The Post-Sex Scandal Comeback: Can Pols Caught With Their Pants Down Really Change?

If they stray once, will they do it again? Not necessarily

The political sex scandal is as American as apple pie. There's a few every year, they're always front-page news and they usually end in someone's resignation or withdrawal from a political campaign. Sometimes the men in the middle of these scandals make a comeback; other times, they fade into the background.

Former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner wants to be the next comeback kid. Two years ago, Weiner was the gift that kept on giving to New York City tabloids (for the puns if nothing else) after he was caught tweeting naughty below-the-belt pictures to a half dozen women. He promptly resigned from Congress, took a time out and is now back in the spotlight asking the public for another chance. "I made some big mistakes and I know I let a lot of people down, but I've also learned some tough lessons…I hope I get a second chance to work for you," he says in a video announcing his run for New York City mayor. His wife even makes a cameo at the end supporting his foray back into politics. She took him back. Should we? Can Weiner and the many other public figures that have been caught with their pants down really change?

There’s no simple answer except to say, it depends. Studies vary on predicting someone’s likelihood to stop cheating once they’ve crossed that line, but experts agree that people can change if they want to, they just need to work at it. (Getting caught is probably a good incentive to at least try).

"Having consequences can be an impetus for change," says couples therapist Sherry Amatenstein, L.C.S.W., author of The Complete Marriage Counselor: Relationship-Saving Advice from America's Top 50 + Couples Therapists. But change doesn’t happen overnight. "We repeat patterns," says Amatenstein. She recommends addressing those unhealthy patterns and behaviors in therapy or the cheating may never stop. "He’ll [cheat] in another relationship if he doesn't learn to address it and get to the bottom of it."

Psychiatrist and bestselling author Gail Saltz, M.D. says change starts with a willingness to look at yourself, your behavior, and then actually change. "It's hard work, it takes time, it takes a partner who is willing to forgive, and it takes an ability to tolerate real discomfort and distress as you discover painful things about who you are," Dr. Saltz says.

Not everyone is up to the task. Saltz says that while she's helped plenty of patients stop their cheating ways, "I have also had patients who could not or would not do the actual work and continued to cheat."

Weiner just might get the second chance he thinks he deserves -- these guys made a comeback and we don't know if they really stopped cheating:

Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton starred in the mother of all sex scandals with intern Monica Lewinsky. Since then he's built the Clinton Global Initiative and made mountains of money on book deals and speaking engagements. He still has serious political influence even though he hasn't held an office in nearly 15 years. It helps that Hilary Rodham Clinton decided to stand by her man.

Eliot Spitzer

Former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer was caught with a call girl, leading to revelations that his dalliance with prostitutes may have started years earlier when he was the state's attorney general. His wife forgave him; he got a show on CNN and a job teaching at City College of New York.


South Carolina's former Governor Mark Sanford was lounging with his lover in Argentina instead of hiking on the Appalachian Trail (his cover story), leading to his resignation and reimbursement of public funds he used to finance his romantic getaways. Sanford just won a special election in South Carolina's first district for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Heather M. Graham is iVillage’s Health Editor. Follow her on Pinterest, Twitter and Google+

All photos from Getty Images

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