Cheating. Infidelity. Scandals. These words are definitely dirty — and they are common among politicians and public figures these days. Cheating on the spouse seems to be something that everyone finds okay…until they get caught, and then all eyes are on them as they offer weeping apologies and promise to never do such a terrible thing again.
Recently, late-night comedian David Letterman faced the same kind of issue. But the way he handled it is what sets him apart from others who have walked down the same path. What lessons can politicians – and all the rest of us – learn from the Late Night host?
Caught? Confess. If you have been cheating and you are suddenly caught red-handed, realize that the pain at that moment is enormous for everyone. Don’t add insult to injury with denials. If you have been caught and you know it, confess your sins. Be prepared for an emotional backlash that might be downright ferocious. After all, you’ve just damaged someone’s dreams, and that is something they will never, ever forget. But by denying what they know is true, you are telling them you don’t care enough to be honest when it truly counts. Confession will hurt like hell, but it has to be the first step.
Don’t Let it Drag On. When you’re caught, it is time to make that decision that you knew, one day, you would have to make. You will have to end the relationship with the person you are having an affair with, or you will have to make the decision to leave your spouse. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s something you knew was coming from the moment you decided to stray. Now is the time to ante up and let the chips fall where they may.
Apologize, and Don’t Make Excuses. Do you owe someone an apology? A thousand times over. Do you owe them an excuse? Absolutely not. No reason you give will be good enough. You might be able to justify what you did, but that won’t matter a whit to the person who is hurting so badly because of your actions. Apologize in as many ways as you can, but never try to make excuses for what you have done.
Resolve to Fix the Problem. Now is the time to fix things. If you want to work on your relationship, great. If you don’t think it can be fixed and you just want out, take steps toward that, but take them slowly. Ride the emotional roller coaster you built, and let your partner grieve the loss. Don’t cut off all contact immediately, and don’t walk out when things get rough. Now the damage is done, and your goal is to prevent even more fallout. Do that with patience, respect, and love.
David Letterman handled his scandal with class and character, and was up-front about what he had done before any news outlet had the chance to scoop him. He chose to tell the story on his own terms. There is a deep lesson to be learned in that, one that benefits everyone who sees it — even those politicians who seem to carry “scandal” as their middle name.