Should Holly Petraeus Listen to Tammy Wynette and “Stand by Her Man?”

Americans were dismayed and saddened by the news that our true military hero David Petraeus had an affair with his biographer.  However, news out this morning suggests that his wife is going to try to make their marriage of 37 years work, in spite of the infidelity:

Former CIA Director David Petraeus reveals that he “screwed up royally” in having an affair with his biographer.

According to the New York Post, the four-star general said in a letter to retired Brig. Gen. James Shelton that his wife of the past 37 years, Holly, will be staying with him despite the affair with Paula Broadwell.

“I screwed up royally,” Petraeus said in the letter, the Post reports. “Team Petraeus will survive though [I] have obviously created enormous difficulty for us. Holly is, however, once again demonstrating how incredibly fortunate I was to marry her.”

What do you think of this new development?  What would you do if you were Mrs. Petraeus?

As I was writing this article, I googled that old Tammy Wynette song, with its lyrical admonition to Stand by Your Man.  The video, which has Tammy wearing a pink, sparkly dress on a dingy front porch, does not inspire.  Her face — under her magnificent motionless blond hair — is solemn and resolved as she sings some of the most depressing lyrics ever written:

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man
You’ll have bad times
And he’ll have good times
Doin things that you don’t understand
But if you love him
You’ll forgive him
Even though he’s hard to understand
And if you love him
Oh, be proud of him
Cause after all he’s just a man

Sadly, too many people — including Christians — have dealt with the stinging realization that their marriage has been compromised by infidelity. However, are the only two options packing up your bags or accepting that “after all, he’s just a man?” (By the way, married men aren’t the only ones cheating.  Sadly, more women and mothers have caught up with men in the category of infidelity.  Score one for equality!)

But there’s a better way to look at marital infidelity that doesn’t include overlooking the offense.  In fact, Biblical Christianity doesn’t allow one person to accept or minimize the betrayal.  Only by dealing honestly with the sin is true restoration possible.  That means, even though it’s painful, there’s hope.  Robert D. Jones, in his booklet “Restoring Your Broken Marriage: Healing After Adultery” writes:

Whatever the action or intention of an unfaithful spouse, God has a life-changing agenda for you, a positive, redemptive purpose in this situation.

While that might be hard for Mrs. Petraeus to see right now, it’s a comforting truth that could possibly help her see a path forward.  But what about General Petraeus?  What about the one who’s “royally screwed up?” Is there hope for him?  Definitely.  Jones writes:  

Hosea’s marriage in Hosea 1—3 is an adulterous union that was restored by grace. As the observant reader learns, Hosea’s unfaithful partner is a picture of our own spiritual infidelity against our husband, Jesus Christ. The Bible abounds with promises of God’s forgiveness.

I’m not sure whether the Petraeuses are Christians.  (I’m also not sure how to make “Petraeus” plural.)  However, Jesus can restore, forgive, and strengthen a marriage even after such a public and embarrassing betrayal.  Jones writes:

Our God delights in making broken things better than they were. Like a severed steel joint made strong by the welding process, the Redeemer can weld your severed marriage into something sturdy. The lives of many “welded” couples attest to this. The God of new birth, new life, and new beginning.

(Read more about the Robert D. Jones book here.)

General Petraeus has survived many trials — including wars, an M-16 round to the chest, and cancer.  However, he’s now dealing with the issue  we all — if we’re honest — need to face at some point during our lives: our own tendency toward great sin.

May we all have the grace to deal with it honestly, may the Petraeus family be restored, and may we look to someone greater than Tammy Wynette for inspiration for overcoming true heartache.

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About Nancy French

Nancy French is a three time New York Times Best Selling Author.

  • Steven

    Maybe the plural of Petraeus is….. Petraei..? ;-) j/k

    • Nancy French


      Nice! I like that better!


  • Taylor

    I have to admit, before I was saved, I always hated these stories. My uncle cheated on my aunt with multiple women, and when she caught him, she decided to stay with him much to the frustration of our family. We saw her as weak and foolish. After I was saved, I look back and see that my perspective was all wrong. It wasn’t as if the woman stayed with her husband because she felt obligated, was naive or was too weak to leave her husband, but rather, she was so much stronger than the rest of us in that she swallowed her pride, forgave, and upheld her own vows when he did not. I think it’s something to marvel in when our Holy God works through infidelity and hurt to restore broken marriages and His children to Him.

    • Nancy French

      Taylor, wonderful points. I have to admit to feeling that way too. I really hope their marriage can recover.

    • Sadie D.

      l strongly feel that former (CIA director) David Petraeus, is just like any normal man, he made the mistake, of letting a Female, get to close when she wanted to write his Biography..
      Yes! it was a TRAGIC! MISTAKE..But! l give David Petraeus credit for coming to his senses, realizing what he did, was VERY Wrong.. Speaking for Holly his wife, she said, only time she see his was on TV..
      Which is a large Sacrafice, not seeing her husband for long periods of time..Being in the Service does cause DISTANCE & Long Deployment..
      Holly, you knew when you Married him, time away could happen, No! matter how long..
      l feel strongly if l were you, Please, try & remember, for better or worse, in good times & bad..
      Your husband, feels very up-set over what he did, & knows he deeply hurt you..
      Holly hang in there..your husband, could have said, so what..NO! your feeling count big time..

      So, l hope You & Your Family,,Have a Great Hoiday!
      God Bless You Both..Time Heals All Wounds.
      Sadie D. Portland,Me.

  • Brian S

    It’s interesting that the betrayal and response of Patraeus’s wife is always mentioned. Should she leave him, etc., but nobody ever mentions the husband of Broadwell. In fact, it was some time before I knew from the press that she had a husband. Your opinion on why we focus on the betrayed wife and not the betrayed husband?

    • Nancy French

      Dear Brian, I immediately thought of her husband and googled him to figure out even what he looked like!

      I honestly think it only has to do with the general’s position. We were concerned about the Petraeus family, but we’d never really known of the Broadwell family. But you’re right to point out there is a lot of carnage here.

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  • Jay B. Borne

    Petraeus is so gutless he won’t he speak out himself. He is speaking through friends managed by expensive attorneys and PR counsel, concerned only with his image. She has a good job and could leave him and go her own way. She may stay with him until he reestablishes himself – hopefully, out of the public eye – then dump his skinny behind. She needs to lose weight and get a makeover. She would be much more attractive than he ever could be.

  • Lesley Munro

    leave him! He only admitted wrong doing after he was caught. Too late now…