Outside View: French president sex scandal: Lust trumps brains

By JUDY KURIANSKY, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  Jan. 17, 2014 at 12:09 AM
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NEW YORK, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- French President Francois Hollande's alleged secret affair comes as no surprise to me as a psychologist who has spent years helping people deal with infidelity.

But the hospitalization of Hollande's "official companion" and unofficial French first lady Valerie Trierweiler upon the disclosure is a bombshell.

Given the reality of life for the rich, powerful and famous, where temptation, opportunity and infidelity are rife, she should have seen it coming. After all, the never-married Hollande had a previous longtime companion whom he left for Trierweiler in 2007.

There's truth to sayings like "history repeats itself" and "a leopard doesn't change its spots."

Steely nerves, open eyes, an elephant skin and a strong sense of self are prerequisites for a woman coveting the attention of a high-status man -- or any male, for that matter.

Having children doesn't ensure a long-term position by a man's side. Hollande dumped the mother of his four children for Trierweiler, who herself is a twice-divorced mother of three teenagers who started her romance with Hollande while she was still married.

But expecting a child is another matter, the time-honored trap that may be set if rumors of the new mistress being pregnant are true.

Every man, regardless of status or background, can stray, though privileged and powerful men often have more occasions and treats that breed the self-importance, self-indulgence and sense of entitlement that lead to playing with fire.

Power and wealth -- surefire aphrodisiacs -- are potent accelerants, proven in well-publicized cases in Hollywood, Washington and sports, from hot-shot golfer Tiger Woods to actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Despite the warning signs of her man's affair, including rumors swirling around Paris, Trierweiler's reported severe shock is understandable as an acute-stress response to a traumatic event.

Shock is well documented in cases of bereavement and loss and is commonly the first response to any unwelcome, surprising or frightening news, including a partner's betrayal.

The experience is similar to "war shock" when troops in combat under fire face danger and death.

The resulting fight-or-flight response leads to becoming either agitated or frozen. A myriad of other emotions follow, including anger, fear and anxiety.

French newspaper Le Parisien quoted Trierweiler's friends as saying news of the affair "hit her like a TGV [the country's high-speed train] hitting the buffers." In America, we say it hit like a ton of bricks.

The train wreck and heartbreak of rejection isn't only figurative but also literal.

Physiological stress reactions lead to cardiac and respiratory symptoms similar to those of a panic attack. These involve a rapid heart rate, constricted blood vessels, low blood pressure, rapid and shallow breathing, chest pain and other symptoms, including weakness and confusion.

That the betrayal revelation triggered a "love shock" for Trierweiler is evident by her hospital admission the same day Hollande confessed after pictures of the affair were plastered across seven pages of the French gossip magazine Closer.

Public revelation of the reputed affair, which Hollande hasn't denied, most certainly triggered devastating humiliation and shame for Trierweiler.

That the alleged "other woman" is an actress likely also fueled intense jealousy.

Screen goddesses and models are especially attractive objects of male desire, posing stiff competition even for decent-looking and intelligent women like journalist Trierweiler.

Reality check: Lust trumps brains.

So does youth. The president is 59. His first live-in is 60. Trierweiler is 48. The newer mistress Julie Gayet is 41.

Perhaps the worst salt of all in Trierweiler's wound is learning the alleged affair is long-term, implying an emotional attachment considered by women as far more devastating than just a sexual dalliance.

Female partners sometimes purposefully ignore indiscretions to preserve or protect their personal security or status, the family unit or their children.

No matter what, help for love shock is essential.

Seeking hospitalization -- either by one's own volition or another's insistence -- is often wise, especially in cases of extreme symptoms or fear of danger to oneself or others. Self-injury or violence toward the betraying partner has occurred in cases of psychological instability, extreme distress and jealousy.

Treatment is definitely in order, given official reports that Trierweiler is suffering from "depression and extreme fatigue."

Such cases usually require psychotropic medication as well as releasing intense emotions to help swallow the bitter pill of betrayal.

Initial shock can subside within a few days but working through more serious symptoms requires longer care, consistent with Trierweiler's office's reports of an anticipated 10-day hospital stay.

Outpatient counseling will undoubtedly follow, for support and "cognitive restructuring" to change upsetting thoughts, accept a new reality and control her actions.

Delving into deeper issues fueling the present breakdown can require months and years.

My advice for Trierweiler and all privileged partners also applies to commoners like the rest of us.

Recovery from a broken heart and repair of the relationship require multidimensional counseling for the person and the couple.

Steps I've outlined in my book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to A Healthy Relationship" call for purging current painful emotions and plumbing through the well-established stages of loss, from shock and denial to depression and anger.

Acceptance comes with time but, even then, 10 percent of the pain usually remains.

-- Identify what you fear losing, whether a lifestyle or the fantasy of undying love.

-- Resist self-blame. You can never be beautiful, smart or desirable enough. His needs drove him to stray.

-- Rebuild your self-image on your own strengths rather than as someone's arm charm.

Deeper therapy involves uncovering and resolving betrayals and hurts from past lovers and childhood wounds that underlie the present emotional eruption.

People always ask me whether such wronged women should forgive and forget.

Another reality check: Forgiveness is righteous but wronged women never truly forget.

Reportedly Trierweiler wants her man back. Hollande says he'll decide their future by Feb. 11, the date of a scheduled White House dinner hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Having a deadline shortens the pain but, if reports are true that Gayet has a baby on board, Trierweiler's odds are slim.

Those odds get slimmer when you contrast the drama of her reaction -- implying desperation and "emotional blackmail" that no man likes -- to mistress Gayet remaining "calm" and "sure of herself" according to her estranged husband.

People also ask me whether the relationship can survive.

It can -- but only if both people want it to.

Reconciliation and "affair-proofing" require confronting what happened, resolving real problems, rebuilding trust and making new agreements about fidelity.

Admitting problems is healthy, as Hollande rightfully noted in his recent news conference that everyone goes through personal "ordeals" and "painful moments."

The philandering bachelor may have some self-exploration to do, including facing marriage-phobia and confronting bravado and narcissism that make him think a high power sex scandal isn't fair journalistic fodder.

The president seems to have a penchant for political pillow talk. His ex was a former presidential candidate. Trierweiler is a former presenter of political programs. His latest mistress played the role -- reviewed by Variety as "seductive" -- of a policy adviser on Africa for the French Foreign Ministry in a satirical film.

She also appeared in a promotional video for his 2012 election campaign, endorsing him as "marvelous."

A cheating man might apologize and repent but still repeat his past behavior.

A big ego and sex drive to match will demand feeding.

Trierweiler and Gayet both better be prepared.


(Judy Kuriansky is a clinical psychologist at Columbia University Teachers College in New York and chairwoman of the Psychology Coalition at the United Nations. She has given radio call-in advice and counseled couples for decades and written many books about relationships including "The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Healthy Relationship.")


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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