Doesn't it seem like we've had a rash of high-profile cheaters lately?
In June, Nevada Sen. John Ensign confessed to having an affair with a married woman who, along with her husband, worked for him until last year.
Shortly thereafter, we were introduced to the missing South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, who later turned up in the Atlanta airport after spending Father's Day weekend with his love interest in Argentina.
And then, a little over a week ago, we learned of an affair gone tragically wrong involving former NFL quarterback Steve McNair and a woman barely out of her teens.
McNair died as a direct result of his affair, shot by his young lover, who also killed herself. The other two, Ensign and Sanford, are desperately clinging to political careers that might be vaporizing. No word yet on the stability of their marriages.
Can someone please tell me what is going on? Whatever happened to learning from the mistakes of others, including our own former Gov. Paul Patton?
I don't want to make it sound like the cheaters are only men. I know women stomp on their wedding vows as well. But it seems as though women who are in the public eye either don't cheat, or they are much better at hiding their indiscretions than their male counterparts.
I remember old folks saying if you see someone stick their hand on a stove and get burned, you should know not to do that. Obviously, some men in very powerful and very public positions didn't get that message. Why is that?
"Why would a successful person with a promise of even more success jettison their career?" asked David Hanna, a licensed psychologist with Bluegrass Comprehensive Care. "One reason is a downside of success. They begin to feel invincible. To some extent they think they have the right to do what they want."
After putting in long hours serving the public good, some politicians seem to think we the public should overlook their shortcomings or that they should be allowed to transgress a bit, Hanna said.
Emery Emmert, a pastoral counselor in Lexington, said the desire to seek fulfillment despite the cost could stem from a childhood that reaped little punishment. The person thinks "I can do it and not get hurt," Emmert said.
High-pressure jobs or high-pressure situations can also encourage narcissism or a need for affirmation, he said. Add to that an abundance of temptations and very few people willing to rebuke a person in power, and you have a recipe for calamity.
"Now, there is just so much in our culture that gives us the sense that 'what is right for me is right,'" Hanna said. "That we should limit our lives because of some standard is not a popular belief."
But just because the cake is available, sliced and plated, doesn't mean we should partake.
Emmert said he grew up as the only boy in a family with three sisters: "I was the golden prince of the family, and therefore I was very special." But his mother and spiritual beliefs kept his ego in check. "I had to be a very good boy," Emmert said.
Our society needs to embrace more halts like that, Hanna said.
"I think men, because they still have access to so much power and typically have access to money, have a great responsibility not to take advantage of women, even when the women are presenting themselves. The destructiveness to people's homes is really awful," he said. "It is an enormous tragedy."
The best defense is to nip tempting thoughts, no matter how innocently begun, in the bud. Emmert said more than half the marriages that experience infidelity end in divorce. And the children are forced to pay a high price for their parents' inability to consider the consequences.
And "there are many, many devoted public servants," Hanna said. "But when someone loses the public trust, it casts a doubt over everyone."
Both Hanna and Emmert said they had never cheated on their wives.
"Absolutely not," said Hanna. "I have a wonderful wife."
"I would probably tell you if I had," Emmert said. "That's how I am."
Hanna said he loves his wife more now than he did when they first married. He said there is a richness that develops over time and it is sad when a spouse chooses to abandon an opportunity to experience the joys of a deep, long-term relationship.
"It is so unbelievably shortsighted when people don't control their desires," Hanna said.
Somehow, sometime soon, we've got to resist the urge to put our hand on that hot stove.