Uncovering The Hidden Culture in Weddings And Relationships

The View of “For Better or For Worse”

In Affairs, couples, Divorce, feminism, feminist bride, Groom, History, homosexuality, independence, marriage, Money, nuptials, psychology, relationship health, relationships, stigma, The Feminist Bride, Tolerance on April 17, 2010 at 5:48 am
Tiger Woods announces he will take an indefinite break from golf

Image: Tiger Woods walks with his wife Elin Nordegren during the President Cup in San Francisco on October 9, 2009. Woods announced on December 11, 2009 that he will take an indefinite break from professional golf after rumors of alleged affairs with several women have surfaced.

From JFK to John Edwards to Eliot Spitzer, Prince Charles to Picasso, from Kobe to Tiger and countless other celebrities, these men promised ‘for better or for worse’ and yet each had an extramarital affair or two. While women too commit their own sex scandals, it’s the male affairs that take center stage the most. But women do share the spotlight in affairs – mostly as the victimized wife. Placed before their peers, the wife must decide whether or not to uphold the concept of ‘for better or for worse’ after their husbands have broken their own shared vows first. Divorce is not an easy decision.

The dilemma of leaving or keeping a disrespected marriage has spawned many a ‘Dear Abby’ letter. This indecision is a clash between historical roles in marriage, religion and modernity in women’s roles today. Today we promote high levels of self-esteem in young girls, we encourage them to demand respect and hope that these lessons carry into adulthood. Yet as married adults, if these women experience a cheating husband we ask them to think first about their family, husband and vows before seeking divorce. Ted Haggard’s wife, Gayle Haggard, came out with a book called ‘‘Why I Stayed.’ She promoted it on Oprah and The View, speaking about her husband’s ordeals with homosexuality and drug use. As a dedicated Christian woman (Ted was the former president of the Nat’l Assoc. of Evangelicals before the scandal) divorce is not an option. Homosexuality is also not an option for Ted, as it goes against his Christian views, even though he admitted to Oprah that he still struggles with “compulsive homosexual tendencies.” On one hand, people will argue that divorce is against Christian values; on the other, the argument is that to love another your must honor and love yourself first. Women (and in Ted Haggard’s case) are left divided between two moral conundrums: sustain the family or sustain the self?

Today, 1 out of 4 women will experience some type of domestic abuse in their lifetime. Religiously speaking, there is no commandment that directly condemns violence, but there are two that condemn adultery: ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’ and ‘Thou shall not covet thy neighbors wife.’ Victorian English law stated that men could legally beat their wives so long as the ‘stick was no bigger than his thumb, yet today we implore and expect physically abused women to leave and divorce their husbands immediately. Despite the express condemnation of adultery in the commandments twice, we culturally accept adultery more by encouraging women to consider the pros and cons longer rather then act immediately.

Over the centuries, it was quite common (if not expected) for men to have mistresses, concubines, lovers or brief affairs. Women could neither ask for a divorce nor have their own affair without inherent risk of loss of property, children and social acceptance. Their lot in life was to accept and faithfully ‘obey’ (another vow) the stewardship of their husband for life; infidelity was a part of that package. Today women have the right to divorce, but the stigma of divorce is not entirely gone. With divorce, women are left financially disabled which is why women usually receive alimony. This can be explained by stalled and stunted careers of women who put family first. They typically lose opportunities for advancement in promotion, pay and retirement compared to a man with a family.

The Clinton/Lewinsky affair is one of the most famous. At the time of the scandal, I was sixteen and had just discovered boys meanwhile scholastically learning to demand equality amongst the sexes. Hillary was my generation’s first solid female role model that dared to play in a man’s world. The scandal was a poignant moment for young women like me who had been brought up to believe in the 90’s theme of girl power. So it was dismaying to see this powerful women be so painfully and publically disgraced by her husband (on the border of impeachment) and to stand by him. The conspiracy theory that she stayed for economic, political and career reasons are unconfirmed, but even my sixteen year old self understood the assumption that she would fair better if she stayed. And as we all know she is now a Senator of New York state. Divorce can seem like a challenging idea economically, but if we continue to expect a woman to give up a career or education at the behest of husband and/or family we are condemning her to make faulty divorce decisions based on basic economic dependency and not on morality.

The View interviewed Jenny Stanford on February 8th. She has a book out called “Staying True” that resulted from her former husband’s, former S.C. Governor Mark Sanford, affair with an Argentinean woman. Unlike Haggard and Clinton, this affair involved amorous feelings. Mark described this other woman as his “soul mate.”  Emotional affairs can raise the stakes in seeking a divorce but it should not be a tipping point. The phrase ‘for better or for worse’ refers to a couple’s commitment to unite against outside influences. An extramarital affair is a marriage covenant betrayal within the marriage. It is a common mistake to assume that the phrase applies to violations within the marriage, but this is not the case in religious doctrine.

We teach females of all ages to take charge of their lives – to demand education, fairness, equal pay, reproductive rights and yet how we treat institutions like marriage and divorce contradict all those lessons. Extramarital affairs are regarded as morally wrong, yet if a marriage is irreparable what choice does a women have when we treat divorce as an equal sin? If the inequalities between sustaining an income, career and education with a family remain between men and women, how else do we expect women to gain independence after a divorce let along afford to chose one without economic concerns placed before moral ones?  And if we expect husband and wife to put family and spouse before themselves, what type of lessons do we exhibit when we violate shared trust and self-respect? The concept of ‘for better or for worse’ is deep-seated in historical injustices, inequalities and mistaken meanings, yet it holds just as much power and misconception today as it did yesterday. If we continue down this path and support such contrary ideas as listed above, we will continue to make morally divided and misaligned decisions regarding love, marriage and the self.

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