An Army Wife who needs Petraeus Out of her Living Room

An Army Wife who needs Petraeus Out of her Living Room November 13, 2012

It is happening to me – I am getting sucked in. I want to know every detail of what the e-mails between GEN Petraeus and his hottie biographer, Paula Broadwell, said. I want to compare Mrs. Petraues and Paula Broadwell and understand why he cheated. This is like watching the fallout of a nasty accident on the highway, but so much more personal. Ever since I read about the extramarital affair of a man whom I had previously respected greatly, I am being psychologically eaten alive.

I finally realized why – I am taking this personally. When I read about how this 40-year-old Broadwell buddied up with GEN Petraeus in the hills of Afghanistan while running six-minute miles alongside him I seethed. It was salt in the wound when I found out that Mrs. Broadwell herself has two young children. What gets me, if I am going to be perfectly honest, is that my life began just like Mrs. Broadwell’s life. I was a Princeton-educated young Army officer who could impress everyone by running with the boys. I too, would have loved to train for ironmans and ascend the military ranks in order to lead our nation in a time of war. But, wait, I got married, I had a baby. Furthermore, my husband and I wouldn’t have seen each other for two full years in 2004 and 2005 if we had deployed with our respective units to Iraq. Becoming a wife and then a mother changed everything for me. Even when turning my back on ambition was excruciatingly difficult and even felt foreign, I had to make sacrifices in order to create the family we deserved.

Instead of charging for more personal accolades, I pulled out. Pulled out in the most drastic, non-contracepting, homeschooling way possible. So now I am Mrs. Petraeus. She pulled out for her family 25 years before I made the choice. Holly Petraeus gave up all her personal ambition 30 years ago in order to provide the stability that her husband and children would need as he climbed the ranks of an Army at war. I will admire this woman to the grave.

My husband told me that several of his co-workers were commenting that Holly Petraeus had gained too much weight and that is why the Broadwell infidelity was so easy for Petraeus. Um, excuse me, barf. I am terrified by all of this. Is virtue not attractive? Is the selfless life required of a woman to agree to stay at home in support of a working man worth nothing? Are we going to lose out to the women who jet off to Afghanistan six times in a year, train for an Ironman and have lovely toned arms at age 40. We don’t get to hear much about who is providing the childcare for Mrs. Broadwell’s sons. Their dad is a radiologist who works in a city medical group, so there are many times when the boys had to be cared for by someone other than their mother for extended periods. Yet it seems she gets rewarded for sacrificing time with her children on the altar of selfish pursuits? GEN Petraeus wanted his kids well-cared-for, but it no longer matters to him for other families.

I try to console myself that, of course, I married a better man. I did. But, I never thought Petraeus was that bad. We military folk enjoyed having a scholar-leader as our policy-maker. I have enjoyed knowing my husband was enacting his policies while on mission support in Afghanistan, but this? It terrifies me that every man is susceptible to this. I know we are comprised of spirit and flesh and that men see flesh. Men love flesh. I know the Church has great wisdom in Her stance on not limiting family size, but that sure is not going to help me keep a hot bod for my husband. I am really in a tailspin here. What if I am busy mixing fingerpaint, nursing and baking muffins, while there is some hot, toned woman swooning over my pilot husband at the hangar? I am quasi-seriously entertaining thoughts of hiring a babysitter for three hours an afternoon in order to train for some ironman so that my husband won’t cheat on me. That will work right?

But, all tongue-and-cheekiness aside- what safeguards a marriage? We are on different faith trajectories from our husbands, but aside from prayer how do we keep this toxicity out of our home? Is a job that involves so much travel simply out of the question? Today’s soldiers have little choice on that matter, and, consequently their wives don’t either. Do I have to console myself that I must make all the right decisions for the health of our family and home, even if it will make me unattractive in this world? If my marriage falls apart when I haven’t had time to get makeup on before 1800 when he walks in the door, do I console myself that I did the best I could and I will be rewarded in the next life… after I finish raising our 8 children alone that is? I am nuts. Talk me down, friends.

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  • AWOL, take a deep breath. Affairs don’t happen overnight – there are little things that happen over a period of time within a marriage that leave both people more susceptible to infidelity. Keep the lines of communication open, be open and vulnerable with each other, pray together (even from a distance this can be done!), and your marriage will stay strong. Affairs are never purely about physical intimacy, but in large part about emotional intimacy.

  • Kellie “Red”

    Wise words here from Katrina! Affairs do not happen overnight. And, in addition, these sorts of indiscretions are not limited to the military field, but happen in all walks of life. I think men have to be very careful in making career choices that take them away from their families and put their career above their wife, and their children. This happens in ALL careers (businessmen, doctors, lawyers, etc), but in the military there can be an actual physical separation of distance for prolonged periods of time, which is very hard. There needs to be good communication about these sorts of career choices. Extreme insecurity in the relationship would be a good reason for a husband to avoid a job that requires long hours in the city or long periods of travel. Be open and honest about these things.

    I think regular prayer for both husband and wife is really important. Pray together AND pray as individuals. If your husband is too ‘busy’ to pray with you, or to pray at all, then there is reason to worry (not just about an affair, but about the health of his soul and your marriage). An affair seem more like a symptom of a underlying disease (an unhealthy relationship).

    As for your own health and weight etc., I think we as women do need to be concerned about our appearance, but in moderation and with the goal of looking attractive to our husband. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are obviously good ideas, but you shouldn’t be dieting or exercising out of fear — fear that you will lose your husband’s love. Do it as a gift to him and yourself, but don’t do it because you are afraid. Take time to take care of yourself — because it does matter. Sweatpants covered in spit up and failing to shower are ok for brief periods of survival mode, but it can’t be your regular wardrobe! If it is, perhaps something needs to change to allow you to have the time to care for yourself properly.

    But don’t panic. This family is not your family. You are not Mrs. Petraeus. You have no idea what was happening in their marriage prior to this incident. You have no idea what her faults are, or what his faults are. Use this unfortunate public scandal as an opportunity to strengthen your own marriage, and to relearn the lesson that you can never really judge a book by its cover.

  • Kellie “Red”

    And I’m not sure if it is just my lack of “military” knowledge, but when this story broke, I literally thought, “oh, another important man having an affair, how typical. Since he can’t keep what is going on in his bedroom quite, he certainly shouldn’t be handling national security issues.” But that was IT. I was actually shocked that he was resigning 😉 because these things seem to happen with such frequency. Sad, but true.

  • Being a wimp and going Anonymous on this one!

    AWOL, I love your honesty! Don’t forget that your marriage is blessed with an abundance of grace because it is a sacrament! I agree with everything the other ladies said!
    Ok, now here comes my crazy talk. As a former military family, I’ve seen the worst kind of infidelity happen in every rank. I understand your fear and I do think it is a harder environment than other professions for remaining faithful, because soldiers are encouraged to form deep emotional bonds with their fellow unit members and camaraderie is massively important. When we first got in, my husband and I went to his first school together with our baby because I wasn’t working, but many people were away from their spouses. We were so disillusioned by the infidelity. I just decided then and there that this whole co-ed military thing was a huge mistake with men and women spending so much time away from their spouses during deployments and schools encouraged to form bonds and be close etc etc. I actually think the schools are worse because they tend to have hours upon hours of down time in the evenings in these co-ed dorms. The whole thing is just idiotic. I don’t mean to give offense to the brave women who for the best of intentions want to serve their country. I know you served for love of country, but as I see it, more harm than good comes from a co-ed army. Plus, we want to teach our boys to protect women and never ever do them any sort of physical harm. That sort of goes out the window in a co-ed army. Pretty sure, I am the only person in America that would ever say this, but the military likes to pretend like these issues of adultery (or worse in the case of rape and abuse) are not real issues. (An example… dining ins or those new unit hazings where only the soldiers are allowed to attend without spouses and there is a lot of unit-sanctioned (even forced!) drinking involved. When it’s just one gender it’s a little dangerous, when you put the two genders together it’s just a mess. Military people act like it’s totally fine, but guess what? Stuff always happens. ) Anyway, I could probably go on and on and on about many examples, but I will just stop there.

  • First of all, do turn it off. I also take it really personally when these sorts of things happen in my husband’s work place, and I think first of all, you need to talk to your husband about how you are feeling, otherwise you may be overly sensitive right now and he has no chance of reading your mind and knowing why. Let him know that you trust him and that you know that it is sort of irrational, but still that it feels personal to you. He’ll understand and reassure you of how much he loves and respects you.

    As for preventative steps, how about, as a couple, making a commitment not to do the sorts of things that lead to this trouble. My grandmother’s line about a man who ran off with his mistress was “he shouldn’t have been dating her in the first place.” We all laughed, because it seems obvious, but in the name of equality we have pushed aside some of our traditional mores or red flags – going for runs or grabbing a meal/coffee alone with a female colleague are two things that I have specifically asked my husband not to do, because, let’s be honest, those are dates.

    I went to the park a few times with a stay at home Dad and I realized it was a problem, too. He was around more than my husband, he was super invested in his son, he was playing with my kids, talking about children’s books with me, totally speaking my love language – not at all on purpose, of course, but I could sense pretty quickly that it’s not a good idea. No matter what is going on at home, I don’t think that most people in affairs set out to fall in love with someone else. In fact, it probably causes them tons of pain and they actually wish it hadn’t happened.

    On the flip side, we DO need to date our husbands! Marriage is something that we can work at, and moms/wives need to be careful to make time to be available, fun and attractive, so that our marriages can have a fighting chance. This does not mean feeling pressure to compete with every other woman he might see, but at least making sure that he does not associate home and hearth with a miserable shrew! When he is away, if you can have contact with him, send him lots of texts or pictures from the kids, lots of loving messages, funny inside jokes, remind him in a very positive way how he is loved and needed, so that he really looks forward to coming home. Make date nights or even weekend getaways possible. Figure out his love language and make sure that you are communicating your love in the way that he needs it. Put your husband before your kids, ultimately it benefits your kids. Your kids will grow up and go away and hopefully you will still be excited to be making a home together.

    Also, very important, for some very good men, their jobs are a bit soul crushing, but they do them because they support their family. It is really important to have a healthy outlet for fun/thrills/adrenaline. One friend and her husband made a wish list and then started really working on a few of those wishes, saving for the dream trip or randomly going out to sing Karaoke or whatever. Another friend has a husband who goes away skiing with his brothers a few times each winter. When asked why she doesn’t mind she always says, he needs something to fantasize about and this is better than an affair!

  • Mrs C

    It’s not just the military. I’ve seen it quite a bit in law. And it happens in my husband’s field of work (acting) with some frequency too. Whenever this topic comes up, I always think of a quote by St Josemaria Escriva: “You should also get into the habit of taking the battle to areas that are far removed from the main walls of the fortress” (Friends of God).
    It’s an appropriate quote for this Petraeus mess, don’t you think?

    Early on in our marriage, my husband and I put into place certain measures to protect our marriage. Some of these measures have limited his career opportunities (there are certain roles he will not accept, for example). Others have made us vulnerable to ridicule by secular friends (our always cc’ing – or bcc’ing – each other in on emails with members of the opposite sex, for example). They are not foolproof but I hope we have the fortitude to persevere with them because I suspect they create a healthy check and balance system (Note to self: no female biographers!).

    I recently read a book which has a chapter on the attractiveness issue you raise. It is by a Christian writer, Shaunti Feldham, and is called ‘For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men’ ( Her advice is based on the results of a series of surveys and interviews she did with men. I highly recommend getting a copy – it can be read in one sitting and provides great insight into the way men think.
    The two things I was surprised to learn from her research regarding the attractiveness issue were:
    (a.) that men want their wives to make an effort to look good because they interpret that effort as a sign of love and/or respect (i.e. our efforts – rather than the results – directly affect their perception of our care for them); and
    (b.) men want to be proud of their wives. They are more likely to be proud of a wife who makes an effort to look good than one who does not (regardless of what the woman actually weighs).
    I’ve made a couple of changes since reading this book. The first is that I’ve started to pray for my husband’s purity on a daily basis. Another is exercise. It’s good for me and if it helps him too, then great.

    Having said this, I also think it healthy to recognize that there is only so much we can do to protect our marriages and husbands. Early on in our marriage I felt insecure/panicky about the idea of infidelity (mind you, not because of anything my husband ever said or did). I was able to get over it when I realized that only God’s love can fulfill me. That even if my husband did cheat, I would be ok. That it would be his soul rather than mine that was in jeopardy. And that if he was ever going to be that stupid, I’d probably end up feeling sorry for him. Detachment is harder now that we have children but the principle is still the same.

  • Mary

    AWOL mommy, you mustn’t worry! I agree with the wonderfully sound and sensible advice and insights offered here. An affair is not primarily about the other woman and how attractive or “hot” she is compared with his wife. Of course men love women’s bodies (God bless them!) and this can sometimes, sadly, lead them to lust, but this is not sufficient to make them have an affair! Emotionally and psychologically, an affair is primarily about who the man gets to be when he is with her. Men just want to be our heroes. A man who knows he is his wife’s hero will find it very, very difficult to betray her – even if his work takes him away from her for long periods of time – because the tremendous masculine affirmation, pride and sense of self-worth that this knowledge gives him as a man is simply too precious to him to compromise, no matter how lovely or powerful the temptation. I think sex, for men, is fundamentally about affirmation, and so long as a husband knows that his wife still finds *him* sexually attractive and desirable, the ageing of her body will not trouble him. In fact, he will love it and cherish it more and more with the years, because it is through her body – broken, softened, thickened and even scarred by her love for him – that he knows he is her hero, and his greatest desire is to be worthy of her love. A beautiful scripture that comes to mind is Proverbs 5 – “Rejoice in the wife of your youth…of whose love you will ever have your fill and by her ardor always be intoxicated.”

  • Amy B

    I do not want to belittle this man’s sin, but my gut reaction to the situation was “oh, how convenient that we are finding this all out now since he was supposed to testify on the Benghazi incident soon and now will not be testifying.” He seems to have been used like a pawn in an even graver situation. Red, I also thought it was odd that he was resigning too, since we had a President who remained in office who “did not have relations…” Wink, wink. 🙂 Perhaps I am calloused as well! I guess the one comfort is that sin likes to hide, but never can in the end. It will always be brought into the Light.
    After the election I decided to go on a media fast: no Facebook, no talk radio and no news. It has been a very peaceful two weeks for me and has lessened my anxiety over our world’s depravity. I don’t want to live ignorant of what is going on around me forever, but I really felt the Lord calling me to step away and cling to him. I will hopefully come back and be able to see these issues in a new light after having taken time be with the Lord. Perhaps this might be helpful for you as well. It is impossible to be totally separated from the world (since I still heard about Petraeus), but a little fasting can go a long way!

  • Mrs Gregory

    A husband loves a cheerful wife, chubby and out-of-shape or not. So, keeping him loved and well-fed and yourself content are crucial. In my 5 years of marriage, my 5 pregnancies have cost my body many more curves than when I started. But my husband doesn’t seem to notice as long as I am cheery.

  • Jess

    Just to piggyback on this . . . I have the same fears as the author. My weapon (besides prayer and good communication with husband): marital intimacy — the more the better! Yes, I am embarrassed to write this, but I think it really matters for my husband and I. It’s hard to be together long enough for a conversation, let alone for intimacy, but I have noticed that if I make myself available to him frequently, our marriage is stronger. He’s less frustrated and I’m less insecure. Obviously, this isn’t a magic bullet. As someone said above, the grace of a sacramental marriage is the most important thing. But . . . taking time to be together ranks second!

  • awolmommy

    Katrina, as with all your sisterly words, I want to come rub on you like a happy, purring kitty-cat. Thank you for this.

  • awolmommy

    Diet and exercise as a gift to self and him, not out of fear. Thank you for putting this this way, Red.

  • awolmommy

    why is “military” in quotes? Hysterical. This man holds so many security clearances it isn’t even funny, and on every one he swore that he had no sexual indiscretions, nor was their anyone in a position to leverage their position against him. That is why he had to resign.

  • awolmommy

    This is probably the topic for a whole other post. But I will simply say that I was more pro-women in the Army before I served than I was after what I saw during my eight years as an ROTC cadet and then as a young female officer.
    When I was trying to get stationed with my husband early in our Army careers, other officers kept telling me “Supply didn’t issue you a husband, that is not their problem.” I sort of see their point, the military is a life and death organization, I don’t think there is much space for social drama and women certainly bring that.

  • awolmommy

    If your husband ever cheats on you, can I come be your husband? You have such insight into everything.
    No co-ed runs, no coffee, weekend getaways. got it!

  • awolmommy

    Mrs. C. Me gusta mucho. I like the ccing thing. I know married couples who only have joint Facebook pages, that seems good to me. I love your point, or Feldham’s point that it is our efforts that matter, not our _Cosmo_ cover perfection. This is especially helpful right now because my lip-liner ran out and the replacement I mistakenly bought is a garish orangey-red. Nonetheless, I am using it because it is easier than taking four children back to the store. The effort is in applying the liner, he can overlook color.

  • awolmommy

    Mary, Jess. I am still so attracted to my man that this is quite easy. But we do let tiredness get in the way as we fall asleep in child trundle beds or on the couch a bit too often. I am grateful for the reminder to let him like who he is with me and not be a snappy snip. Love the Proverbs 5, instead of hearing Proverbs 31 – which tells me to get up early and grind flax!!

  • Mrs C

    You are too funny. I am sure the color is ok. Maybe you can tell him you were going for a edgy/hip look?

  • Wow, I think that 5 pregnancies in 5 years has all of us beat, you deserve a medal of honor.

  • Mrs C

    Good point, Jess. Also my experience. Shaunti Feldham also covers this in her book quite well.

  • Kellie “Red”

    I don’t know, lol! For some reason it seemed so foreign to me that I put it in quotes. haha! But your explanation makes sense. I guess I just figured if our President did this same sort of thing, and didn’t step down, why should he have to. Again, sad, but true.

  • Mrs Gregory

    Two in heaven, one in utero, two in their beds napping.

  • KC

    I know MrsGregory “in real life” and can vouch that you’re right, Mary Alice! Love you KG 🙂

  • kalimsaki

    Here is good news for you!

    Death is not destruction, or nothingness, or annihilation; it is not cessation or extinction; it is not eternal separation, or non- existence, or a chance event; it is not authorless obliteration. Rather, it is to be discharged by the Author who is All-Wise and All-Compassionate; it is a change of abode. It is to be despatched to eternal bliss, to your true home. It is the door of union to the Intermediate Realm, which is where you will meet with ninety-nine per cent of your friends.

    From Risalei Nur collection by Said Nursi.

  • m

    I survived romantic betrayal once, thankfully not in marriage. Probably the hardest question raised is the unanswered, existential fear at the center of your post–is virtue not attractive?

    Far too often for our sinful species, it’s not. To quote a philosopher, “salvation is not making it all better; it is the grace of finding a way to live that keeps faith with the importance of goodness and love even in the face of everything that can happen to you … Salvation, understood as the goal of religious or spiritual life, is a new orientation that authentically addresses the large-scale defects of human life, and thereby provides a reservoir of energy otherwise dissipated in denial of, and resistance to, necessary suffering.”

  • XY

    I survived romantic betrayal once. Probably the hardest question raised is the unanswered existential fear at the center of your post–is virtue attractive?

    For our sinful species far too often, the answer is no. But to quote the philosopher, “salvation is not making it all better; it is the grace of finding a way to live that keeps faith with the importance of goodness and love even in the face of everything that can happen to you … Salvation, understood as the goal of religious or spiritual life, is a new orientation that authentically addresses the large-scale defects of human life, and thereby provides a reservoir of energy otherwise dissipated in denial of, and resistance to, necessary suffering.”

  • Kristine

    I talked with my husband a bit about this the other day. We’re in the middle of a difficult stretch right now. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and depressed about my ability to follow all the advice here, especially the “be cheerful (always).” He said these were all good things, and they’re helpful, but **his faithfulness is his responsibility.**
    I think that’s really important to know, for both spouses. We promised faithfulness at the altar, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, forsaking all others, ’till death do us part. That promise was a gift to our spouse, and it didn’t hinge on anything they did or failed to do.
    There are so many things I’d like to be able to control in life. I’d like to keep my kids from accidents that could physically hurt them. I’d like to make my husband be faithful. I’d like to know which educational choice is right for my son, and make sure he can get in the right school or be the best homeschool mom. God is the only one who can really control all things. I can control my reactions, but not others’ actions. That is so freeing. Then I can just do my best and leave it to God (and to my husband, or children, etc).
    There’s been a degree of unfaithfulness in our marriage, and it’s a real fear for me that it could happen again. I’m so grateful that my husband didn’t blame me for his choices, for something that had a hold of him long before I met and married him. I could really get stuck (and did for awhile) on a frantic loop of trying to be perfect to make sure it didn’t happen again. But it’s not up to me to ensure that. It’s his responsibility to be faithful to me, and my responsibility to be faithful to him.