Military Marriages: Does a Higher Set of Standards Apply?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

As General David Petraeus’s marital infidelity comes to light and his storied career comes to an end, questions have arisen about his marriage, his life in the military, and whether members of the military are — or should be — held to a higher standard than the rest of us.

We asked listeners to give their take on this question yesterday, and many of you weighed in.

Frimet said on our Facebook page: "No, they should not be held to a higher standard, unless it poses a threat to our national security. We've lost too many great politicians to America's obsession with morality. Their personal lives should be separate from their public/political lives.

But what do military spouses think? And what are the unique challenges they face?

Siobhan Fallon is the author of "You Know When the Men Are Gone," a collection of stories about American soldiers and their families. Her husband, who is a major, has served in the Army for 12 years.

Krystel Spell writes the blog "Army Wife 101." Her husband is a sergeant who’s served in the Marines, the Army, and the National Guard.

Mike Schindler is a Navy veteran, and author of "Operation Military Family: How Military Couples are Fighting to Preserve Their Marriages." In researching his book, he conducted over 1,000 hours of interviews with military couples — including with high-ranking officers.

Siobhan Fallon doesn't feel that there is a pressure for military spouses to keep up appearances. "There's more an idea of acting as a role model," she says. She speaks very candidly about the difficulties of being a military spouse, but says, "The adage that a deployment can make a strong marriage stronger is definitely true, but unfortunately the inverse is also true."

"As a military spouse, there is a definite sense of feeling more for her, because I know personally what it's like to go through deployments, and your spouse being gone for so long," Spell says of Holly Petreaus. 

"As we gain power, we often as humans think we can begin to make our own rules, and so we begin to think that we can get away with some things that maybe other people can't," Mike Schindler says. "I think it's important to note that the military takes this very seriously."  

Spell says there is pressure placed on military families to be role models, but, "at the end of the day, we are humans too."

"I think the general sense is that, you know, his extra-marital affair is unbecoming, but his ownership of it is honorable," Schindler says, noting that Petraeus is still fairly well-respected in the military. Still, he adds, "That being said, the military certainly doesn't condone it, and I don't think America really condones it either." 


Siobhan Fallon, Mike Schindler and Krystel Spell

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [10]

Tyra Wahl from Beaufort SC

I find all these opinions amazing... esp when so few people giving opinions have walked in the shoes of a 20+ year active duty veteran or their spouses for that matter. Our lives are not easy by any means and we are by and large overlooked by society in general. We deal with more adversity in our marriages than ANY civilian couple, ever. Even those in poverty don't deal with the constant threats that our unions do, at least they can say they have each other to lean on, most of the time we don't even have that.

War, deployments, TAD's, IA's, work ups and too much time apart are part of the recipe for the demise of our marriages.... that and an apathetic public that cannot even seem to remember there is still a war going on.

Then you have a whole segment of the population that preys on the vulnerability of those left behind. Those people (both make and female) referred to as "Jody". A young woman in a new town with a multi-deployed husband and maybe a kid or two doesn't stand a chance against loneliness.

So why should that scenario be any different for a General? If someone wants to get their hooks in you, they will and if you are vulnerable and lonely enough you will let them.

Jul. 28 2013 04:09 PM

I am apauled at the press's desire to question Prateas's integrity,his personal humility and intelectual competance as a General because of this indescretion. The press never brought these questions to President Clinton.
If the press want to look at a group that think they are privilaged they should look at our civilian law makers, specificaly the Federal Senitors. Humility is not one of their atributes. How about the humble Wall Street executives or highly paid Holywood actors who seem to have a clear picture of all social unjustice. The reason why most Federal lawmakers do not have military service is not because they respect them so highly but because they think they are just tools/pawns for the for them to move around on their chess board. That some have listened to the Generals is a rare thing in the last 60 years.
Why is no one asking the question about the supposedly overwelming volume of e-mails for Gen. Allen. This smells of black mail.

Nov. 14 2012 06:19 PM
JLC from SF

I am more concerned with the fact that our highest intelligence officer got ensnared by email then any infidelity he may have committed.

Think of it, the head of the CIA is so careless as to use unsecured email communication for sensitive personal correspondence? It suggests he lacks the necessary skills to protect the national interest and conduct international espionage effectively.

If you get caught, you are not up to the job!

Nov. 14 2012 03:32 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Once you ask a man to kill for his country, you can expect that man to feel he has a different code of morality than the rest of the country. Each man makes his own decisions.

It doesn't matter what Military or Society's position is, each Soldier has to figure things out for himself and it might not be what his Commander in Chief wants, and by Commander in Chief, I mean his wife.

Nov. 14 2012 01:46 PM

The simple solution to this unrealistic, so called military infidelity, is to recruit Monks!

Nov. 14 2012 01:22 PM
Katie Berry from Dallas

With all we know now about the reasons for extramarital affairs -- emotional disconnect developing with a marriage being a primary one -- long military deployments away from the marriage relationship set our service people up for affairs. People NEED emotional nourishment. Either we get it trough our marital relationship to which we devote ourselves or we'll find it elsewhere. After all, Dave Patreaus is just a man, after all, and he too needs emotional connection.

Infidelity is the issue that "cannot be named." Because it's taboo, we can't talk about it and understand it for what it is. It's isolating. Those who fall into it have nowhere to turn.

As in the military, civilian life too sets marriages up for infidelity. As we seek success, we leave our marriages to die and then blame "the other woman" or our husband. I've heard that 50% of marriages suffer infidelity. That's too high to let this issue be swept under the rug and simply labeled "reprehensible moral conduct."

Maybe because Dave Patreaus is a well-repected leader, this scandal will spawn a long overdue "outing" and public discussion of this problem.

Nov. 14 2012 12:29 PM
Mike from NYC

Maybe we're asking the wrong question. No one is questioning the assumption that monogamy=morality. The bible says "Love is not jealous". Why is someone injured if their partner makes love with someone else? If you love your partner, you presumably would want their happiness, rather than to lock them into monogamy. Love is infinite, it's not like someone "spends" his limited resource of love on someone outside the marriage.
If we gave up this totally arbitrary "rule" that people must subdue their natural inclination towards expressing love with willing partners, then presidents could preside and generals could general.

Nov. 14 2012 11:26 AM
Angel from Miami, FL

Yes! A higher standard should apply to any woman or man in our government with access to information critical to our safety and defense. Though any transgressions made don't have to be made public until that person is removed from their office.

Nov. 14 2012 09:33 AM
TLO from Michigan

My husband will be leaving for his second deployment the day after Thanksgiving. This broadcast was a disappointment and focused too much on the affairs of General Petraeus. Discussion about how to help military couples stay strong during deployment would have been more productive and had greater potential to positively impact your listeners.

Nov. 14 2012 09:26 AM
Catherine from Colorado

Being a former service member and personally seeing thousands (and I do not exaggerate the numbers) of marriages fall apart, I did feel the military was interfering in family law by actually charging the members with criminal charges under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice for extramarital affairs or not meeting military (not court-ordered) support requirements. While the service member was always held accountable, the non-military spouses were oftentimes taking full advantage of the situation. Under the military's policies, the member must continue to support a spouse, even one who has cleaned out the account while their spouse served overseas in a combat zone and living with a new boyfriend or girlfriend, trying to drag out the divorce as long as possible to rack up government benefits, even having children of adulterous affairs in military hospitals on taxpayer dollars. The member meanwhile lives in a constant state of anxiety wondering if the spouse will keep calling his or her commanding officer seeking more money or alleging relationships. From what I saw, these soured marriages and the military's policies directly influenced many members to opt into suicide. I definitely feel that the military needs to reconsider its role in handling the service members' family issues. Also, I think the taxpayers should realize where their money is ending up. Obviously, a member should always take care of his or her family, especially children, but when the child-less able-bodied spouse has left the member penniless, living with the new boyfriend, and then demanding the spouse continue to pay more money and blackmailing the members over real or imagined affairs, something has gone terribly wrong with that system. We owe it to our service members, their loved ones, and the taxpayers to really consider if the current policies are best for out nation.

Nov. 14 2012 08:10 AM

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