The news that Eliot Spitzer and his wife, Silda Wall, are divorcing – occasioned, it would seem, by his liaison with his former spokeswoman – is tragic, and not just for them and their children.
What it demonstrates is that many men – Anthony Wiener is another example – cannot heal even after losing almost everything.
Nearly everyone believes that a man who cheats on his wife does so primarily for sex. Men crave and need variety. They are especially susceptible to the erotic charms of a younger woman. Mystery solved.
When the Tiger Woods cheating scandal broke, I was invited on CNN to discuss why he did it. The other male panelist on the show piped up, “Is this some kind of puzzle? The guy is rich and famous. He has unlimited access to all the beautiful women in the world. And men want lots of women. So he slept with anyone who was willing.
“There’s your explanation. It’s not deeper than that.”
It was my turn. “In that case, then why did Tiger Woods cheat with the same woman over and over again? There was no variety. All his girlfriends were near exact copies of his wife. They were all blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Nordic-looking bombshells. But he already had that at home. If he was looking for variety, where was the Asian woman, the brunette, the curvaceous plus-sized woman?”
Men cheat not for sex but for validation.
The vast majority of husbands who are unfaithful would never shoplift or steal a car. Rather, they are broken on the inside and seek external validation on the outside. Like flying buttresses on the outside of a building, both Spitzer and Wiener needed political office to prop up their broken sense of selves, which is why, even after resigning from their posts, they could not purge the bug from their system and had to run again.
Women are the ultimate scaffolding.
But because the brokenness is internal, no external accoutrements can ever compensate for an absent sense of self. Like a drug, the illicit liaison can counter the pain only for so long, until it needs to be consumed in ever greater quantity. That is why men become womanizers or porn addicts.
Men cheat not because they don’t love their wives but because they hate themselves. Fifty-six percent of men who cheat rate their marriages as “happy” or “very happy.” Another study found that 80 percent of cheating men had no interest in leaving their wives. They have affairs not because their wives are not loving but because their shattered sense of self is resistant to real caring.
Conversely, men do not refrain from affairs because they love their wives. On the contrary, often a loving spouse unwittingly convinces her husband that even if he cheats he will be forgiven. Rather, a husband refrains from the deceit of adultery because he has an inner commitment to moral behavior and gets more pleasure from nobility of spirit than from illicit sex.
What impedes any deep understanding of infidelity is the public’s natural assumption that most affairs are sexual when, increasingly, affairs today are virtual and involve no physical contact. Many affairs are conducted over the phone or by text, and they are never consummated.
In truth, men have affairs not out of physical deprivation but emotional crises. Marriage counselor M. Gary Neuman, a friend and fellow rabbi, found that only 8 percent of cheating men cited sexual dissatisfaction as the main cause of their infidelity; 48 percent said their primary reason was emotional unhappiness. Furthermore, only 12 percent of the cheating men described the “other woman” as more physically attractive than their wives, which puts the lie to the commonly held wisdom that men are unfaithful because they’re looking for younger, prettier women.
Men cheat not out of a sense of confidence but out of a state of brokenness. Not out of a sense of how desirable they are but out of a sense of what failures they have become. And this is especially true of men in the public eye, like Elliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, who live in hypercompetitive environments where they feel that they are only special so long as they keep on winning.
The public makes the mistake of assuming that powerful, successful men are the most confident, that elite sport stars like Tiger Woods are unflappable, when precisely the opposite is true. Everyone who seeks the spotlight, whether in sports, television, or politics, does so to compensate for some inner feeling of inadequacy. Their gnawing insecurity becomes the very engine of their success. Thus, they reason to themselves, if I become a rich businessman or a powerful politician, I’ll finally be somebody. But money and power are ultimately worthless currencies when it comes to purchasing self-esteem.
Aristotle made clear more than two millennia ago. “Great men are always of a nature originally melancholy,” he wrote. Outwardly successful men usually are inwardly broken in some way, manifested in their reaching outside themselves for validation, usually in the mistaken belief that external achievement will establish their value, when, in truth, only wholesome relationships with God, our families, and communities, based on faith, intimacy, and authenticity, will give us the sense of significance we so badly seek.