First lady sets the record straight
Mon Aug 9 13:00:32 EDT 1999
from: smart marriages
This piece features Shirley Glass who presented on preventing infidelity
at the July
Smart Marriages conference in both a keynote and workshops and who is at
work on two books on
the topic. -diane
First lady just set the record straight
Though some questioned Hillary Clinton's motives in speaking about her
husband, a clinical psychologist sees truth in her words.
Thursday, August 05, 1999
By Sally Kalson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Staff Writer
When Hillary Rodham Clinton said her husband's philandering stemmed from
abuse during his childhood, she may have been looking to neutralize his
behavior as a campaign issue. Or she may have been making a naked play
for sympathy, casting herself as the wounded wife.
Either way, her statement in a recent magazine interview may have raised
more questions than it answered.
Chief among them: Does this theory have any validity?
She said her husband had been caught in a tug of war between his mother
and grandmother, two women who disagreed over how the boy should be
raised. That, she said, was the source of his "weakness."
Critics have called the statements "pop psychology" and "psychobabble."
But Shirley Glass, a clinical psychologist from Baltimore who has been
researching infidelity for 25 years and treating couples in the grip of
it, finds the theory plausible, although hardly an excuse for what the
"You sometimes see in people who are unfaithful a childhood history of
triangles," Glass said
"When adults do not have a united front, then the child has these
conflicting loyalties. He feels he has to protect the adults from each
other and learns to split his loyalty, to be careful about not carrying
tales back and forth because that would only add fuel to the fire.
"You see this in a lot of divorce situations, where the child learns to
please both parties and not displease either one. That can be re-enacted
in an extramarital triangle, where the affair partner and the spouse have
to be kept separate but satisfied."
But doesn't that imply that Bill Clinton was placing his wife and a White
House intern on equal footing? And if so, why would he do such a thing?
"It's very interesting that the woman he married appears to be a very
different type of person than his mother," Glass said. "When they were
first married, it was a very intellectual kind of bond. Yet the women he
has affairs with are more flirtatious and seductive, as his mother has
"I don't know much about his grandmother," she added. "Maybe she was more
serious, like Hillary." If so, it would replicate the triangle of his
But even if all that were true, Glass noted, "In looking at childhood
vulnerabilities, I wouldn't call them reasons" for his behavior.
Both the president and his wife said as much yesterday. Responding to a
storm of criticism that his wife was making excuses for him, the
president made his first public statement on the matter:
"I don't believe that anybody could fairly read the article [in the
upcoming issue of Talk magazine] and think that she was making any
excuses for me," Clinton said. "I have not made any excuses for what was
inexcusable, and neither has she, believe me."
Hillary Clinton said she did not mean to imply in the interview that his
childhood problems were to blame for his infidelity.
"Everybody is responsible for their behavior and I am a very strong
proponent and believer in personal responsibility, so I hope that people
will take that message away from this," she said.
Some biographies of Bill Clinton have reported that Clinton's
grandfather, whom he adored, was a philanderer. That, Glass said, could
be a factor as well.
"For men particularly, observing a respected male figure engaged in this
kind of behavior can strongly influence their attitudes. It's not all
about [a man satisfying his] unmet needs. Some of it has to do with
attitudes and values.
"There's a transgenerational pattern here," she said, much as there was
in the Kennedy family. President John F. Kennedy was a philanderer, much
like his father. Yet the charge was never leveled against the president's
brother, Robert. That would demonstrate while certain factors may
influence behaviors, they do not preordain them.
"Infidelity has multiple causes," Glass said.
A lot has been said about Bill Clinton's capacity to compartmentalize, to
keep these parts of his life separate.
"He could go to work and run the country while other, very distressing
things were going on. He could be a strong advocate for women and at the
same time relate to some of them as sex objects."
Hillary Clinton's interview drew fire from critics impugning her motive.
They said she was making a play for sympathy while campaigning for New
York's U.S. Senate seat.
Glass claims no inside knowledge on that score. But there's nothing
unusual about talking about a spouse's infidelity, either.
"In a case like this, where there's been a history of repeated
philandering, someone can be traumatized each time it happens or come to
expect it as part of the other person's behavior. Then it's not
traumatic. It's only distressing."
If a wife knows her husband had a problem, confronts him, and they agree
to work on it together, then they're a team.
Glass finds it significant that when Hillary Clinton attributed her
husband's cheating to a root cause, it had nothing to do with her.
"She sees it as a weakness on his part, not an inadequacy on hers. So
it's not as much a blow to her self-esteem. It's not about whether he
loves her or they have a good marriage, it's about something that
happened long before she knew him.
"So if you want to know the payoff for her going public, I would say it
addresses all the rumors that he does it because they have a terrible
"People on the outside look for reasons to believe that the same thing
won't happen to them," Glass said. So they may have a tendency to blame
Hillary for the affair, in effect saying "It must be her fault because
she's not woman enough."
The reaction is similar to when someone has a heart attack, and people
say it's because he smoked and was overweight. But when someone like the
famous runner and author Jim Fixx has a heart attack, "it's like, Oh, my
God, this can happen to anyone," she said.
"You want to believe in a just world where bad things don't happen in
good marriages," Glass said. "But they do." From Hillary Clinton's
perspective, Glass said, "she was setting the record straight."
"Around the Coalition" shares information on marriage and divorce and on
skills-based educational approaches. Opinions expressed are not
necessarily shared by members of the Coalition.
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