John Edwards’ Emotional Pyramid Scheme

The New York Daily News came out with an article on John Edwards’ lyin’ , cheatin’ ways recently where one expert offered the opinion that his untruths, denials and eventual admissions make “Tiger Woods look like an amateur.” I’m quoted in the same article, explaining Edwards’ propensity toward the thrill of the lying and cheating as part of an “emotional pyramid scheme” he constructed for himself and then became addicted to. As he heaped more and more lies and deceit on top of one another, he concocted an elaborate life that he was then able to fool the public – and apparently his own family – into believing.

Understanding Adultery

Creating this type of scheme is nothing new for addicts with the affair disease, who are constantly on the look-out for the next thrill, the next high. Frequently, people under pressure are susceptible to these desires as a way for escape, unfortunately this type of “escape” only creates more pressure and more stress, so the person must up the ante of the type of behavior they engage in. In Edwards’ case we now see he was lying about lying, lying about cheating, lying about fathering a child and so forth. It’s obviously a disturbing and upsetting cycle but it can be easy to get trapped inside.

Most of us will never face circumstances as extreme as Edwards’, but many, many of us are under intense amounts of stress none the less, ad then we choose to self-medicate in any number of ways—with alcohol, medication, sex, or money—can begin with a desire to relieve stress or mute depression. The addiction then progresses to a preoccupation with where their next “fix” will come from, and often involves a strong desire to create rituals around obtaining the “high.” This preoccupation becomes a compulsion—to use drugs or alcohol, or to have sex, or to shop—followed by depression and despair as the effects wear off, leading to the start of the cycle all over again.

How To Avoid Destructive Behavior

The key to avoiding such destructive behavior is communication and the ability to identify the potential for destructive behavior when stressed. This is true of any type of thrill-seeking behavior but can be specifically applied when in a relationship where one partner (or both) has been tempted by, or succumbed to, infidelity. In my book, Adultery the Forgivable sin, I expand on this idea of communication and ways in which I believe couples who would normally have a 35% chance of staying together after an affair can now emerge with a 98% chance of relational success.

Adultery is a disease, thrill-seeking behavior is an addiction and both are treatable. It’s caused by stress and fear of separation and loss. As I’ve mentioned before, successful people in the spotlight – like Edwards and Tiger to name only two – experience these emotions intensely and regularly because of their line of work. Edwards was likely especially challenged by fear of separation and loss when he lost his child and when his wife struggled through cancer during the elections. All these components can add up to make the life he faced as a politician even more stressful and frightening.

Of course I would never excuse someone’s adulterous, lying behavior but if we can seek to understand it, like we seek to understand other addiction I believe we can keep couples together.


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