Dr. Laura Schlessinger has never been one to shrink from controversy, and she leaped headlong into one on Monday when she said that if a husband cheats, his wife may share some of the blame.
“When the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings, sexually, personally, to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like her hero, he’s very susceptible to the charm of some other woman making him feel what he needs,” the popular psychologist and radio personality said.
More commonly known as just “Dr. Laura,” Schlessinger made the remarks while participating in one of several panel discussions on TODAY dealing with the breaking news that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had been connected to a high-priced prostitution ring.
The comment touched off a storm of protest, both from other members of the panels and from viewers, who flooded the show’s online mailboxes with mostly conflicting views.
Schlessinger later emphasized that she was not excusing Spitzer’s behavior. Nor, she said, was she saying that his wife, Silda Spitzer, was in some way to blame for his indiscretion.
“I do not know anything about their personal lives,” she said.
But, she persisted, frequently when there is infidelity in marriage, both spouses share the blame.
“You’re saying the women should feel guilty that they somehow drove the man to cheat?” asked TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira.
“The cheating was his decision to repair what’s damaged and to feed himself where he’s starving,” Schlessinger replied. “But, yes, I hold women responsible for tossing out perfectly good men by not treating them with the love and kindness and respect and attention they need.”
Others who participated in the panels disagreed strongly.
“I refuse to believe that this adultery is the wife’s fault,” said anthropologist Helen Fisher, who had discussed the evolutionary reasons for infidelity.
Dina Matos, who had stood by the side of her former husband, then-New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, when he announced in 2004 that he had conducted a homosexual affair with one of his advisers, also took strong exception.
“This is absurd,” she said. “It’s just like blaming a rape victim. And we see this all too often. It’s just insanity.”
Another relationship expert, psychologist Jeff Gardere, said that trying to decide who’s at fault is beside the point. “It’s not about the blame game,” he said. “It’s about looking at what’s going on in this marriage that may have been ripe for this to happen. But the person who cheats is doing it for a very selfish reason. It’s a very selfish act.”
In a final appearance with TODAY’s Ann Curry and Hoda Kotb, Schlessinger stuck to her guns.
“The point is, what he’s done is wrong. The point is, what she’s done is wrong,” she said. “I have kept marriages together after affairs because I have reminded women that you have the power to turn this around. He had his children with you. He has his future life plans with you, his dreams, his whole mind, body and soul was wrapped up in the promise of you. If you now turn that back on, all that stuff you turned off because ‘I’m busy’ or ‘I’m irritated’ or ‘I’m annoyed’ or ‘I’m self-centered’ — if you turn that around, you have that man back.”
She said that there are reasons why men look outside the marriage for sex and companionship.
“I would challenge the wife to find out what kind of wife she’s being,” she said. “Is she being supportive and approving and loving? Is she being sexually intimate and affectionate? Is she making him feel like he’s her man? If she’s not doing that, then she’s contributing to his wrong choice.”
The comments sent viewers to their computers in droves, flooding the TODAY Show with e-mail within minutes.
“How dare you sit there and smugly say women are responsible for their spouse's cheating? If a husband is not getting what he needs at home, he has a responsibility to discuss and communicate this with his wife. If that doesn't work, seek counseling. Not getting your way is not an excuse to break a wedding vow. I am APPALLED!” wrote one New Jersey woman.
“I take offense to Dr. Laura’s response about women being the reason men cheat on their wives, as I am trying to help my sister get through a very difficult time with her own husband right now,” wrote a viewer in Philadelphia. “I can tell you for a fact that she has done everything a wife could possibly do to make her husband feel as though he is the only man walking this earth, but instead of him reacting to this in a positive way he goes out and cheats on her … I guess this is her fault for not bowing down and kissing his feet when they BOTH get home from work!”
Although they were in the minority, a few viewers supported Schlessinger’s position.
“Dr. Laura is correct. Men cheat and women cheat. I wish everyone would stop acting like Dr. Laura has done something wrong when all she has done is point out the obvious,” wrote a viewer calling herself Heater. “It is human nature to seek out comfort when they are not receiving what they need at home.”
Schlessinger said later in the show that there are some instances in which it doesn’t matter what the wife does.
“If he’s sociopathic or narcissistic, all bets are off,” she said. “The woman can be the best person in the world, and he’s going to be a jerk.”
But most men aren’t like that, she said, adding, “The average husband longs for one thing, and that’s to be special to his woman.”
Kotb asked her if she would stand by her husband as Silda Spitzer and Matos did by theirs in a similar situation.
“If I had been a truly loving, caretaking, supportive wife, and my husband did such an egregious thing, his butt would be standing there by itself,” Schlessinger replied.