In between promoting oil pipelines and immigration restrictions, President Trump has returned to familiar territory by publicly objectifying women — first when he told an Irish reporter in the Oval Office that she was “beautiful” and had a “nice smile,” and then again on Thursday morning via tweets in which he taunted Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzenzinski about her “facelift.”
And all of that has, in turn, sent first lady Melania Trump into her own familiar territory: standing by her man.
“As the first lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder,” the first lady’s communications director Stephanie Grisham said in a statement to CNN when asked about the Brzenzinski-related tweets.
Melania Trump’s comms director: “As First Lady has stated publicly…when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.”
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) June 29, 2017
Melania is far from alone when it comes to publicly sticking by one’s husband, despite allegations of his sexist behavior. Take, just for starters, the following women who displayed loyalty (at least initially) despite a lack of it from their spouses: Camille Cosby, Huma Abedin (wife of Anthony Weiner), Silda Wall Spitzer, Hillary Clinton, and Elin Nordegren (ex-wife of Tiger Woods).
Why they remain so devoted in the face of such betrayal is layered and complex, say relationship experts familiar with the phenomenon.
“The deepest and most complicated reason is that it’s familiar — that [these women were likely] raised in a household where inappropriate sexuality was part of the normal equation,” Beverly Hills–based couples therapist Bethany Marshall tells Yahoo Style. “Love, violence, betrayal, sexual perversion was all a part of the equation and becomes fused. That’s the analytic perspective — that it’s part of their attachment system growing up [via their fathers].”
Although each individual woman named above, as well as those in similar situations, are in different situations, there is a common denominator with all, observes Marshall. “[The men] are sexually acting out, or have poor boundaries with women. They objectify women and are not deeply loyal,” she says. “Most of these men — Trump, Cosby, Weiner — are bordering on sex addiction or being sexually compulsive or impulsive. At the core is their wanting to have power over women.”
Other reasons for wives publicly supporting disloyal high-profile husbands, according to Marshall, include the idea of “brainwashing,” as in when the men act erratically but “try to convince the other person that what we do is normal,” and then there is no one outside of the relationship willing to criticize the man (especially POTUS) and therefore provide any helpful perspective. This happened with Nordegren, she notes, who started out supportive of Woods and changed her mind “only when other women came forward and forced her to realize [what was happening].”
Another factor, particularly in politics, she says, is when spouses sometimes “make a pact with the devil,” meaning, “I’ll overlook your flaws if you get me power/status/to the White House.”
Other times, Marshall explains, a woman in this position may be suffering from a “crisis of boundaries,” meaning “she knows her man is suffering but she thinks it’s somehow her fault. … ‘If only I were better in bed he wouldn’t have to cheat,’ for example.” Also, she posits, there can often be a failure to integrate the positive and negative aspects of a disloyal spouse.
“One of the earliest developmental tasks in life is to be able to see the good and the bad in people,” Marshall says, although sometimes people, particularly abused women, have “not integrated the reality.” For example, as children, she says, “eventually we see that mom is a nurturing provider but that she also lets us down… and it’s part of good mental health to see both sides.”
Paul Hokemeyer, a Los Angeles–based marriage and family therapist, has a slightly different take on the ‘stand-by-your-man’ phenomenon.
“I don’t view it as a stand by your man. I see it as a stand by the institution of marriage and take care of private matters in private,” he tells Yahoo Style. “Women want to resolve personal matters in their own time, based on their own intuitive and factual data. Once they have sufficient data, they make decisions guided by on their moral, emotional, and physical compass. Eventually they act, even if an action is a non-action — and in so doing, own their decision, rather than being thrashed around by the harsh and unforgiving opinions of others.”
Hokemeyer adds, “Women who stand by their husbands in the face of controversy demonstrate an extraordinary capacity to honor this institution. Marriage is also a very private agreement that is constantly being negotiated between two imperfect human beings.” And in his experience, he says, men and women tend to go about that differently. “I’ve observed that in contrast to men who too frequently lack the capacity to tolerate their mates’ imperfection because they suffer from higher rates of narcissism, women overlook extraordinary lapses in their mates’ judgments for the good of the marriage as a social and religious institution and the emotional well being of their family. Simply put, women are not ruled by their narcissistic egos and are able to make less emotional, more strategic and logical decisions then men.”
Bottom line, of course, is that women could simply be afraid of losing their mates, Marshall says, and that “the betrayal is unthinkable.”
As she points out, “We all want to believe our loved ones.” And that can also be said for the public wanting to believe the oft-manipulative politicians and celebrities they adore. “We,” Marshall says, “can be like the abused wife too.”
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