrong. I have seen many marriages where the “cheater” had the most wonderful spouse and still cheated."

    Reltionships are a partnership. Whether intentional, unintentional, controllable or uncontrollable, circumstances are different for every relationship–no two are alike. This is why I have a hard time with people being so removed on this subject and yet so judgemental.

    A relationship that appears to be otherwise "perfect" can (and probably does) have some exception within it, excluding it from "perfection." No one person is absolutely "wonderful," in all ways. Most importantly, IT'S NOT OUR BUSINESS.

    August 12, 2008 at 2:07 pm |
  19. CaseyJ - Palm Springs, CA

    Sexually-based cheating is a slippery slope. If you connect that well sexually you are getting inside each other's heads. Subsequently you are much more open to talk, discuss, and develop a continually deeper bond. Sex, for the sake of sex ONE TIME, can be a rush, a high, or a relief and I'm guessing most men can do it with just about anybody at least once.

    August 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm |
  20. CaseyJ - Palm Springs, CA

    "Why are Democrats always caught with women and Republicans with men???"

    I'm guessing self-repression and self-loathing. They're afraid to step outside the archetypal "brand" they were taught growing up and suppress who they really are–but the actions (letting who they are out of the bag every so often like a Larry Craig) just get more desperate, profound and irrational as they further supress their feelings.

    August 12, 2008 at 1:44 pm |
  21. Jolene

    Dr. Lisa Boesky: Although I appreciate your take on the cheating myths, it still doesn't explain why people cheat. IMO, it is only justifying cheating. In Edwards case, he's blaming it on being egocentric and narcissistic. It would be interesting to know how that fit into all this. Thanks.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    August 12, 2008 at 1:44 pm |
  22. SARA.ro

    We should apreciate that JE is a real gentleman,even he was catch in "offsaid"-soccer term.

    August 12, 2008 at 1:21 pm |
  23. Melissa, Los Angeles

    What's there to understand Thor? Two people make a marriage vow to be faithful and one breaks the vow. Why bother getting married if the vow means nothing?

    August 12, 2008 at 1:17 pm |
  24. Sandy, Arkansas

    My aged aunt once said "sex to a man is just like a good steak...enjoy it and wait for the next one." In many incidences this may be true but the sad part of this is it seems to have been an emotional affair not just a sexual one. I feel for Elizabeth Edwards and her children. Forgiveness is fine, but I think the other woman is just waiting in the background for the day that Elizabeth is gone and she can have the rich man she's always wanted. Mr. Edwards should realize that if Ms. Hunter would cheat with him – she would cheat on him. If I were Elizabeth I do not know what I would do but I think she is the only class act of this political couple.

    I hope John Edwards can, and will, never make a serious mistake again and that he spends the rest of his life making Elizabeth and his family proud of him and becoming the caring and committed person many people thought he was.

    August 12, 2008 at 1:08 pm |
  25. Jo Ann

    The one and only truth about cheating is that it is all about fulfilling the cheater’s needs and nothing else. I don’t have first hand experience with cheating, but any cheater I have known has been a narcissist, someone who thinks that he or she is entitled in some way. Like spoiled children, they are always looking for “undying affection” and “heaps of attention.” I think if we looked into the childhood of most of these people we would see either someone who always got what they wanted or someone who was denied parental attention and is trying to fulfill that void.

    As I was watching John Edwards lie his way through the "Nightline" interview I couldn’t help but think that no matter how much money he has or how “high profile,” he is still the typical cheater who is only coming clean because he got caught. The excuses he gave and the smug look on his face during the interview tells me that he is still the same four hundred dollar a haircut narcissist that he was before. His life and even this scandal seem to be all about him.

    The problem with these selfish egocentric individuals is that they often lure innocent decent people into their dysfunctional web.

    Edwards’ narcissistic attitude is probably not much different than any other celebrity or media personality. It is just the nature of the beast.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    August 12, 2008 at 1:03 pm |
  26. Kim

    Thor –

    Your poor wife...... If you can even find someone to share your life with. How pitiful you are. Control yourself. And God's laws have nothing to do with it. Respect for one's self and family is what it is all about. If you want to play that game, then go play, but don't bring a trusting wife and defenseless children into the picture.

    August 12, 2008 at 12:54 pm |
  27. Milena, Toronto

    Quite frankly, John Edwards' affair is between him and his wife, and the other woman. I am so tired of the media reporting this garbage every night, WHO CARES? These people are human, does it still surprise you that politicians are having sex with people other than their spouses? Big deal he was running for President, every President has something to hide and so does every politician. The problem is America makes their politicians out to be the next coming of Christ. Get over it. Report something tangible, report something that is going to have an impact on humanity. Leave John Edwards to his wife.

    August 12, 2008 at 12:50 pm |
  28. Gary Chandler in Canada

    Why are Democrats always caught with women and Republicans with men???

    August 12, 2008 at 12:30 pm |
  29. Angel

    I would have liked to see # 9. cheating myth that "it takes two to make a cheater in a marriage". I have wondered why people think that the cheated on spouse must have done something wrong. I have seen many marriages where the "cheater" had the most wonderful spouse and still cheated.

    People cheat for many reasons but I think the #1 reason is they are simply selfish.

    I am stunned that Edwards was cheating, but even more telling was his visiting Rielle's hotel room at 3 am. Like a phone call wouldnt do? And why did he want her to not tell- he had already told Elizabeth and she is the only one that should matter. I 100% believe the baby is his and the affair did NOT end when he said it did. He doesnt seem very sorry, IMO.

    Let's all pray for Elizabeth's health because she doesn't need this extra stress and negativity right now. I hope the media leaves her alone.

    August 12, 2008 at 11:48 am |
  30. Melissa, Los Angeles

    I have to disagree with point number 1. Once you break a bond of trust it can never be fully restored again. I liken it to breaking a vase – it can be glued back together again but the cracks are still there forever. There will always be doubts of where the cheating spouse is and what he says. I couldn't live my life always second guessing what my spouse was telling me of his whereabouts and who he really was with. Cheating whether it's physical or emotional is a deal breaker for me no matter if it's a one night stand or longer.

    August 12, 2008 at 11:47 am |
  31. Marlon

    As far as John Edwards' affair, I could care less. It's between him and his wife. It has nothing to do with me or the economy or the war in Iraq. He's a human being and is capable of making the some mistakes as anyone else. All the politicians who have gotten caught lied initially and then end up telling the truth. But I think when it comes to electing a politician it's their record that should be looked at not whether or not they've cheated on their spouse. People do not know what goes on in other people's marriages. Monogamy is so overrated and really unnatural. People are scared to be honest with their partners because they are in this constrained relationship.

    August 12, 2008 at 11:40 am |
  32. Vallary Jefferson

    I am from North Carolina and thought highly of John Edwards and his family. He lied to his self and to his wife. I wish she would get some peace of mind. What a class act she is. My hat goes off to her. I wish women in these positions would show other young women that it isn't ok and to leave a man that cheats on you. Don't just forgive and forget. He has a grown daughter and a young one. What would he say if they came to him and their husband had cheated what would he say to them. Also what would mom say. It is ok forgive him and live with it. I wish he was on the street. Think better of yourself women. If a man cheats he is telling you something.

    August 12, 2008 at 11:38 am |
  33. Bill (NOT Clinton, but who knows for sure?)

    HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, Mr. Typical Liberal News-Doctorer!
    So you think you can "explain Edwards' horny, selfish act away" by slithering sideways into educating us about how NATURAL cheating is. I don't dispute the naturalness of how the hormones romp over sworn vows, higher education and just plain good sense. I fault
    YOU for trying to sanitize a fellow Left-winger's smarmy behavior. I only wish he'd been caught AFTER he became Obama's running mate. Because they BOTH have plenty to hope people don't look at too closely. I'm talking about the actual, already-document actions and self-statements from Obama's pals, his minister and his congregation, and his wife,. You'd better try to sanitize the way they ADMIT their racist and anti-American festerings.

    August 12, 2008 at 11:37 am |
  34. Kim

    Men & women cheat because they think no one will know and they can get away with it. And when they do get away with it, with little or no consequences, they do it again. I am sickened by people who stand by their cheating spouses. It is selfish and disgusting act. People really have to stop and think before they drop their drawers in someone's bedroom. Are there children involved? Is this a strong relationship? I have lost friends because I have told them that I knew their husbands were cheating, they chose to accept the behavior. And I do believe partners know if they are being cheated on at some level. It is just too obvious to see. And, if your spouse is that good of a liar, beware, they are not being truthful about other things.

    August 12, 2008 at 11:25 am |
  35. Jim

    John Edwards exemplifies the Democrats achilles heel: moral relativism. President Bush has made controversial decisions but at least he does not cheat on a cancer stricken wife. What kind of man does that? Apparantly a man good enough to run at the top of the Democratic ticket. Pathetic.

    August 12, 2008 at 11:21 am |
  36. Missy

    Edwards had to admit he cheated on his wife because he was caught leaving her room in the middle of the night just a few weeks ago. If this affair ended 2 years ago, what was he doing in her room at that hour of the night just recently?

    If the money Ms. Hunter is receiving is in any way connected with his campaign funds, the fact that he cheated on his wife pales in comparison with that.

    August 12, 2008 at 11:16 am |
  37. Gary Chandler in Canada

    Why should an illicit affair 'end' Edward's career when an illicit affair bank rolled the start of McCain's career?
    (If you say Edwards lied about his, then the question changes, why does lying not end McCain's career?)

    August 12, 2008 at 11:03 am |
  38. Presley from Michigan

    6. No sex = No affair: Deep and intense relationships are developing over the internet and as male and female co-workers spend hours upon hours together. Emotional affairs can be incredibly addictive due to their secretive and unconsummated nature. Commiserating about unhappy relationships can quickly turn into bonding, attraction, and desire.

    – THIS is the gray, mired area for me. (No, I'm not cheating nor a cheater, I have however been lied to and finding you are the other woman SUX . Therefore, I do not consider myself a cheater as I swiftly kicked them to curb.)
    This particular component is the most debated. How this gets rationalized depends on whom you ask, men seem to brush this off and consider it not cheating.
    Personally I think the whole cloak and dagger aspect is what fuels more intense emotions. But when and if the secrecy is no longer an issue, these couples find out quickly they have less in common being that the whole of the relationship was built on a temporary foundation but placate the relationship for duration of time.
    That's what I have witnessed at least. Though I am amazed at how creative some get to sustain these types of trysts.

    One night stands, hmmmmm....
    More of us are guilty of these than any of us will cop to, married, committed or single, ahem ahem.

    Infidelity ripped my family apart years ago, I have very strong feelings about it and have a zero tolerance.
    It's jacked up and only seems to be given more "explanations" and not enough preventive measures to deter it all together.

    Thank you for posting this and while I agree with some aspects, remedies always look better in print.
    This is a subject that is always an interesting read.

    August 12, 2008 at 10:54 am |
  39. Thor

    If anything, Edwards has thrown a big spotlight on the shrill, shrewish reactionary mindset of the typical American female. They show no understanding – or willingness to understand – male nature, and throw out dainty platitudes as God's truth.

    Men philander, ladies. Your man philanders, and if he doesn't he wants to. John Edwards is not a Bad Man, or an Evil Daddy, or the Killer of His Wife. He's just a guy, even if you're too wrapped up in your 'rules' to see it.

    August 12, 2008 at 10:53 am |
  40. Annie Kate

    Well, I guess I admire people who stick it out and work to put their relationship back together, but I wouldn't be one of them. I won't even be friends with someone I can't trust much less be married to that sort of person.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 12, 2008 at 10:49 am |
  41. Cindy

    I was definitely shocked to hear John admit that he cheated. He seemed to be the last person that you'd expect of that. But I do think sometimes great tragedies cause people to look outside for some relief of what ever is going on in their lives. Maybe that was what happened with him, seeing that his wife was going through cancer treatments and all. It's not an excuse by no means and doesn't mean he doesn't love his wife. It just means he's still a dog like the rest of the cheaters! LOL

    I just wonder what else he is hiding about this affair. There are a lot of unanswered questions that I bet he hopes he can keep a secret. He may as well come clean with it all before the National Enquirer outs him on it all and he looks like a bigger fool.


    August 12, 2008 at 10:46 am |
  42. Michelle Fonthill Ont,Canada

    John Edwards was at typical arrogant man who thought he could get away with cheating on his wife .The power postion of being a politian was was a lure to this mistress of his a "conslutant yeah rightshe consulted him all right a groupie politoco was all she was.The real hurt and betryal taht Eliaabeth must have felt and not mention her illness which can now thanks to allof the stress be much worse .She is a strong woman and I hope she can get through this crisis -thanks to her cheating husband.

    August 12, 2008 at 10:40 am |

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