Good question. Most military spouses I've heard from in the past week say plainly that marriage is hard regardless of the circumstances, but that the military environment seems to exacerbate the normal tensions that any couple might face, whether they involve money, raising the kids or extracurricular sexual activities. Those who have experienced a spouse's cheating tend to think it's as contagious as the plague, like the friend quoted above, who feels like "the culture of the military contributed to the problem." Others believe it's a "man" problem rather than a "military" problem. As another military spouse told me, pointedly, "Infidelity is a hazard of life" — not military life.
Who's right? I called Kayt Sukel, the author of "Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships," and a former Army spouse, to get her take. During her years as an Army wife on a military base in Germany, she led her unit's family readiness group, a command-sponsored organization of family members that provides support, outreach and information. Here, she learned the concept of the "home team/away team" — meant to refer to American troops who are married to women in the United States but who also have common-law wives and children at their overseas post. "Any sort of high-stress life that takes you away from your primary partner for months at a time presents a risk," she says, "and falling in love affects your judgment. So it doesn't surprise me that [the officers in the headlines] weren't acting as discreetly as they should."
Sukel doesn't blame the impulse to seek comfort outside of marriage on the military, but believes that military norms may inadvertently support the behavior because "people keep each other's secrets. You can't talk about where you're going or what your mission is; you've sworn not to reveal your whereabouts or your schedule. You trust the guys in your unit, you're not going to let anything operational slip, and you're not going to let anything else slip, either."