Military Spouses Speak Out on Infidelity – A MilSpouse Blogosphere Roundup
David Petraeus, the retired four-star general and now-former Director of Central Intelligence is not the first flag officer or former flag officer to have succumbed to Zipper Failure Syndrome. And he will not be the last. In fact, as I write this, the investigation that exposed his infidelity to his wife of 37 years now threatens to take down the current Afghanistan/Pakistan theater commander, Marine General John R. Allen.
Infidelity has been with our military since the founding of the republic. Author and military wife Siobhan Fallon explored it deeply in her recent collection of fictional short stories, entitled You Know When the Men Are Gone.
There is, in some circles, an unwritten understanding among deployed troops that “what happens on deployment stays on deployment.”
Let’s address the omerta code of silence among those who deploy, right off the bat. From an anonymous commenter posting on the blog of Wayne Perry, the husband of an Army medic stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas:
“Based on my 25 years of experience of being a military wife, it has a profound effect on everyone, including those of us who lost their long lasting marriages to adulterous men…. military or not. In my experience, the code of silence between the military personnel is outrageous as I have seen first-hand over those twenty five years… and it not only sickens me but reminds me that we are all human and if it’s not acceptable to you it shouldn’t be for anyone else either. I rarely, if ever, post on blogs… but this just has my blood boiling and thought I’d just chime in for those of us who tried so hard to keep it together only to have the code of silence be an acceptable form of just “doing your job”. Needless to say, I’m now single after all those years of sacrifice because I no longer found it acceptable for myself but for anyone else in my circle. It’s now been three years since my marriage ended due to infidelity and regardless of the situation, I don’t wish that on anyone… military or not!”
Infidelity? “I’m not here for that,” adds Jacey Eckhart, a long-time writer on military affairs and a Navy spouse herself. “I’m not here for that. Neither is he. My sailor does not have direct deposit so that I can take my boyfriends to dinner. He doesn’t spend his weekends painting our kitchen so I can entertain some other guy. He isn’t scrimping on himself to send our kids to college so that another man can have his picture with them at graduation.”
Bri Thomlin, the “Tiny Texan” and the wife of a Marine stationed in Hawaii, writes:
Yes, I do get very lonely. It sucks when he’s away. Sometimes I am strong and can make it through a week as easy as a breeze; however, some days I break down and cry, sometimes it’s when I’m not supposed to like when I’m on the phone with my husband or Skyping him when there is an ocean or entire continent between us. Though the days are long, distance is far, and the nights get very lonely, I love him. That’s the bottom line, I love my husband. Loving him means, I wait. It really is that simple.
Charlie Sherpa writes: “I’ve seen too many families ended by infidelity – and not enough careers.”
Another commenter shares her story:
“I was an active duty female officer (pregnant) when my husband cheated on me. He was also active duty and paraded his lover all over the base. Ironically, the one that lost their credibility was me, because I allowed this behavior because I am Christian and tried to work the marriage out. I was severely depressed and alone, as I had just lost both parents in the year prior to this and had no other relatives. Anyway, the military found a way to turn it around on me, the woman, and when I was heart-broken I was dubbed weak and sensitive.”
Another anonymous guest commenter from the same thread writes:
Adultery is destroying the moral fabric of the military. The younger enlisted find it so commonplace that they don’t see wrong in doing it. With so many Senior Enlisted and Officers doing it, they think “why shouldn’t we?”
Now, clearly, there is selection bias at work in these samples. These are people writing in to a community of like-minded people. Those who self-select to write military blogs are likely to take the role of a military spouse very seriously – as are their readers. Nevertheless, there was no dissent in the comment threads I found discussing infidelity in the military. It didn’t matter if it happened before the news about Petraeus’s affair broke or after. Everyone commenting in the military spouse blogosphere I found stated unequivocally that infidelity is unacceptable to them. A few stated they caught their spouse cheating and forgave them – some multiple times.
Did Petraeus know better? Absolutely. He is the guy primarily responsible for writing the current U.S. military counterinsurgency doctrine, or COIN. The governing document outlining COIN contains an entire chapter dedicated to the vital importance of personal integrity at every level to ensure the success of American arms against insurgencies.
On a more personal note…
That said, a hallmark of Petraeus’s leadership style was the forgiveness of human failures as well. “People make mistakes,” he wrote. It’s clear he made a big one.
Few go into a marriage intentionally planning to cheat. Those that do are at least borderline sociopaths. But the insidiousness is this: plenty of people fall into the trap without planning to in advance. They wouldn’t call it “temptation” if temptation were easy to resist.
Petraeus spent nearly ten years constantly away from his wife. When he finally returned to CONUS as the CENTCOM commander, his job still required a lot of traveling and relentless focus. When President Obama sacked General Stanley McChrystal, then the Afghanistan theater commander, he tapped Petraeus who promptly left his wife almost overnight to go back to war.
Petraeus spent a longer time away from his wife than Eisenhower, Patton, or General Lee (who could sometimes make it home between battles to visit his ailing wife).
Few marriages could survive that – and our country perhaps abused that marriage. But Petraeus, at the time, was the man for the job.
Nevertheless, Petraeus could have declined the CIA Directorship and went back home to heal his marriage after nearly ten years (and more!) of his duty, honor and country coming first. He took the CIA directorship anyway – and behaved recklessly.
I cannot judge what people separated for ten years do. Every marriage has its own internal logic and set of ground rules, both spoken and unspoken, and I don’t second-guess what good people feel they need to do.
Do you have an experience with infidelity in military life? Share in the comments.