Petraeus: When Love Fails


As soon as the news that CIA Director David Petraeus stepped down due to an extramarital affair, my phone started to ring. My text buzzed and buzzed. Long married military friends shared the link to the story on Facebook to make sure I had seen what happened.

No one was gleeful.

No one was sniffy.

Pretty much I heard how sad people felt. How shocking this was. Is anyone immune from infidelity? Is any marriage safe?

I don’t know. I don’t know General Petraeus. I met his wife Holly exactly twice. So I only know what the world knows: I know that they married 37 years ago when she was the daughter of the superintendant at West Point.I know Holly Petraeus has worked tirelessly for military families, heroically, mostly as a volunteer. I know General Petraeus was likened to Grant, Pershing, Marshall and Eisenhower as one of America’s great battle captains.

Mostly I know that as a couple David and Holly Petraeus were famously united in their support of military families. So how could they stumble? How could they fall?

The world will probably say that this kind of epic fail is inevitable after a couple spends so many years apart due to war.

But we don’t believe in inevitable around here. At SpouseBuzz, we pretty much believe that military couples can love each other through everything, that they can work things out, that you are not a fool to pursue happily ever after with someone in uniform. We see that among our retirees every day.

One of our best resources in finding out how to manage military marriage is by watching other military couples. In the military, we live such similar lives that we know their joys will be our joys.  Their temptations will be our temptations. Their problems will be our problems.

We have known for a long time that the two years following the end of a military career are problematic for individuals. Once a person has spent their entire adult life in the military, that becomes part of their identity. Losing that leaves you feeling lost. Like an aging woman notices that men don’t look at her the same way anymore, people who leave the service note that others don’t treat them the same anymore. Its like you left some essential part of yourself behind.

One of the lessons to be gleaned here is that no one is immune to that post-career retooling. Even if you step up into one of the most powerful jobs in the world, you are still changed. You are still a little less yourself. You are capable of exercising what Petraeus called, “extremely poor judgment.”

Life is messy. And people –even people who seem like storybook characters—are not perfect. They fail. The path the Petraeus family is on is all too public. May they work through this with the presence they have brought to the rest of their lives. And may they go with our best wishes.

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