Health & Wellness

We feel you, Huma: Disapproving friends add extra sting to infidelity

John Moore / Today
Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner, a leading candidate for New York City mayor, listens as her husband speaks at a press conference on Tuesday in New York City.

In the hours after New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner confessed to sending even more lewd messages and photos to women he met online, much of the conversation quickly shifted to his wife, Huma Abedin, who not only stood by his side, but offered words of support.

Here’s just a glimpse of the chatter today:

“What’s Huma Abedin going to say for Weiner NEXT time?”

"Why does Huma Abedin put up with Weiner?"

"I can't manage to feel sorry for Huma Abedin."

Thanks for the input, everyone. But many people who’ve made the decision to stay with their partner after emotional or physical infidelity say that apart from the searing heartache of the incident itself, one of the hardest parts of the aftermath is having to constantly defend your decision to stay in the relationship to well-meaning, but disapproving, family and friends.

Tonya Ferguson, for one, empathizes with Abedin, because she’s been there, too – just on a slightly smaller scale. It wasn’t televised, and there was no media present, but shortly after Ferguson’s husband, Dale, confessed to a brief affair with a co-worker, the two of them faced a much scarier crowd than a bunch of reporters: their friends, their family, and their pastor.

“I sat right by his side and held his hand,” said Ferguson, who is a stay-at-home mother to the couple’s four children. She says that reaching out to friends and family for support in that sort of pseudo-press conference in their living room was something they felt like they had to do as a first step toward repairing their marriage. “I told them that my heart was broken and my marriage was shattered, but that I was willing to stand by my man in good and bad.”

Tonya Ferguson faced criticism from friends for her decision to stay with her husband, Dale, after his infidelity.

Their loved ones were angry and confused, but supportive of the Fergusons’ decision not to give up on their marriage. But in a place like Hutchinson, Kansas, with a population of just over 42,000 -- word gets around, and not everyone was so understanding.

“We live in a small town in the Midwest, very conservative,” says Ferguson, who is 31, and married her now-32-year-old husband 11 years ago. “So this was quite scandalous, that Tonya’s godly, Christian husband fell, and fell hard -- and that I was choosing to stay with him.”

That was two years ago, and since then, the Fergusons have leaned heavily on their faith – they’re in marriage counseling at their church, and have renewed their vows. But even two years later, Ferguson says there are still people today who criticize her decision to stay with him, and her decision to be so public about the whole thing. She keeps a blog documenting the details of the way their marriage nearly fell apart, and anyone who writes openly online knows the nastiness of Internet commenters.

“One man told me that ‘you can’t uncurdle sour milk,’” says Ferguson, who didn’t exactly appreciate the comparison of her marriage to a curdled dairy project. “There’s a lot of ‘once a cheater, always a cheater,’ there was a lot of ‘I hope you’re prepared to get your heart broken again.’ The booing, naysaying crowd typically says the same comments over and over again.”

She can talk about her husband’s affair now without crying, but when the pain was still raw, she said it was “heart-wrenching” to have to defend the man who’d betrayed her to her loved ones.

“I wanted them to see the good in him,” Ferguson says. “But they love you – so, naturally, they’re ticked at him.”

And listening to the advice of friends and family can be very helpful in the healing process, says Dr. Scott Haltzman, a psychiatrist in Allentown, Penn., who is the author of several books about partners who cheat, most recently “The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity," which was published in April.

“On one hand, marriage is a social institution, and our decision to be with one partner, it’s not just a personal one, it involves everyone around,” Haltzman says. “So when marriages go well, that’s a real positive thing. But when there’s a real conflict or difficulty in the marriage, it can become a source of comfort or of strain.”

He says friends and family have an immediate instinct to comfort the person they love who has been hurt. They mean well, and the advice of those who know and love you best shouldn’t be defensively dismissed without thought. “It’s often helpful information, because there are many people who are victims of chronic infidelity and domestic violence, that if they don’t get that perspective from someone outside the marriage, they really can’t make a clear decision,” Haltzman says.

Friends and family mean well when they offer advice, solicited or not. But after considering their opinions, there are really only two people who get to decide how this thing is going to play out. And if the couple is trying to work things out, that's enough drama on its own - they don't need the little disapproving comments from others outside the relationship.

“You can say, you know what, now we’re working on it and we made this decision for now,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, a New York City psychiatrist and frequent TODAY contributor. “I know that you may not agree, but as my friend or as my loved one, I hope you’ll be able to support me. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with me. “