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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