In her New York Times book review, “Facing Scandal, Keeping Faith,” Janet Maslin describes Jenny Sanford’s new book, “Staying True.” Jenny, wife of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, notes many typical warning signs of stealthy, manipulative, controlling bullies when she describes her husband’s behavior in their early marriage arrangements, and during the public unraveling of his attempted cover up of lies to her and the people of the State he’s supposed to represent. Some of Governor Sanford’s typical behavioral warning signs of bullies:
- They’re more important than you are. Their whims, wishes, desires count; your needs don’t.
“Even in his young and footloose days, when Mr. Sanford worked in commercial real estate and Jenny Sullivan was the rare female analyst working at Lazard Frères in New York, he showed signs of being unusually demanding…He drew up a facetious prenuptial agreement that laughingly stated the husband’s right to control the family finances and be the final arbiter in all matters.”
And, “After their wedding there were warning bells…When Ms. Sanford’s beloved grandfather died, Mark saw no reason to attend the funeral. When she was pregnant with their first son, he got bored after a single Lamaze class and insisted that he needed no instruction. As the book colorfully recalls, he said, ‘I’ve spent many long nights helping cows give birth and I know what to do when the baby gets stuck.’
- Everyone is a pawn in their plans. They use you and justify it logically.
“Mark Sanford had relied on his wife of 20 years for professional and moral support, even if his reasons for recruiting her services were not always the most noble. ‘But you’re free,’ he once pointed out, explaining why she should run his first Congressional campaign. He wasn’t referring to her uncluttered schedule.”
By the way, their reasons and justifications tell you what their most important priories are. And that your expected role in life is to help them satisfy those priorities.
- It’s all about them. They think they know best about everything. Their rules should rule. They should control everything.
Governor Sanford’s first move after the teary news conference last June, in which he expressed his sincere love for his Argentine girlfriend, was to get on the phone to his wife as soon as the cameras were off, and ask her: “How’d I do?”
“He even sought her permission to continue his affair, and expected her to empathize with his loneliness, she says. ‘What he does not see is how morally offensive it is to me even to listen to this.’”
- Their excuses should excuse. They lie and when they’re caught they’ll justify and argue relentlessly, including splitting hairs like a lawyer and changing the subject.
“Amazed by the ego stroking that came with a political career, Ms. Sanford writes, she watched her husband morph into a restless, distant character. He stopped bothering to be strict with their four children. He worried about his bald spot. And he spent more and more time away from home, telling what turned out to be flagrant lies about his reasons for travel. A trip to New York to talk with publishers about his book on conservative values turned out to be a surreptitious tryst with the Argentine woman.”
“Once Ms. Sanford figured out what was going on and fought vehemently with her husband, he sided adamantly with his lover. (‘She is not a whore!’)”
Jenny Sanford is bright and perceptive; she saw the signs of harassment, bullying and abuse. She tolerated his behavior. She ignored or hoped that he wouldn’t take the path he did. That’s a choice common to people who end up in Jenny’s situation, whether experienced under the microscope of national television or in the privacy of their own bedrooms.
Of course, bullying women also show these same warning signs and men go along for the ride.
Great people, people on great and consuming missions show these behaviors. What you do in response to these signs is your business. You may be willing to tolerate bullying in service to the person you love and to the mission.
It’s really about where you draw the line in the gray area. For example, suppose the fame and adulation didn’t go to Governor Sanford’s head? Suppose he stayed in love with Jenny, didn’t get a huge crush for this mistress (or others we don’t know about) and cared more for his children?
Many great people have. In that case, Jenny wouldn’t have written that book and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
But hubris and infatuation have long been recognized as leading to great falls in life.