Dear New Shrink,
Everyone is talking about it and I simply do not understand how CIA director Gen. David Petraeus could end up having an affair when he has been married for 38 years. As a married person, this really worries me. Can you offer any insights?
Concerned Married person
A long-term and happy marriage is a wonderful thing. In this case they have had children together, creating a hopefully happy family. It is definitely a hard thing to give up and one that is not easily compromised.
By all accounts, the two military people who had the affair were both married with children. So as the story goes, Gen. Petraeus had a lot in common with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. She had served in the military, rising to the rank of major in the Army Reserve. They were both very active and physically fit. Word has it that they started their initial interviews while running together.
From what I can tell, albeit from a distance, his testosterone was still working for him and I think most people would agree that she, whether you like her right now or not, is a very attractive woman.
Having a lot in common and lots of shared stories and experiences helps to create a close friendship. In marriage, you may still have a lot in common — your children, family, and a history — but a new person who shares many of your current experiences and seems to really understand you is very powerful.
Let us not forget that Broadwell was spending a lot of time with the general in order to write his biography. This means so much more than just time together, although what I have already said is enough to spark the interest, but not necessarily enough for any compromising action.
It’s important to realize that we all have a deep need to be understood and to be known for who we really are. As a biographer, the questions asked and information shared would only get more and more intimate over time. As the trust and closeness builds, more is revealed. This feeling of connection can be a very powerful aphrodisiac.
When you really understand the profound feeling of being understood and appreciated by someone who seems to really know you, someone that you also have a lot in common with and you may also find physically attractive, the chemistry created is extremely powerful.
It seems like what happened is more of a falling into an affair that is already practically happening vs. a decision to have an affair. These conditions are powerful and all of us can be vulnerable to them.
I think the operative word “decision” should have come into the picture before it got so far along. When the fire was stirring, one or both of them should have stepped back. A good way to step back is to talk about the feelings that are evolving and bring the rational mind into the picture. Do we really want to take this further? Are we willing to take the chance of what it could mean?
This seems to be why everyone expected so much more from someone who has been as heroic in so many ways as has Gen. Petraeus. If not him, the master of strategy, then who can use their decision-making powers? Then again, perhaps he was simply tired of always making the right decisions. Maybe it was just that chemistry that got the best of him.
In your marriage, it is really important to keep your interest in each other alive and well. It means date nights and special time together on a regular basis. Often as marriages progress, we just take the love for granted and we focus more on the children, overall family, what needs to get done and our future plans. It is not unusual that we forget to think about and make sure we are truly in sync with our partners.
I am not saying that this was the case with either of the two because I don’t know them, but I do know that if you are current and real with your partner and you feel that deep connection on a regular basis, it is far less likely that you would continue down a path that might just undo your marital relationship.
If you are feeling neglected, resentful or angry about anything, find a way to talk with your partner; be real. And keep your eyes and ears open; don’t assume anything when there is an unusual situation occurring.
Stay clear, current and close.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and a licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her a www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous inquires to firstname.lastname@example.org Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters — because it does!