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Video: Falling in love with another’s spouse

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    >>> with the newlywed couple here in new york who talks about the start of their relationship to the "new york times" wedding section. that's nothing new, but this couple opened up about meeting while they were married and how they got divorced to be together. they look like the picture of wedded bliss, carol ann and john celebrating their new life together.

    >> so what better time to get a love letter than now.

    >> she's a tv news reporter, he's an advertising executive. but now their marriage is causing a storm of controversy. this past weekend, their wedding was featured in the "new york times" vales section. in the paper the bride and groom said they fell in love while they were both married to someone else . they told the "new york times" that first the two couples became friends after meeting at their children's school, but soon they were in love and decided to leave their spouses. she told the times, i will always feel terribly about the pain i caused my ex-husband. he told the paper, i did a terrible thing as honorably as i could.

    >> my take as a psychologist on it is that they still feel extremely guilty that they left their partners behind, that they met while four of them were friends and in some ways this is their confessional.

    >> reporter: the article created a an online firestorm. one reader called the couple tawdry, sad and tasteless. another reader said what kind of person putting their own pleasure above the emotional health of their own children? and they found like two of the most selfish egotist kl people on the planet. another one said life is about enjoying life with someone you truly love, sometimes it's messy as in this case. it's a similar story of broken vows for singer shaniya twain. two years ago her marriage made headlines when her husband left her. he was having an affair with twains best friend . now another twist, u.s. weekly magazine is reporting twain is engaged to the ex-husband of her ex- best friend .

    >> first you have your best friend stealing your ex-husband and then you have that best friend hooking one your ex-husband.

    >> shaniya is celebrating a new love with questionses whether they should be celebrating their new love on the pages of the "new york times."

    >> we asked carol ann riddell, i think if we had an indication afterwards of the nerve it struck, we obviously would not have shared our life in any way publicly. let's turn to psychotherapist robbie ludwig.

    >> this one has really, your mother --

    >> she had a lot to say about this.

    >> she felt they were acting in an adolescents way. when you're in a marriage and you look around and you say, you know what? i think i want something a little bit better. people have a strong reaction to that because we like to think of the vows of marriage as really meaning something.

    >> this couple argues that they were in unhappy marriages and they fell in love . the woman in this says that i didn't believe in soul mates until i laid eyes on him.

    >> yeah.

    >> the question is if falling in love with someone else enough to leave your marriage and leave your children and throw all caution to the wind.

    >> they say yes.

    >> but also it's like falling in lust, because of course we don't know the other side of the story. but a lot of people got the sense, hey, did you even work on your marriage at all? because after all, listen, if you're married for a long time and you have kids, it's not always fun and it's not always sexy. the question is how do you handle this? they say yes, i say no, work out your marriage, figure out by all means necessary whether or not you can salvage your marriage and repair it. even if they were unhappy. just because they had an unhappy year, doesn't mean they're going to have an unhappy lifetime.

    >> one viewer wrote it is a time of our lives when spouse and children takes a back seat to selfish, self centered love. why does this hit a nerve in a world where half the marriages end in divorce.

    >> they seem to be bragging, we found real love , we found happiness, what about you? and i think people are looking and saying, hey, how do you really find happiness in a relationship? we don't have one answer. i think it raises issues for a lot of people in terms of their own relationships.

    >> carol ann ridel says we are proud of how we handled the situation. there was nothing in the story we were ashamed of.

    >> denial is not only a river in egypt.

    >> you think they're in denial?

    >> they're trying to prove they're going to be okay. injury will have to be repaired from all the trauma they caused.

    >> i think that 50% of marriages end in divorce, but there are also 50% of marriages that they stay married and so those people are saying, stick it out, work on your marriage and take care of your responsibilities.

    >> when women give up on the emotional component of a marriage, that's usually when it crumbles. so anyone who's going to be self-reflective is going to be struck by this story and i think men also evaluate whether they're in the right kind of marriage. all unions are imperfect, if you're hearing this story during a certain time in your relationship, it will strike a cord, because the feeling is there's always someone better out there theoretically, what are you going to do about it? isn't that the purpose of the institution of marriage?

    >> trade up, i don't want this, so tomorrow i'll find someone new? it's really to stick it out and work on the issues.

    >> there's a feeling that the new york times also betrayed us because they usually write about stories, love stories that are innocent and worthy of printing and all of a sudden it looks like they're going to the dark side of reporting.

    >> or at least the messy side. that's what someone called this the messy side of love.

    >> we could talk about this

TODAY contributor
updated 12/21/2010 9:02:57 AM ET 2010-12-21T14:02:57

The wedding listings tucked into The New York Times’ Sunday edition usually evoke a smile, with sweet tales of couples enjoying their happily-ever-after moment. Chances are some readers spat out their coffee last Sunday, when they discovered a “Vows” story that explained how two people broke up their respective marriages so they could waltz down the aisle with each other.

Former TV reporter Carol Anne Riddell, 40, and ad exec John Partilla, 42, told their story of how they were part of a buddy-buddy foursome of two married couples with five children between them, but the attraction between them became so strong that they broke up their two families and then got hitched.

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The backlash from the off-kilter love story was quick and immediate: The New York Times comment page was filled with generally negative comments; bloggers and commentators went into overdrive dissecting the story, and many asked, “What in the world was the Times thinking?” in seemingly celebrating the dissolution of two marriages for the sake of a new union.

“They got what they wanted — tough luck, kids and mates,” one person posted on the Times website. “It’s all about ‘me’ these days. I wish the unlucky children of these two show-offs a good place to hide and hopefully at least one sane parent and at least one set of loving grandparents who might be able to undo some of the damage.”

A poster on the mediabistro.com website called the story a “disgusting display of selfishness and stupidity on both the couples’ and the New York Times part.”

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While Riddell and Partilla have become the most talked-about couple since Prince William and Kate Middleton, Riddell called the backlash “surprising.”

“I think people are focusing on the negative, but there was a lot of positive; we’ve had a lot of people say to us how brave we are to do this,” Riddell told Forbes.com.

“We did this because we just wanted one honest account of how this happened for our sakes and for our kids’ sakes. We are really proud of our family and proud of the way we handled the situation. There was nothing in the story to be ashamed of.”

To be sure, the couple let it all hang out — frankly airing what some consider dirty laundry — in giving the Times an account of their love story.

The article begins: “Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla met in 2006 in a pre-kindergarten classroom. They both had children attending the same Upper West Side school. They also both had spouses. ... The connection was immediate, but platonic. In fact, as they became friends so did their spouses. There were dinners, Christmas parties and even family vacations together.”

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Riddell told the Times it all changed two years later when Partilla invited her out for a drink at a local watering hole, the first time they had gotten together away from their spouses. “I’ve fallen in love with you,” Riddell recalled Partilla as saying. She said she beat a path out of the bar, only to return five minutes later to tell him, “I feel the exact same way.”

Riddell said the pair decided to not have a clandestine affair, instead opting to do the “honorable” thing and separate from their spouses. Their love affair reached its height last month when the pair exchanged vows in a small ceremony at the Mandarin Oriental New York hotel. Then, the pair was surprisingly picked from among a sea of blue-blooded aspirants to tell their love story to the New York Times on its wedding pages. It was actually their second appearance in the section, as both had announced their first marriages in the Times as well.

Perhaps most surprisingly, neither ex was quoted in the story. Riddell told Forbes.com she didn’t know if the reporter covering their love story contacted either, but “I would assume not.” And for its part, the Times isn’t saying.

But the Gray Lady issued a statement to TODAY saying it is not the arbiter of what makes a love story. “The Vows feature gives a close-in account of a wedding every week. Every one is different. We don’t attempt to pass judgment on the suitability of the match, the narrative of the romance, the quality of the ceremony or the flavor of the cake.”

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Besides, both the Times and Riddell-Partilla have their defenders. Writing on Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams asked whether sticking to an unhappy or unfulfilling marriage “is for the ultimate best?” And while admitting the story was eyebrow-raising, in an age of oversharing, it might have been “easier to give a public version of events than to repeat it forever to every curious friend,” she wrote.

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A New York Times poster actually applauded the couple: “The world is not perfect and life is far from perfect. Love happens at inconvenient times. I commend the couple for handling this situation with honesty and openness.”

Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford tackled the Riddell-Partilla story on Monday’s fourth hour of TODAY. Kotb expressed concern about whether the write-up in the Times “glorified” the situation, a question Gifford was quick to answer.

“If you’re going to do it, do it,” Gifford said of the couple’s decision to break up their marriages so they could be together. “I guess our big question is why advertise it, why celebrate it, why say “Look at us!’ ”

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