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Why does Huma Abedin put up with Weiner?

By Pepper Schwartz, Special to CNN
updated 9:39 AM EDT, Wed July 24, 2013
Huma Abedin stood beside her husband, Anthony Weiner, on Tuesday, July 23, as he once again addressed issues surrounding sending explicit messages over the Internet. At times she smiled, other times she appeared solemn, but her message was clear: She is standing by her husband. Abedin has worked for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for more than a decade, and while she's known for shying away from the spotlight, she can often be seen just offstage. Huma Abedin stood beside her husband, Anthony Weiner, on Tuesday, July 23, as he once again addressed issues surrounding sending explicit messages over the Internet. At times she smiled, other times she appeared solemn, but her message was clear: She is standing by her husband. Abedin has worked for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for more than a decade, and while she's known for shying away from the spotlight, she can often be seen just offstage.
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Who is Weiner's wife?
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pepper Schwartz: Why did Huma Abedin stand by husband in new sexual scandal?
  • She says it's likely a combination of things: her ambition for her husband, faith in marriage vows
  • She says Abedin may believe a woman stands by her man and wants to preserve her family
  • Schwartz: Abedin may be in "tending and befriending" mode -- Weiner doesn't deserve her

Editor's note: Pepper Schwartz is professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the author or co-author of 17 books, the latest of which is "The Normal Bar." She is the AARP love and relationship ambassador and writes the Naked Truth column for AARP.org. She is a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization that gathers research on American families, and chief expert for perfectmatch.com.

(CNN) -- Tempted as I am to write about Anthony Weiner's sexual compulsions, I think it is more important to talk about his wife, Huma Abedin. What the hell was she doing at Weiner's press conference Tuesday, where he once again asked her and the public for forgiveness for a new set of sexual transgressions, instead of being at her attorney's office?

If this were a multiple-choice test for my students in my class on intimate relationships at the University of Washington, I might phrase the question like this:

Pepper Schwartz
Pepper Schwartz

Two years after the former congressman (and now New York City mayoral candidate) left his office in disgrace because he had "sexted" revealing pictures of his body to women, he was alleged to have once again taken on an anonymous identity, reportedly making sexual overtures and exchanging explicit pictures with a young woman. Why did Abedin stand by him and defend him in a press conference?

A) She is insanely ambitious and wants to be the wife of a successful politician.

B) She believes he has a problem and she is going to help him with it because that's what a woman does for her man.

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C) She believes in her marriage vows and can't stand the idea of breaking up her family.

D) All of the above.

D is probably the right answer.

Congress and lewd photos: An Anthony Weiner timeline

It's one thing to stay with your guy when he has a big problem. It's another to support him going after public office only to find yourself dragged in front of the cameras again after he engages in the same compulsive sexual behavior that you forgave before. She could have said, "OK, we'll fix this, but we need you in treatment, not in public office." Obviously, leaving public office isn't in the cards, and that's significant.

But A and C also ring true. Abedin's behaviors are squarely in the realm of women's high esteem for love, friendship and loyalty, and for tending and befriending the weak and the beleaguered, as described by UCLA psychologist and professor Shelley Taylor. This gives the impression of being a doormat, but the woman thinks of it as being stalwart and noble. Abedin may not be quite in this category -- but she seems dangerously close to it.

Finally, there is the role of family. For some women "till death do us part" means just that. They believe in staying in a marriage no matter what, especially when a small child is involved. If the man is a good father -- and there is every indication Weiner is -- a wife will go to extremes to stay married

So why does Huma stay? We don't know, but it's surely complicated. Her steadfastness is hard to watch though. She doesn't deserve this, and he doesn't deserve her.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Pepper Schwartz.

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