Book Review: STAYING TRUE by Jenny Sanford


Jenny Sanford changed forever the paradigm of women standing by their powerful, cheating husbands.  She believes they need to be held accountable.  I agree.  I don’t think Tiger Woods would have apologized some 14 times to his wife Elin if it hadn’t been for Jenny Sanford.  

She kicked her narcissistic, emotionally and financially abusive, self-absorbed, cheap, cheating husband Mark (governor of South Carolina) to the curb.  She didn’t bail him out when he asked for her help on how to save his sorry behind with the press.  Instead, she packed up the kids and moved to their beach house on Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, S.C.  She had hoped that rattling around in an empty governor’s mansion might help him get his priorities and values straight. 


Don’t let somebody else’s poor choices 

hurt your self-esteem or your own sense of self. 

– Jenny Sullivan Sanford 

Revenge or Mission to Inspire? 

Reviewers of Jenny’s best-selling memoir Staying True suggest she’s out for revenge.  I don’t agree.  That’s not her style.  I think Time got it right: 

Hers is not the story of a dull wife who was passed over for an exotic woman in Argentina, but rather the tale of the true captain of a family ship, unbowed by the squalls. 

Ruth Marcus, in the Washington Post opined: 

. . .she has apparently concluded ~ correctly so ~ that the person who is humiliated by her husband’s affair is, in fact, her husband, not her.  And so she is not standing by his side, but she is not hiding in a hole, either. . . 

Wow.  Maybe this is a new role model for all wronged spouses, not just political ones. 

CNN reported that Jenny phoned several key political allies and urged them not to call for Mark’s impeachment ~ “maneuvering that may have saved his job.  That detail goes unmentioned in the book.” 

Jenny’s dignity comes naturally to women from the society families of Chicago’s North Shore.  It is a milieu I understand well.  Marriages are often more financial merger than romantic relationship.  Men tend not to be faithful, and their wives are conditioned to bear it with locked-jaw grace. 

Integrity, strength of character, and hard work were instilled by her parents and grandparents.  She is heiress to a family fortune founded in the Skil Corporation, the Milwaukee Braves, and the Winston & Strawn law firm. 

She received her degree from Georgetown in finance before a high-powered investment banking career at Lazard Freres & Co. as vice-president of mergers and acquisitions with a focus on media and communicaitons companies.  During a Memorial Day, 1987 beach party at the Hamptons, she met her future husband.  As they cut their wedding cake, I’m sure she was dreaming of an enduring, loving marriage like her parents and grandparents enjoyed:

. . .loyalty was at the root of good marriages. . .loving them warts and all.


I did think we were a good team. 

Marriage is a vow of faithfulness and fidelity. 

– Jenny Sullivan Sanford 

Red Flags 

In many respects, I got the sense that Jenny’s biological clock was ticking, and the men in her dating pool were more cad than great father material.  It was sobering to read that a woman with her pedigree, beauty, and money would find herself kissing a bunch of toads and settling for a mediocre man. 

That’s why I can fully appreciate why she chose to ignore the red flags that littered their relationship.  Perhaps she was like the proverbial frog being brought to a slow boil: 

I had long since realized that marriage to Mark was not going to be all roses or romance.  Certainly I didn’t always feel loved. . .I rationalized. 

  • She first visited Mark in South Carolina for New Year’s Eve.  He left a beat-up car with a stick shift (which she didn’t know how to drive) for her at the airport with directions on how to drive through the foggy lowlands to Coosaw, his family’s coastal farm/plantation.  She got lost and called the hostess who told her that Mark had already left for the party:
    • . . .making me drive myelf didn’t suggest that I was someone he was dying to see.
  • He refused to promise to be faithful when they said their wedding vows.
  • She took over the family checkbook to preserve her sanity.  He micromanaged every dime she spent.  To avoid petty disagreements, she negotiated an overall budget which allowed her to make spending and saving decisions.
  • He refused to attend her beloved grandfather’s funeral because he didn’t know the man well.  He didn’t, however, have problems spending her inheritance.
  • He refused to go to Lamaze classes before Marshall, their first son, was born.  Her sister Kathy flew in to do the honors.
  • She was still in the hospital recovering from the birth of John Landon, their second son, when he informed her that he was running for Congress and expected her to run his campaign for free.  The campaign was funded by money from her inheritance.
  • He routinely forgot her birthday (September 11), gave her a $25 used bike for her birthday/Christmas, and returned a diamond necklace because he thought it was too expensive.
  • He rented out their beach house during their trip to Seattle for her brother’s wedding.  She and the boys had to stay in a hotel because Mark got the dates wrong:
    • Our relationship was chilly that weekend. . .I thought he was incredibly self-absorbed and disconnected from reality and from me.
  • He returned to Congress and portrayed her as an irrationally angry wife to his colleagues and enlisted them to have a “chat” with her about withholding sex as punishment.
  • The day before their fourth son, Blake Christian, was born, she hosted a party in their home for 30 men to honor Sen. John McCain.  The day after Blake’s birth, she was alone to get her tubes tied.  Mark had decamped to Washington, D.C.:
    • I had become perfectly accustomed to managing alone.  My independence gave Mark tacit permission to leave.
  • He badgered her relentlessly to run his campaign for governor ~ for free.
  • An aide ordered her to reschedule dinner.  She was finding Mark’s temper increasingly hard to endure:
    • . . .he was beginning to be short with me. . .my role as a sounding board and adviser had taken some of the romance out of our relationship. . .I got the brunt of his complaints and his worries. . .he was never short with constituents or with the man on the street. . .I asked for time away. . .Mark wholeheartedly agreed. . .somehow those plans always got squeezed out. 
  • After he got caught cheating, he demanded she give him permission to continue seeing his mistress: 
    • I felt it was one thing to forgive adultery but in no way could I condone it. . .searching my heart to know if the right reaction was to leave him.
  • He bought his ticket to Argentina minutes after promising to end his affair.
  • He returned from “getting Argentine tail” when everyone thought he was “hiking the Appalachian trail” and begged her to coach him on his press conference.  He had the audacity to whine, “Jenny, be gentle with me.”
  • When another woman came forward with allegations of an affair, he again asked her advice:
    • I was gut-punched all over again. . .he wanted to know what I thought he should reveal in the interview.  . .asking for my advice instead of first considering how the news might make me feel. . .only really admitting his indiscretions because the woman had come forward, forcing him to come clean. . .Mark had had yet more dalliances.


There’s nobody cheaper than this guy. 

– Jenny Sullivan Sanford 

What Took Her So Long to Toss Him to the Curb? 

Jenny, a devout Irish Catholic, clearly took her wedding vows quite seriously and invested heavily (emotionally as well as financially) in the relationship.  But, about half way through the book, I started wondering why?  She was clearly the brains on their team. 

Perhaps she had acclimated herself too thoroughly into the culture of South Carolina: 

I have come to love South Carolina deeply, but I’m not blind to the challenges still in place for women there. . .an old-fashioned chauvinism that would have women stay out of positions of power or strength. . .they forget that South Carolina has plenty of strong and succesful women in its history. 


I’m surrounded by the self-absorbed male. 

– Jenny Sullivan Sanford 

Self-care and Planning the Family’s Future 

At the end of Mark’s first term, Jenny decided she would enjoy her role as First Lady and raising their sons during his second term.  However, she started to notice a disparity in the pace of their lives.  He wanted to snuggle with political ambition while she wanted to snuggle with their sons: 

My eyes were trained on the horizon too, but my vision of it was us at the beach. . .launching our four fine young men into the world. 

I found myself starved for real friendship.  Many of our true friends were reluctant to call us because they assumed we were busy. . .All I wanted was the company of real friends instead of the tiresome busyness and loneliness that came with the job and the house. 


She Never Walked Alone 

Jenny was lucky.  Although she was frequently isolated from friends and family due to the demands of Mark’s job, they were exceedingly loyal ~ especially Mark’s friends Cubby and Lalla Lee Culbertson.  A Washington, D.C. friend gave her counsel: 

Jack understood men in power well. . .I needed to resist the urge to rant or get back at Mark. . .I should hand these hurts to Jack, who would confront Mark. . .Jack backed me up. . .I left the punishment up to someone else. 

I didn’t want to make a rash decision that would bring down Mark’s career. . .I was thinking of the boys, who didn’t deserve this.  

Jenny drew strength from her faith as well as her mother Susan’s (a 25-year-cancer survivor) example: 

My mother never let the challenges of life divert her from her main goals. . .my mother’s persevering spirit.  As the only survivor of an experimental cancer treatment program twenty years ago, she is an inspiration to me today because of her positive spirit.  She was a warrior in the face of certain death. . .She never wanted to appear as if she was just about to die.  She has her sights set on living. . .enjoying every minute. 


An Old Testament woman with a 170 IQ. 

– unidentified Mark Sanford aide 

Back to the Beach and Sullivan’s Island 

Jenny wrote extensively in her journal and meditated each day on Bible verses: 

I felt a peace that came from knowing that I had acted in the best manner I knew possible in this marriage, I had loved to the best of my ability. . . 

Rarely is forgiveness instinctive.  Forgiveness has to be learned, and even practiced. . . 

Holding a grudge takes time and energy. . .The more I let go, the freer I felt. 

Yet I was not at all free from the kind of hurt Mark had inflicted.  He had lied right to my face and gone to see his lover. . .deceived me, disregarded my emotions, my needs, my desires, my basic integrity. . .I walked the beach and reminded myself daily and joyfully of who I was and how I had been blessed. . . 

Saying “I forgive you” is not the same as saying “what you have done is okay.”  If I continued to deny Mark my forgiveness, I would remain entangled in his emotions. . .He was supremely self-absorbed. . .not concerned about my feelings.  I had become an abstraction to him, an obstacle. . .Forgiveness, then, was for me. . . 

Forgiveness. . .gave us the freedom to move forward happily, free from our unfortunate situation. 

Ultimately, she realized she had to tell her sons about their father’s affair because she didn’t want them to learn it from the press or via rumor.  Her son Bolton responded with true Irish humor:  “This is going to be worse than Eliot Spitzer!”  She wanted her boys to learn: 

. . .you may choose your sin but you cannot choose the consequences. . .dishonesty rarely serves one well, and it is always better to “walk in the truth.” 

I hope they learn, if you treat your wife poorly, sometimes you might lose your wife.  So, character and integrity matter. 


Not only will I survive, I’ll thrive. 

-Jenny Sullivan Sanford 

The Rhythm of the Ocean Soothed Her Soul 

Gradually, their lives settled into a routine.  She finds joy every day: 

Nothing rejuvenates my spirit more than a walk along the shore. . .feel closer to God. . .difficult to feel anger or to wallow in my suffering. . .put my life in perspective. . .I can hear the beach calling to me. . .I release. . .Daily chores. . .distract me. . . 

I have peace. . .gratitude. . .no space. . .for one drop of bitterness or regret. . . 

I will persevere with my feet firmly planted ~ preferably with some sand between my toes ~ focused on my priorities and looking onward and every upward. 

Jenny Sullivan Sanford filed for divorce on December 11, 2009. 

Note:  Earlier post on Jenny Sullivan Sanford. 

© 2010, Anne Caroline Drake
    All Rights Reserved.

5 responses to “Book Review: STAYING TRUE by Jenny Sanford

  1. I found the book inspiring and I am a Democrat, an atheist(a fallen-away Catholic) and single. This is an extremely smart, strong, savvy woman who has principles that all societies value highly. Everything in the book rings true to me; I was stunned by critics who posted cynical and mean-spirited jabs at Jenny on the Larry King interview website. The lesson in the book is relevant to all: Focus on what you have, not what you’ve lost. Spend a lifetime on the arduous and painful task of defining your values and finding the strength to stick to them. Learn from your mistakes; show compassion and humility. Let she who has mastered these skills cast the first stone.

  2. Carol, thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. I think you are correct. IMHO, the jabs on Larry King’s site are reflective of his own disrespect for women.

    Jenny Sanford is sending a clear message that this needs to end. And, I say “Bravo!”

    I am a lapsed Protestant who is finding a lot of healing from adopting bits and pieces from all the worlds’ religions. Recently, I wrote a post about what Michael Lisagor taught me about Buddhism. I was intrigued because so many successful abuse survivors adopt Buddhist principles and practices ~ they don’t necessarily convert ~ they find healing in the Buddhist quest for world peace ~ which IMHO ~ starts at home.

    Anne Caroline

  3. Hey did you change your blog design? It looks really a lot better than last time I visited your blog, the content is easier to read. Do you make blogdesigns for money?

  4. Brianna,

    Yes, I chose a new template a few months ago. I’m glad you like it.

    No, LOL, I’m not clever enough to design sites. WordPress gives bloggers a nice selection of templates.

    Anne Caroline

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