Interview with Carol Setters
by Pamela Gerloff
What is a trophy wife?
definition of a trophy wife is the younger, second wife
who marries the wealthy, older man, thereby proving that
he still "has what it takes" to attract a beautiful woman.
She is a symbol of the good life he has successfully achieved.
However, because of my own experience and the stories I
have heard from women around me, I feel there is a need
to revise the term.
I describe a trophy wife as any woman who
is in a relationship with a man who is wealthy and/or powerful,
but who hasn't been successful in integrating that dynamic
into her life. Consequently, her sense of purpose and understanding
of her own self-worth become seriously diminished. She may
immerse herself in the trappings of wealth in an attempt
to discover the missing substance of this "bigger than life"
existence she is now leading. In doing so, she may look
the part we recognize as the trophy wife. The end result
is the image we all know, but the reason for it is much
more complex than most people realize.
You became a
trophy wife when you married your husband. What was that
like for you?
I was 28
years old when I married my husband. I had grown up in a
Midwestern, middle-class family, and I was accomplished
in my career. I was a classical pianist, I had toured Europe
and the U.S. extensively as a vocalist, and I was enjoying
success as a member of a Tony-award winning Broadway show
in New York.
My husband was raised in a wealthy family
on the East Coast and had achieved tremendous success in
business. We shared many values and goals, and enjoyed each
other's company immensely. After a while, it became apparent
that we could not move forward in our relationship without
one of us making a drastic change. He was the CEO of a large
company that wasn't going to relocate; the practical choice
was for me to move to where he lived and alter my career.
Although I was excited about making changes to accommodate
our plans to start a family, neither of us really understood
how much I would be giving up to fit into his world.
What did you
I had difficulty
continuing my career because it would have clashed with
my husband's career needs, as well as his leisure schedule.
I was torn between the commitments of my career and needing
to free myself up for an impromptu golfing weekend in the
Bahamas. Just as I was resenting the limitations I felt
my husband's career and lifestyle were imposing on me, he
was confused as to why I wasn't ecstatic at not having any
real commitments anymore, which he viewed as the ideal life!
Another issue-and this too, is a common
one-was that when people either are raised in wealthy families
or occupy high-level positions within organizations, other
people stop telling them the truth, so they become sequestered
from the kind of reality that keeps them in check with their
own limitations. Let's be honest-when you have power over
the paychecks of everyone around you, people are not eager
to tell you something negative if it may impact their own
bottom line-so your wife ends up being the only person who
ever says anything
To create "a life you could love to live," Carol Setters
recommends taking the following steps (which can be
done on your own or with a coach or advisor):
Move from External to Internal
Learn to change from being dominated by externallyimposed
circumstances to following your own creative direction.
Develop Decision-Making Skills
Acquire skills to make decisions that successfully
support your desired, long-term results.
Learn to Self-Actualize
Learn about Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs
(survival, security, social acceptance, self-esteem,
selfactualization), to help you move toward self-actualization.
Create a Life Vision
Articulate a life vision for yourself and discover
the personal values that drive your vision.
Focus on Being vs. Doing
Begin to focus on being your values, rather than just
Make Your Plan
Design long-term and short-term plans to realize your
Understand the Creative Process
Understand that your transformation is a creative
process and that the creative process happens in stages.
to you. Since no one else seems to be experiencing the problem,
you assume it must be
issues were problematic for me, but the biggest struggle
I experienced was that, in comparison to the new environment
I lived in, my own accomplishments and goals began to seem
very insubstantial. I was no longer compelled to generate
any money-why should I? Consequently, the entire structure
for my career fell into disarray, which was difficult for
me. My husband's family was involved in ongoing intergenerational
non-profit efforts that I was invited to join, but that
wasn't really my passion. I lost myself. I didn't know what
I stood for anymore, or what I wanted to do with my life.
You wrote in your book that it's not just the dynamics within
the marriage itself that are a challenge-other people and
external conditions contribute, too.
Yes, people treat you differently when you have money, there's
no question about it. They give you all kinds of "special"
treatment, which actually turns out to be disempowering.
A woman in this culture, most likely, has been trained to
be "nice" and to go to great lengths to be sure that people
like her. When she marries into this new culture of wealth,
she can unconsciously play to the message that she is special
because of her money until she is conditioned to believe
that the only thing she has to offer the world is her credit
card. Within the social circles I began to inhabit, I felt
a much stronger pressure to conform than I had before, in
terms of lifestyle choices, my opinions, and the way I looked
and behaved. I was surprised one evening at a gala event
at someone's home to find a group of women hiding down in
the furnace room smoking cigarettes and taking a break!
I was not alone being uncomfortable in this duplicitous
What happened to you as you tried to conform to others'
expectations of you in your "trophy wife" role?
The ironic part about the entire experience is that, while
my own sense of self-worth was heading downhill, I was getting
really good at acting as if I was having a fabulous life.
Especially for wives of men who have prominent positions
in the community, the environment creates some very distorting
coping strategies. In my seminars and my private coaching,
women always recognize the coping behaviors I describe,
which are very similar from community to community. They
include the woman who is very dramatic, talks with great
animation, and exaggerates everything for effect; the woman
who seems to get more and more physically perfect every
year; the wife who is helpful and sweet and never gets angry,
but under the surface she's smoldering; the woman who mysteriously
gets drunk on the first drink of the night; and the woman
who takes refuge in shopping, spending a great deal of effort
appearing to be trendy and chic, who seems obsessed with
renovating the home in Vail. All of these behavior patterns
describe attempts to squeeze the substance out of a life
that has become very superficial. The tragedy is that it
doesn't have to be that way.
What are some solutions?
My advice to a woman in this situation would be to begin
with a dialogue, either internally or with a trusted friend,
considering exactly what it is that you stand for and what
you want out of life. You can begin from the ground up,
identifying the things that matter to you. Here is an opportunity
that most of the world would love to have-you can pause
your life and re-decide what you love to do and what you
were meant to give to the world. If you can take a leap
of faith and wake up what lies dormant inside you, you have
a stellar opportunity to create a life that really matters.
you have committed to following a meaningful path of your
own choosing, you can learn skills and new perspectives
that will assist you in developing a life that reflects
your core interests. I would also suggest learning what
it takes to make a good decision. For that, I recommend
The Path of Least Resistance
Fritz; it contains an excellent section on choice. I've
also found that it helps to have a mentor to keep you from
reverting to old habits and thought patterns.
experience, the transformation that occurs gets you excited
about life again. You feel powerful, and others around you
can feel the change.Your self-esteem grows and your sense
of purpose evolves because you're finally living a life
that is a true reflection of who you are inside.
I went through this process, I discovered that even the
people I had perceived as being part of my "problem" were
people I could enjoy being around-because they no longer
held the power to affect the way I felt about myself. I
had become "inner-directed."
Is this transformation ever threatening to the husband or
to the relationship?
When I describe this transformation to people, this is the
point when the fear shows in their eyes. "What if I decide
I don't want to be married anymore?" they ask me. Or, "What
if he dumps me?" Those are genuine concerns; however, the
point is that the problem was never about the marriage.
The problem was that the women didn't know how to be authentic
and powerful in their lives with their wealthy husbands.
It's quite possible that they didn't know how to be authentic
before the marriage either. Being authentic isn't something
that is generally encouraged for women in this society-or,
sadly, for men. In the process I take my clients through,
I've never heard a woman read aloud a description of the
life she could love to live that doesn't include the desire
to be part of a great love. (I think that's what every heart
craves.) And great love begins with authenticity.
So how does this transformation affect the relationship?
The process can be a test of the commitment the husband
has to his wife. If he truly wants her to be happy (and
I always begin with that premise), then he has to be willing
to give her the room to become the person she was meant
to become. Typically, what he finds is that, as his wife
blossoms into the new person she is becoming, she offers
to share her joy. If a woman doesn't feel that impulse to
share her joy with her husband, then no amount of control
would ever keep her in the relationship anyway.
You focus on trophy wives, but the issues you discuss and
the solution process you outline sound valuable for anyone.
Yes. I focus on women married to wealthy men, but similar
issues can arise in any relationship-for example, for a
man married to a wealthy woman, or a gay couple dealing
with money differences-although some of the power dynamics
may be different.
The title of this journal issue is "Embracing the Gift."
It sounds as if you're really talking about embracing the
gift of your true self that wealth can enable, if you know
how to do it.
Yes. Wealth is a gift that can be a challenge to embrace.
Just because it has the potential to have positive impact
doesn't mean we automatically know how to use it in ways
that are best for ourselves and others. But truly, I have
never worked with a man or a woman who didn't have a tremendous
depth of talent and insight to offer to the world. It's
inspiring to experience just how rich the human spirit truly
Setters became a "trophy wife" at age 28. To observers, her
life was enviable, but she found the dynamics of being married
to a wealthy man overwhelming and dissatisfying. In the process
of creating for herself "a life she could love to live," Ms.
Setters discovered that many women married to wealthy men
experience similar challenges. She now advises women who have
married into wealth, helping them create lives that are satisfying
and meaningful. She is a founding member of the Colorado-based
Personal Mastery Program, a public speaker, and the author
The Trophy Wife Trap
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