The Complex Feminism of Hillary Clinton’s Decision to Stay Married
10.19.16
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When Hillary Clinton’s campaign began to prepare for the possibility that Donald Trump would bring up Bill Clinton’s infidelity as a voter-deterring strategy before the second debate, it made me put myself in Hillary Clinton’s shoes. Why would she, as a strong, independent feminist, choose to stay with Bill Clinton after his public affair with Monica Lewinsky? The answer I kept coming back to is that marriage is complicated, and so much of being an empowered woman is having the choice to make the decision that’s right for you. I spoke to Monica Parikh, dating coach, attorney and writer who specializes in female empowerment within relationships, and here’s what she told me:

“There is no perfect marriage. It is unrealistic to assume there will never be a crisis point in a relationship. If both people in the relationship choose to work on their issues, a crisis can be the catalyst for a more inspired union. Do I think infidelity necessitates divorce? No.

No one knows what happened behind closed doors in that marriage. At the end of the crisis, these two people had significant history and a child. Their commitment to the relationship could signal enormous bravery on both of their parts.

We’re all wounded from childhood. According to Imago Theory, we unconsciously find partners that represent the good and bad of our parents or primary caregivers, which means that they love and hurt us in a similar way. When partners hit a crisis in their relationship, it’s an opportunity for both people to do work on their inner selves to heal those old wounds for the adult partnership. But oftentimes people will hit a crisis and go straight for divorce. They entered into marriage with a flawed sense of expectation and abort the relationship early, right when the relationship has potential for both people to heal themselves as adults.

Marriages are different for every couple. We all have a variety of needs — sexual expression, communication, closeness, mutuality, nurturing, etc. No one person can satisfy every need for his/her partner. Two people may negotiate to have certain needs fulfilled elsewhere. For example, whereas I may enter into a marriage with a need for monogamy, not everyone has the same need. People have different arrangements and satisfy their needs in different ways. It’s not for any of us to place a value judgement on other people’s relationships. People stay in relationships when they’re getting enough of their needs fulfilled.

In the case of Hillary and Bill Clinton’s marriage, both people are obviously getting enough of their needs fulfilled by the relationship to have continued through what I’m confident were very stormy seas and very dark seasons. Neither ‘needed’ to stay with the other one, right? Bill Clinton chose to stay with Hillary, and Hillary chose to stay with Bill. It means their relationship fulfilled and is fulfilling enough for each person to stay in this partnership.

Hillary and Bill Clinton’s marriage is an amazing study on relationship. A very powerful one. When they speak about each other, I always suspect that they have enormous respect for one another. He respects her intelligence and capability as a leader, and she respects him as one, too. I do not believe that Hillary Clinton is any less of a feminist for staying with Bill Clinton after his affair. When it comes to Bill Clinton’s infidelity and Hillary Clinton’s decision to stay with her husband, remember that no one actually knows what goes on behind closed doors. She may not have needed him to be monogamous to her; that’s not for any of us to assume or judge, nor do we know what their personal conversations about their needs and relationship requirements looked like.

When is it dangerous to stay with someone? If you’re clinging to a relationship or tolerating disrespect because of your fear of being alone, or when you’re putting up with continual disrespect because you’re afraid of being alone — that’s when you’re in the wrong relationship. And yes, infidelity is disrespectful, but only if monogamy was a requirement within the relationship. But the truth is that none of us know.

If a woman is happy being single, more power to her. If a woman is happy in an “open” relationship, more power to her. If a woman chooses to stay and work on her marriage after infidelity, more power to her. If a woman chooses to leave the relationship, like Eliot Spitzer’s wife did, then more power to her as well.

The danger comes when we judge other people’s choices, and when we pretend to have any idea of what’s going on in the internal world of a relationship. The danger comes when we put a value judgment on other people’s lives. We have no idea what happened. We saw 2% of the story and then came up with all sorts of ideas about what was right and wrong.”

Monica Parikh is a dating coach, writer and lawyer who aims to empower women to be their best selves and attract healthy, rewarding love. Check out Monica’s class on MindBodyGreen: 28 Days to Attracting Your Best Relationship & Building a More Confident You.

Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images.

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