By Alison Buckholtz
WASHINGTON — "I have no words, no questions," Penelope proclaims after seeing her husband, Odysseus, for the first time in 20 years, after he has made his way home from fighting in the Trojan War. "If it really is Odysseus, and he is home, we will recognize each other well enough; there are secrets that we two know and no one else."
As a military wife who has watched my husband come and go from multiple long deployments (this century's eight-to-12 month variety), I share Penelope's understanding of spousal intimacy. It's not the actual physical cheating I worry about; it's that distance will erode the sense that it's the two of us against the world, or that the intense new experiences that inevitably result from war will intrude on the feeling that we are co-conspirators in life. I'm not alone in that concern. Though military spouses (including me) are careful not to speak of the Petraeus family specifically, because of the strong impulse to protect Holly Petraeus from further pain (many in the community know her personally, others have benefited from her advocacy work, and the rest feel that she's part of their "military family"), the recent headlines have prompted a quiet discussion in military-spouse circles about whether infidelity is a hazard of military life.
"I never saw it coming," one friend told me after discovering that her husband had multiple affairs during a series of deployments, and who has stayed in the marriage. "But in the military, you're given more opportunities for infidelity, and there are more stresses, which lead to bad choices. You've got the distance, you've got the long hours, you've got the drinking. There's always a temptation. I'm not stupid, and my husband is a pretty good guy. So what about all the schmucks?"