Courtesy ABC

Felicity Huffman and Kellyanne Conway and the Strain of ‘For Better or Worse’

Infidelity isn’t the only thing that forces spouses to consider whether they’ll stick together no matter what

“For better or worse.” Many couples don’t utter those exact words as they state their wedding vows nowadays, but even if they aren’t spoken the expectation is that spouses will stick with each other no matter what. They’ll have each other’s back. That’s commitment. But as we’ve seen in the past few weeks, two high-profile couples — Kellyanne and George Conway and Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy — have put “for better or worse” under the microscope. Their “worse” is a lot worse than may have been expected, and they are struggling.

Is divorce inevitable?

Some media outlets are wondering if Huffman and Macy’s seemingly enviable 22-year marriage, long by Hollywood standards, is now troubled in wake of the college admission scandal.

Huffman seems to be the main player in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of their daughter, although Macy clearly had some idea of what was going on.

Perhaps this is yet another example of the clueless dad

But if both parents seem to be amenable to nefarious ways to promote their kids, why would a marriage suddenly be troubled when one parent takes it to an extreme?

Many ways parents can disagree

Well, welcome to the imperfect world of being a couple, especially when you have kids. Because no one quite factors in all the ways that two people can vastly disagree on what they want to happen in their marriage and for their children, even if they have come to some sort of an understanding (parenting prenup or not) about it. As much as I am a fan of relationship contracts, let’s face it — agreements about gaming the system to advance your child wouldn’t necessarily be among the topics most potential parents would discuss.

But, hey — maybe that needs to change.

Or not. It gets back to knowing — or at least attempting to know — if your partner shares the same values as you do. Clearly that isn’t as easy as we would want it to be.

Which leads me to the Conway marriage.

Brief recap: George Conway, husband of Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s advisors, made more than a few discouraging comments about Trump on Twitter, which caused Trump to say more than a few discouraging comments about Kellyanne’s husband which caused her to … well, that’s where it gets weird.

Instead of standing by her man — aka the man she married, has four children with, lives with and presumably loves — she stood by another man, her employer, Trump, even though he called her husband a “loser” and a “husband from hell.” In defending Trump, she said: “You think he shouldn’t respond when somebody, a nonmedical professional, accuses him of having a mental disorder?”

It seems to be a complicated marriage.

Commitment, and where to draw the line

Be that as it may, I look at the Huffman-Macy and Conway marriages and want to explore the idea of commitment — where does a couple draw the line on the “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” thing?

Most of the public discussion about commitment has been around infidelity — do we stay or do we go?

While the Huffman-Macy kerfuffle may not involve sex, it’s still a betrayal, assuming Macy was an innocent, and illegal.

When it comes to the Conway marriage, it has nothing to do with who’s an innocent but it’s a lot more complicated. Where should someone’s loyalties be — with a spouse or someone else?

Most, if not all, couples therapists and relationship experts would say the partner. If your partner doesn’t have your back, studies show, you’re more likely to suffer in your relationship.

Which is why the Conway marriage feels so much more problematic to me than what’s happening with Huffman and Macy, who are having an ethical crisis that feels like a one off (unless Huffman has had questionable morals all along and Macy is only recognizing that now).

What’s happening with the Conways is a lot more subtle yet insidious, and a situation I know all too well.

It would be easy to say that my second marriage ended because of infidelity. While that discovery was hardly a happy thing, it wasn’t the kiss of death to my marriage. It was just a wake-up call that forced me to explore everything about that marriage and led me, after a lot of soul-searching and therapy, to acknowledge something I already knew — that my partner didn’t really have my back and never would. And that I didn’t want that anymore.

So I left.

What about the kids?

Not just for me. But for my kids. I didn’t want my boys to be raised in a family in which a woman was not respected.

And that may be what’s happening, in gender reverse, in the Conway marriage. As marital historian Stephanie Coontz writes:

Perhaps the couple is playing a competitive political game, with neither caring enough about the real-world impact of the actions they so strenuously defend or condemn to erode their love for each other. But that’s still a dangerous script for a marriage. And either way, it sends an even more dangerous message to their four children about prioritizing power, fame and money over shared core values in their future relationships.

Of course, Huffman’s scandal proves she also isn’t being respectful — not of her husband, but of her child. By allegedly paying $15,000 so her daughter’s SAT score could be boosted, she was basically saying she had little faith in her daughter’s abilities. That’s a hurtful breach of trust her daughter will have to deal with for the rest of her life.

A child can’t choose a parent but a spouse can choose a spouse, and choose to stay with a spouse or not.

“For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” That’s what we say we’ll commit to. The reality is, there’s always an asterisk when it comes to commitment. What’s yours?

Want to explore the asterisks in your partnership? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

Originally published at



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store