Beyond every unfaithful man

2013-09-24 11:00

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Why do political wives stand by their men after they’ve strayed? We find out what’s in it for them.

Hands up if you were surprised Zwelinzima Vavi had messed around. No?

Thought not.

We have become accustomed to politicians straying, and the Cosatu general secretary has the kind of attributes that are catnip to women: Power.

Charisma. Celebrity. Attitude. Access to resources.

The man may not be the hunkiest of dudes but there’s little doubt he’ll be able to fork out for prawns in posh restaurants while planning a spot of mass action.

And that has a certain charm of its own.

What was his wife Noluthando’s reaction to his liaison?

Did she pack her bags, gather up her children and leave the family home as the story gained momentum?

Not a bit of it. Instead, she entered into negotiations with the other woman – despite the fact Vavi admitted he slept with the 26-year-old Cosatu staffer just three days before Noluthando gave birth to their twins.

Even as her husband publicly described his dalliance as sex ‘with feelings’, Noluthando stood by her man, presenting a united front in the face of the outcry that followed.

But really, should we be all that staggered by her behaviour? After all, she is hardly alone in the arena of cheated-wife behaviour.

There was barely a ripple from President Jacob Zuma’s wives when it emerged Sonono Khoza, daughter of his old pal Irvin Khoza, had given birth to his 20th child.

Sports minister Fikile Mbalula? Back with his wife, Nozuko, after bedding a model two years ago.

In the United States there is a long line of women who have stood by their philandering men.

Hillary Clinton supported her then-president husband Bill in the wake of scandalous revelations about nightclub singer Gennifer Flowers and White House intern Monica Lewinsky (who was barely out of her teens).

Even as allegations of sex with Barbra Streisand and Sharon Stone dropped like stones onto their marriage, Hillary hung in there.

She insisted Bill was the victim of a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ and then, when the proof became undeniable, went on TV show 60 Minutes and declared, ‘I’m sitting here because I love him and I respect him.’

However, she did later admit in her book Living History that she could ‘hardly breathe’ when her husband told her that rumours of an affair with Monica were true. ‘Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him: “What do you mean? Why did you lie to me?”’ she wrote.

Further back in history, Jackie Kennedy – perhaps the original ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ First Lady, looked the other way as her husband, President John F Kennedy, dallied with starlets at naked pool parties, had an affair with Jackie’s 23-year-old press secretary, made headlines with screen icon Marilyn Monroe and caused consternation in the FBI for his involvement with mobster moll Judith Campbell Exner.

More recently, Hillary’s aide Huma Abedin stood right behind her husband, New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, after it emerged he’d sent pictures of his private parts to a 22-year-old.

This was Huma’s second opportunity to turn the other cheek – Weiner couldn’t keep his dirty down-there selfies to himself two years ago either.

‘Quite simply, I love my husband,’ Huma told the media. She even went to his ‘apology’ press conference – just as Silda Spitzer did a few years ago.

Silda’s husband, New York governor Eliot Spitzer – a staunch anti-prostitution advocate – did some major mea culpa after being bust hooking up with a 22-year-old hooker.

Silda, stalwart of a wife that she is, even took his hand when he’d finished saying he was sorry.

Perhaps these wives should have expected the worst.

According to a recent study at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, the likelihood of infidelity increases as the person becomes more powerful.

Researchers found cheating was linked to confidence – and the more power people had, the more confident they were.

That doesn’t explain how Noluthando and company justify staying with their husbands, let alone sticking around and being publicly humiliated during the fallout.

Why don’t they just cut their losses and fly first class to some place like Ibiza for some fun in the sun?

Sarah Symonds, author of Having an Affair – who started The Wife School to teach wives to ‘affair-proof’ their marriages after confessing to a seven-year affair with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay – is unconvinced women stay for the ‘love’ Hillary and Huma talked about.

‘These high-profile marriages are often more like a merger,’ she says. ‘If the wife finds out about her husband’s affairs, she will gloss over them if they become public.

These wives have their own political and financial agendas and they’re not going anywhere.’

May Cotterell, a Johannesburg-based psychologist, agrees. She adds that where there is a merger, there’s a contract.

‘Perhaps for some it is about keeping the family together. For other wives it may be about having their husband in a vice-like guilt grip so they finally have the power in the relationship.

‘Others may feel they are more secure in the world – financially and socially – with their successful husband than without. So in the toss-up between dealing with the humiliation and anger of his wandering eye, and being left alone without resources and a social position, staying and turning a blind eye becomes the more palatable choice.’

It becomes a vicious circle, though. As Symonds says, high-profile husbands have often confided to her they feel they’re in ‘prostitutional relationships’ with wives who show them ‘little physical affection and intimacy’ unless there’s something in it for her.

‘That’s why so many men do have mistresses,’ she says. ‘Even women in regular, everyday marriages treat their husbands like little more than ATM machines.’

Whatever the reason, sexologist Marlene Wasserman – radio’s Dr Eve – certainly doesn’t see the wife as victim. ‘These wives are taking charge of their lives. Women want to stay married – as do men. A new marriage is evolving with new rules being negotiated.

“These political wives are reflecting these changes. They have resources to lose. They choose to stay. continue to want the status and privilege offered to them via their men, though they should use the opportunity to set boundaries.

‘It’s not an exoneration of the pain or an acceptance of cheating. But let’s not forget Mrs Vavi cheated with Mr Vavi – who was married to another woman – when they first met.’

Perhaps Sir James Goldsmith, the late UK business tycoon who had three wives and innumerable mistresses, had a point when he said, ‘When a man marries his mistress he leaves a vacancy.’

But cuckolded wives should also take a long, hard look at themselves and their marriage, Symonds believes.

‘While their payoff for staying is their salubrious lifestyle, they should be honest with themselves. When a man cheats, there’s always a reason. Whether he’s a famous politician or Joe the plumber, all wives need to find out why.

It could be a cry for help to gain his wife’s attention.

‘Get a babysitter, a bottle of wine, some sexy lingerie and give your husband a night to remember.’

Wasserman suggests it’s also a good time to ‘renegotiate fidelity contracts’.

And if all else fails, there is always Ibiza.

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