Military wives stay mum on the subject of infidelity



They talk about almost everything, military spouses.

In running groups, prayer groups, writing groups, many spouses say they lean on one another heavily while their partners are overseas on yet another deployment in this decade of war. They discuss how to explain drones to the kids, how desperately they need jobs and how to keep positive during the weekly Skype session to Afghanistan with a husband they've not touched in six months. Community is tight, conversation frank.

But not when it comes to the topic of cheating.

The rest of America may be fixated on retired Gen. David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell — what they did or didn't do and when, what it means about military culture and power and whether it's inevitable that two people will have an affair if they spend enough time together jogging and talking about counterintelligence — but in military circles the subject appears to be largely taboo.

Military Spouse magazine put a statement on its website soon after the Petraeus-Broadwell news broke, saying it would not be writing about the subject, not even generally. (The statement got hundreds of Facebook "Likes" and cheers of "Bravo!") On the multiple Facebook pages where enlisted people and their loved ones meet virtually, the scandal is either unmentioned or referred to in the briefest shorthand, like elevator chitchat you might make about the weather.

Part of the reason for this is a relatively small community (active military and their families comprise only about 1 percent of Americans) hesitant to be seen as gossiping about Petraeus and his wife, Holly, who is beloved for her advocacy of military families. But it goes to a much more raw, sensitive issue in a culture where cheating on your spouse is a crime that can be held against your career and yet relationships are struggling after a decade of separations.

"I can't think of a single example of a family readiness group or a spouse group meeting or anywhere even quasi-public where it would be discussed," even before the Petraeus affair came out, said Alison Buckholtz, a Navy wife and author who led a group of spouses from 2006 to 2009 while her husband was deployed. "Even this week, a lot of military spouses I know said, they don't want to talk about it, it's just too close to home."

Sara Horn, founder of the website Wives of Faith, which connects Christian military spouses to support their marriages, said she returned a few weeks ago from a conference for women connected with the military and of the 52 sessions, there were none on fidelity. In recent days, even in her leadership team, no one has mentioned the Petraeuses.

"As a military spouse you have a lot on you . . . I think a lot of women are just focused on trying to do right by their marriages and families and are focused on that," she said.

Yet the absence of the topic seems glaring in a community where the many challenges to fidelity are obvious: Spouses are apart for months on end, sometimes repeatedly, far from home in life-and-death situations with comrades who are often sworn to secrecy on who did what, when, where.

Kristina Kaufmann, 42, the wife of an Army colonel who advocates on military issues, said soaring suicide rates in military families have finally forced into the open conversations about mental health, "and that seems to be more acceptable than conversations around infidelity."

The U.S. military is a community in transition. The percentage of people married has been rising since 2000, Defense Department statistics show, at 57 percent in 2011, up from 53 percent in 2000. And people are remaining in longer as the economy makes staying put in a secure job with benefits attractive. Women are more visible, including in some positions of leadership.

Experts say there is no data on whether military partners (men or women) are more or less likely than any other Americans to stray. The divorce line goes straight up since 2000 and is believed to now be comparable to that of the general public, said Joyce Wessel Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, based in Alexandria, Va. In response to the rising divorce rates, the Army has recently been promoting a chaplain-led weekend marriage retreat for recently returned soldiers and their spouses called "Strong Bonds."

Raezer and others said that rate is expected to rise as more troops come home for good. Sheila Casey, wife of former Army chief of staff Gen. George Casey, made news a few years ago when she testified that military couples were so slammed by the multiple deployments "they haven't had time to get divorced."

One thing that hasn't changed — and that has even been amplified during the intense demands of the past decade — is the tendency in the military to focus on the positive. Several spouses who have led support groups said there's a fear that a complaint about one's marriage could somehow morph into something that might sound like a complaint about military life.

"We all in this country, we all wear masks. But I think in the military it's important to put your best face forward, keep everything together," said Kaufmann. "I think no one wants to say, infidelity has increased or is more because of these [multiple deployment] pressures because no one wants to make an excuse for it. But there is a difference between making an excuse and putting things into context."

Yet every aspect of culture has its mythology. Like foreign correspondents or politicians who jet off to Washington five days a week, some members of the military community see the separations and change as an asset to marriage, more romantic.

But who wants to live a myth? A thread on online military chatter in recent days is the vibe that the civilian world is looking at military sex lives like a zoo visitor through a glass, making them sound either more exotic or more unstable than they may feel on a typical day.

"With 18 veterans killing themselves every day . . . we're too busy to focus on this," Kaufmann said about why there's been so little chatter among people she knows in the military about the Petraeus-Broadwell saga.

"Maybe I wear rose-colored glasses. Or maybe I am just a realist. There is not one part of me that can buy into infidelity being a military thing. It is a human nature thing," Wayne Perry, a stay-at-home dad married to an Army combat medic based at Fort Riley, Kan., wrote last week on a military blog. Commenters agreed.

"Cheating isn't due to separation," one wrote. "It's due to some people being cheating cheaters who cheat, which is a preexisting condition."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Web Developer

£18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Graduate Database Developer (SQL)

£18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor