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Maybe because I deal with a lot of divorced women who have had their hearts sautéed in a frying pan as a result of infidelity and disappointment, I am not surprised that Elizabeth Edwards could be both Saint Elizabeth and Lady Macbeth.

Some women are just driven to it. I am not making an excuse for her behavior, but I do understand it.

For me, the telling heartbreaking detail was what she said to one of her husband’s staffers after living in a bubble of denial for so long about her husband’s mistress Rielle Hunter and then having her illusions popped so publically. (Babies will do that). As reported in the book, “Game Change,” she desperately cried out, “I have to believe it. Because if I don’t, it means I’m married to a monster.”

The guy she married had indeed morphed into an unrecognizable, egotistical monster. But he was still the father of her children.

I cannot tell you how frequently I see clients in my office who share with me how their spouses become unrecognizable over time, yet many hold on to that moment in time when they first fell in love and hope that somehow that feeling or person will miraculously return. 

As revealed in “Game Change,” the guy Elizabeth Edwards married in 1977 had turned from the down-to-earth son of a mill worker with big ideas and dreams into what campaign aides called a narcissist, self-destructive egomaniac who loved designer suits, first class accommodations and the fawning of aides and female predators with the appropriate last name of “Hunter.”

Is it really surprising that Saint Elizabeth, who bravely battles terminal breast cancer, would derail into a Sybil-like snake hissing at aides in frustration that the Rielle Hunter story wasn’t contained and alternatively need — demand – beg — that they say John Edwards’ aide Andrew Young was the father, even though deep in her decaying bones she knew it wasn’t true?

“Can you believe this is Andrew?” Elizabeth said over dinner. “How has Andrew done this to our family?” According to the book, she solicited everyone’s opinion about Young and Hunter. It was both pathetic and sad.

In my many stories I’ve written covering Elizabeth Edwards, there is another notable quote that to me illustrates the delusion she was swimming in to protect her children, who would be left with this guy, and the thirty-year investment she made in their careers together. 

“Because of a recent string of hurtful and absurd lies in a tabloid publication, because of a picture falsely suggesting that John was spending time with a child it wrongly alleged he had fathered outside our marriage, our private matter could no longer be wholly private,” she said.

Blame others not him. It's a classic response. 

Isn’t this why there is a saying that the wife is the last to know? Because she doesn’t want to believe it, because it forces her to make very hard decisions. Don't you know situations like this?

There are many reasons people stay. A fear of loneliness. A fear of change. A dread of dismantling a family that you spent a lifetime constructing and having your children ping-pong between two residences during holidays. There's also a comfort in the rhythm of family life, the carpooling, the grocery shopping for more than one, the weekday nights eating at the oak table with your old wedding china.

So Saint Elizabeth struggled and yes, she yelled, she screamed, she berated her husband often in public while trying to preserve their marriage, her life and maybe took out her frustrations on innocent bystanders. She had split personalities as the toxic truths started poisoning her more than the chemo.

Of course this backfires. And in her case, very publicly. Now Andrew Young has written his own tell-all, “The Politician” which includes such sordid details as a sex tape between Edwards' husband and Hunter.

How ironic that the night of President Obama’s State of the Union address, it was revealed that the state of the union between Elizabeth and John Edwards was dismantled and that they had separated a few months ago. I have no doubt that as Elizabeth watches Obama’s speeches and sees how he gazes at his wife Michelle with genuine love and respect that she wished she had experienced that type of marriage, that type of outcome.

Like many women, she didn’t get that lucky.

As her sister, Nancy Anania. told People Magazine, the tipping point was meeting his 23-month-old love child with Rielle Hunter last December and most likely seeing some undeniable fragments of her husband’s DNA, the same ones that she can identify in her own children, the way a lip turns into a smile, the way an eyebrow arches, the fleshy part of an earlobe.

"She said, 'I've had it. I can't do this. I want my life back'," Anania told People.

Yes, Elizabeth was an enabler of epic proportions. She will be a textbook case and cautionary tale about blind love, ambition, and foolishness. 

But anyone who has had cancer sometimes substitutes hope for facts. Anyone who is a mother sometimes wants to protect their children from unflattering facts about their parents.

I know we would have preferred that she be someone like many others who become a role model to their children, friends and community  by saying enough is enough and I don't want to love someone who doesn't act honorably or love me back. These are the women where one door closes and a new better one opens.

Now the door is finally shut on the Elizabeth and John Edwards marriage.

Parents teach children who they want to be and not be. I wonder what lessons the Edwards' children will learn from their parents. I doubt it is the one that Elizabeth wanted. Saint Elizabeth vs. Lady Macbeth. Sometimes in toxic relationshps, people can be both.


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  • Comment Link Guest Wednesday, 03 February 2010 23:17 posted by Guest

    Like PAB says, there is a lot:

    Like PAB says, there is a lot to relate to here, and I very much doubt anyone who judges Elizabeth Edwards for staying in the marriage and believing (or choosing to believe) the lies, or just ignoring the truth of infidelity, has ever been through such an experience. How exactly should a scorned woman act? Who bloody well knows? It’s like asking how someone should behave when they’re grieving. And the grief comparison is not too off the mark: most of the time, this is the death of the marriage.

    Like PAB, I also think you have to know what it’s like to be married to these lovely-down-to-earth-types-turned-narcissists. It’s like they spend a lifetime in the marriage accruing trust and emotional dependence from the spouse, just so they can use it to their advantage later on. Distrust and detachment is NOT automatic when the husband’s behaviour becomes suspect, and then horrendous. Why should it? And why not believe that the narcissist behaviour is temporary when you have known a lovely, down-to-earth man for a lifetime? In a long-term marriage, trust and attachment is the default position – has indeed been the default position for decades – and it takes a conscious effort to turn it off. Accepting that the man I’d known, loved, and trusted for over 20 years had gone and been replaced with a piece of work whose every word was likely to be a lie was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and a process, not a one-of decision. How long a process? Well, nearly five years down the track, whenever I hear of his latest narcissistic exploit, it still takes me by surprise.

  • Comment Link PAB Friday, 29 January 2010 23:24 posted by PAB

    I can very much relate to: I can very much relate to Elizabeth Edwards. I also was married to a high profile man (big fish in a little pond), and I also worked very, very hard to believe his lies and assurances that he was not having an affair. This "work" served to create an atmosphere where I was almost manic. I can remember saying to my husband, "I CHOOSE to believe you when you say there is NOT an Other Woman." He would sagely nod and look me in the eye and say, "I appreciate that." Well girls, there was actually an Other Woman, and the months of this dance before and after my husband's departure did a whole lot of damage to me. So while he continued to lie about the mistress and his affair, he started blaming me for everything that was wrong in his life. I suspect that Elizabeth Edwards had very similar conversations with the same damage results on her psyche as well. None of us are perfect in any relationship, and we are bear our own share of responsibility for the death of a marriage. However, Elizabeth Edwards (or any of us who lived with the lies of infidelity) did nothing to deserve to be treated this way by her husband or any others who try to judge her behavior (authors of tell-all books). I resorted to all kinds of things that make me cringe now in an effort to save my marriage and keep my family together. Too bad that Elizabeth Edwards and I didn't know that all that "selling out" doesn't work.