What About the Petraeus-Broadwell Spouses?

Wives are more apt to forgive an affair than husbands, say experts.

November 14, 2012, 1:16 PM

Nov. 15, 2012— -- Hollister "Holly" Knowlton Petraeus was "furious" over her husband's affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, but experts say that her role as a military wife and her 38 years of marriage to Gen. David Petraeus suggest she'll likely stand by her man.

But what's good for the goose is not always good for the gander. Dr. Scott Broadwell may not view the sexual betrayal by his wife as charitably.

"From the couples I have seen where the woman had the affair, it's a much harder fight for the couple to get back on some kind of track," said Pamela Everett Thompson, a clinical psychologist from Atlanta.

"What's interesting about the male psyche is that when men are in this position, over and over again, they ask the question, 'Why, why, why?' They just can't get past the shock that it's actually happened to them. There is a real breakdown in communication."

The Broadwells met in Germany when both served in the military. She is a 40-year-old West Point graduate and an Army Reserve officer. He is a 43-year-old radiologist. They live with their two sons, 4 and 6, in Dilworth, N.C.

When the news of the Petraeus scandal broke late Friday, the couple was celebrating her 40th birthday at the romantic Middleton Inn in Washington, Va., according to the New York Daily News.

When they arrived on Thursday, they were "upbeat," but as they checked out early on Saturday, "all of a sudden, they are not in very good moods," a source at the inn told the newspaper.

They did not immediately return to their home in North Carolina, according to press reports, perhaps to avoid the onslaught of publicity.

In an interview with ABC News, U.S. Army Col. Steve Boylan said Holly Petraeus was "furious" about husband's affair with Broadwell that ended four months ago.

"It was a colossal mistake. He knows that," said Boylan, who spoke with Petraeus over the weekend. "He's acknowledged that. It happened. He brought it out and took responsibility that it happened and now he and his family is going to try to move forward and past this."

Boylan was confident the Petraeus family would work things out.

Petraeus, 60, began the affair with Broadwell last year, just two months after he was appointed head of the CIA.

"As you can imagine she's not exactly pleased right now," Boylan said on "Good Morning America," of Holly Petraeus

"'Furious would be an understatement,'" David Petraeus said of his wife's reaction, according to Boylan.

"I think anyone that's been put in that situation would probably agree. He deeply hurt the family," Boylan said.

At 59, Holly Petraeus is the mother of two adult children, and a summa cum laude graduate of Dickinson College.

She is the daughter of Gen. William Knowlton, who was superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point when her husband was a cadet.

Today, she is the assistant director of service member affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

David Petraeus, a 1974 graduate of West Point, was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007 to lead the American military surge in Iraq and, later, was commander of forces in Afghanistan.

In 2011, he became President Obama's director of the CIA, serving until he resigned after his romance with Broadwell was exposed last week.

Thompson, who worked in the Atlanta mayor's office as a younger woman, has seen the vulnerabilities of men in power and likes to paraphrase comedian Chris Rock: "It's really all about the opportunity presented to a man, and if you've never had the opportunity you might be the most faithful guy on earth."

Even so, the couple's marriage has lasted well into middle age.

"If I were her, I would look at an entire life -- kids, grandkids. They have been partners their whole life," said Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington psychologist and a couples adviser for AARP.

"He says he is remorseful, and that is a big thing," she said. "He can say that he didn't really know what he was doing, he had a lapse of judgment and was profoundly unhappy about it.

"If he lies down and pees on himself, which is hard for a man like that, his wife will likely forgive," said Schwartz. "She'll say, 'OK, we'll go to therapy and a get a pound of flesh as opposed to leaving.'"

How Good Were the Marriages?

The key is whether the marriage has been a good one. If so, she'll "find a way to stay with dignity."

"There's a lot pushing both people to stay," Schwartz said of the Petraeuses.

For the Broadwells, much will depend on how he can deal with the "enormous amount of exposure and humiliation factor," said Schwartz.

"But there are men who stay who love their wives desperately," she said. "Men are capable of great love, too. You can't discount that. ... But you have to be a very strong man to withstand that kind of knowledge."

Dr. Judy Kuriansky, a Columbia University psychologist and author of the "Complete Idiot's Guide to Relationship," agreed.

"[Scott Broadwell] has a lot at stake here," she said. "He's got his reputation."

As for Holly Petraeus, Kuriansky, a military brat herself, suspected that the four-star general's wife is probably a realist.

"She shouldn't have been majorly surprised," she said. "Being a veteran herself, and knowing her husband was away and in a powerful position, this woman would have had to have blinders on."

As for her husband, "The temptations are tremendous," said Kuriansky. "He would have to have been iron man."

None of the psychologists condoned Petraeus' infidelity, including Kuriansky. But having met the general at an October military ball in New York City, Kuriansky said she, too, was mesmerized

"He was gracious and handsome -- a good-looking guy, fit and such a gentleman with a big smile on his face, very approachable and not cold," she said. "He had the same charm as when I have met [President Bill] Clinton. ... When he speaks, you feel he is present."

And, like Petraeus, Clinton had his monumental affair, and Hillary Clinton, now a dynamic secretary of state, is still standing by her man.

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