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'Staying True' To More Than A Wayward Man

This article is more than 9 years old.
Jenny Sanford speaks about the affair admission of her husband, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, in June 2009. (AP)
Jenny Sanford speaks about the affair admission of her husband, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, in June 2009. (AP)

Last June, when South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford discussed his affair with an Argentinian mistress and offered a teary-eyed public mea culpa, he did so alone.

Unlike many political wives who have stoically stood by their unfaithful husbands, Jenny Sanford, the state's first lady, was not present when the governor met the press.

"You should feel hurt," Sanford told On Point host Tom Ashbrook in an interview Wednesday. "I am hurt by what's happened, but it doesn't change who I am."

Telling Her Side Of The Story

Since that day in June, Sanford has become a kind of role model for women, in her strength and self-respect. She has also written very candidly of the experience in the recently-released memoir "Staying True."

Sanford acknowledged that speaking publicly about the experience can feel like living in a painful flashback, but said there is an element of catharsis to it, as well. "As I tell my boys, it is now part of who we are," Sanford said. "It's not something I like to have made public, but given that it's already there, I might as well try to turn it to a positive."

"If my story can help empower women to stand tall when life throws them some curve-balls, too, whether it's infidelity or some other problem in their life, I will feel like I've done something good out of this," Sanford said.

Sanford said she was not taking a stand for political wives when she did not appear with her husband, nor is she telling her story for those women. Her memoir is about more than jilted spouses, she said.

"It's more the story of how you stay focused on your values and who you are, and not let somebody else's poor choices somehow degrade you or shame you or make you feel something you shouldn't feel," Sanford said.

Though she has toured her book and told her story in recent days, Sanford said she is eager to move past the hurtful retelling.

"Because it's so public, and Mark's the one that made it public, I suspect it's going to be spoken about for the rest of my life, to some extent," Sanford said. "I look forward to when it's not a common topic."

Faith And Image

Throughout his political career, Mark Sanford would quote Scripture, citing passages of faithfulness and self-control. He also conveyed such faith in e-mails to his Argentinian mistress.

The irony is not lost on Jenny, who also is outspoken in her faith. She said her husband's infidelity has not shaken that faith. "It doesn't take away from my faith," Sanford said. "It disappoints me."

While she said her husband lost "his grounding" in faith, Sanford also, in part, connects infidelity with the inherent challenges of serving in a position of power.

"It's very easy in some of those jobs, you know, you deal with a lot of pressures, a lot of stresses — No.1, the demands on your time," Sanford said. "But also the constant need to cultivate an image for our politicians creates a whole host of problems, and it makes it easy sometimes for the politician to become what I call, 'disconnected.' "

The Marriage's Last Days

In late June, Gov. Sanford went missing. It was reported that he was hiking in the Appalachian Trail but when he turned up, the governor revealed publicly that he was in fact in Argentina, with his lover, Maria Belen Chapur.

This did not come as a complete shock to Jenny, however.

"I had known for six months then that he had been having an affair," Sanford said. "I had also learned over the months that it was an affair that he was having a hard time giving up, so he clearly had feelings for this other woman."

When she first found out about the affair, Sanford tried to work through her husband's unfaithfulness. She asked him to leave her and their four boys for a minimum of 30 days. "My hope was, that by starving him of contact with his wife and his children, that he might wake up and see what he was about to lose, if he were to go and see his mistress," Sanford said.

During the first week of their separation, Sanford knew that her husband was at his office in Columbia. But in the second week, she was told by his staff that he had gone to hike the Appalachian Trail. It was then that she began to wonder if he were in Argentina.

"I didn't really know where he was," she said. "I was frankly hoping he was on the Appalachian Trail, and I was hoping he was alone on the Appalachian Trail."

But once she heard that her husband had gone "missing," and that calls to his cell phone had gone unanswered, her doubts turned to suspicion that her husband had indeed gone to see his mistress.

As he was preparing to acknowledge the affair to the press, Jenny advised her husband to be honest, but to leave his heart out. He did not listen to her. Instead, he called Belen Chapur his "soul mate."

Following the public revelation, many in South Carolina called for Gov. Sanford's impeachment. Though he was censured, the state decided against impeachment and the governor retained his post. In December, Jenny Sanford filed for divorce.

This program aired on February 10, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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