In June 2009, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford seemed to have disappeared without a trace. After he told his staff he'd gone hiking on the Appalachian Trial, those close to the governor became concerned when no one had heard from him in five days. His wife, however, suspected Mark was much farther from home.
Six months earlier, Jenny Sanford says she discovered her husband was having an affair with an Argentinian woman, Maria Belen Chapur. "I found a letter that Mark had written to his lover," she says. "I literally was in shock. My stomach felt gut-punched."
Though Jenny says Mark agreed to end the affair, he pleaded with Jenny to let him see Maria one last time to say goodbye. Jenny eventually gave in, but asked for a chaperone to accompany him on the visit to New York.
Still, Jenny says that goodbye was not enough for Mark, who continued to pine for his mistress. Jenny then asked Mark to leave for a month, hoping it would give him time to reflect on their marriage. Instead, he flew to Argentina to be with the woman he called his soul mate. "I was hoping he was on the Appalachian Trail," Jenny says. "I was hoping he was alone, too."
On June 24, 2009, Mark held a news conference and told the world where he had been. Jenny was not by his side. "He didn't ask me to be next to him," she says.
As she describes in her book, Staying True, Jenny watched from home with her dad, sisters and close friends. The feeling was surreal, she says. "Not only had my heart already been broken, [I watched] him just talk about days spent crying in Argentina," she says. "But he wasn't just disappointing me. He had a whole political career and people who had really put their faith and trust in him. So we were watching the implosion of a family, the implosion of a marriage, and the implosion of really a career and a lot of trust broken."
When the press conference ended, Jenny released her own statement. "It was an honest reflection, in my mind, of the notion that marriages are difficult and complicated and the situation is complicated," she says.
Despite Mark's public admission of infidelity, Jenny says she still hoped to save her marriage. "I still wanted to give him one last shot for the sake of our children," she says. "I do have an old-fashioned view [of marriage] and I was willing to forgive. Not to condone adultery any further."
In December 2009, Jenny filed for divorce. "There wasn't a final straw. I got to a peace about me," she says. "As far as I'm concerned, I want him to be happy...I want him at some point to become the person I always thought he was for the sake of our children because otherwise I fear that they will forever think of him as a hypocrite."
While Jenny says she never believed she enabled Mark's affair, she says she may have made it easier for him to stray by taking care of too many things in his personal life and career. "I did so because I believed in him. I have an old-fashioned Old Testament view of what marriage is. So I was willing and able to help manage his campaigns or help raise the kids," she says. "But in that process, somehow, maybe I made it easy for him to become disconnected."
Jenny says she doesn't know if Mark is still seeing the other woman—and doesn't want to know. "I want to just move on and let his actions and his choices speak for themselves," she says.
Looking back, Jenny says she should have paid more attention to specific red flags with Mark. During their engagement, Jenny says Mark declared he did not want the word "faithful" used in their wedding vows. "I said, 'Wait a minute. Let's not get married then if you don't intend to be faithful,'" she says. "[He said,] 'I want to be married just to you and I want to be faithful. I just have this doubt.' And so it was a very wholesome and honest discussion that we had."
At the time, Jenny says she never thought Mark would cheat. "This is a guy who was really clumsy with women. He could hardly kiss a woman. I had doubts about him but they weren't about his ability to be faithful," she says. "I had a big career on Wall Street. I was worried about what kind of a job he was going to have. I truly had other doubts. I saw it as wholesome and kind of refreshing. "
After Jenny learned about the affair, she says she did her best to try to reconcile with Mark. Still, she says, Mark couldn't let go of Maria. "[He asked,] 'Do you want to wake up when you are 80 and know you never had a heart connection?'" she says. "[I said,] 'I thought I was it.'"
Jenny says that discussion was extremely painful. "I said to him, 'Why don't you keep working on the marriage for the sake of our children? She's not going anywhere,'" she says. "And he said, 'What if she does?' I was dealing with a man who had lost sight of the values that were the basis of our marriage."
Through the ordeal, Jenny says, she hasn't lost sight of her children. She says she told the boys about their dad's affair when he was in Argentina. "My gut was right that perhaps he was seeing this woman and I felt they needed to know," she says. "It was painful for me to tell them. They had always held their dad in very high esteem."
Jenny says she told all four boys at the same time. "At the time we were separated, I had asked Mark to leave the house, and I had also asked him not to talk to us...And they were having a hard time with that," she says. "I said, 'Here's why you can't talk to him. Your dad's been having an affair.'"
Jenny says the boys had mixed reactions. "One of them said, 'I guessed it,'' she says. "But the other one, said, 'Huh?' One of them asked, 'Did they have sex?' And they were shocked. Their world as they knew it was changed."
Since the boys found out, Jenny says there have been good and bad days. "It's safe to say we've had a range of emotions. Some days they're just grumpy. And you know what? They have a right to be," she says. "I would rather us embrace it and learn from it and make sure we don't make the same mistakes in our lives going forward."
When Jenny decided to write her book, she says, her boys were her biggest supporters. "I said, 'If there's a way I can use this to really do good and help other women stay true to what really matters and stay true to who they are and not let somebody else's misguided actions bring them down, then I was willing to do so,'" she says.
What Jenny wants every woman facing infidelity in her marriage to know is that there is no right or wrong way to handle the situation. "Every marriage is unique," she says. "Don't do it alone. Make sure you get some really close girlfriends or somebody you can chat with and pray with."
Jenny also encourages women to maintain their dignity. "The inclination is to want to scream or hit him over the head, or I can think of an awful lot of things I wanted to do," she says. "When I got to the stage where I finally decided to divorce, I could look back with great peace in my heart that I had done exactly what I should have done. I had stayed the best Jenny I could be."
Looking back, Jenny says she has no regrets. "I didn't let it change me or crumble me or make me bitter or angry," she says. "I don't really know what my future holds but I'm open and ready."