Petraeus: When Love Fails

Cleared for release by Joint Staff Public Affairs

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.

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at
  • Heather

    Bottom line, he allowed himself to give into his desires for an attractive woman who looks nothing like his wife. There are obvious differences here, and no that is no excuse for his infidelity, but, it is what it is. He was the
    General at Fort Campbell when my husband was stationed there. The man was never home, and obviously when he was he was not nurturing his marriage. With this said, it really is none of our business and I think it is shameful that he chose to announce it as he has. This has been incredibly disrespectful to his wife in my opinion.

    • Mary

      Totally, totally agree Heather. I also question, through my long life’s experience as a 74 year old, that this is the first dalliance the general has enjoyed. I also find it interesting that his mea culpa included a sudden realization that he was doing something against the (official) policy of the CIA and the marriage vows he took so long ago. Most of these guys only come to that shocking mind set after they have been found out.

  • IA gal

    So sad on so many fronts.
    What really makes me angry as a woman and wife, though, is that we almost never hold “the other woman” accountable for their part in these affairs. Certainly she knew he was married, and yet selfishly she also allowed herself to be a part of it. When are we women going to start standing up for the marriages of other women and leave married men alone?

    • Guest

      No one twisted his arm and made him cheat. It was his decision and his responsibility.

  • Lee

    The FBI had known about this for awhile. His biographer had gotten into his email account. She had sent threatening emails to another woman (the wife?) who was fearful enough to notify the Feds. The Feds were worried about a security leak. When they started checking his emails, they discovered some of a sexual nature between him and his biographer and some between them where they tried using a code. The Obama admin knew about this but they wanted to hold off on it till after the elections.

  • Catisha

    My whole problem is not the fact that he had the affair, not that his mistress is a fantasy of his, but the disrespect that it shows to all military wives! You look up to someone like the General to lead our spouses in the right direction. Not just in combat but as an ideal soldier. How can you be that hypocrite when you have someone on the side?! I feel incredibly embarrassed by what they did to that poor woman! I hope that she comes out of this okay!!

  • Guest

    And he could have kept his pants zipped. I get hit on all the time. I don’t cheat. It’s that simple.

  • spouse2000

    They did not fail – he failed.