Caught Unaware

I’ve been pondering the plight of the spouses caught unaware in the Petraeus affair.  It seems all the players in the drama sought some personal gain from their relationships with the others.  They were all climbers, but we know little about the spouses.

What we know about Holly Petraeus is she has worked admirably on behalf of military families and she hails from a well-connected military family. We know little else, except that she is facing a very public betrayal.  Even if she had prior suspicions of infidelity, the publicity is humiliating.  She certainly seems to be a victim in the drama.

The Twelve Step tradition teaches addiction recovery seekers to examine their own role in their victimization.  This is a pretty tough teaching.  I know recovery seekers who were victims of child sexual abuse, and they strenuously resist the idea that an innocent child could in any way be culpable for adult actions against him.  I must affirm child victims bear no blame for crimes against them whatsoever.  The most insidious and lasting consequences of abuse are the blame and shame abuse survivors carry into adulthood.

The Twelve Step teaching is pointing to a different occasion of victimization.  Often people wounded in childhood develop behavior patterns that continually rip the scabs off old sores that can never heal.  It is not the initial wounding that is being called out for examination but the response to wounding.  The Twelve Steps teach recovery seekers to examine how impaired responses lead to behavior patterns that expose them to more wounding, and more importantly, what alternative responses are possible.

Holly Petraeus would seem to be in no way accountable for the actions of betrayal by her husband.  His actions are clearly on his side of the street, and he has taken responsibility publicly for that.  Nothing suggests Holly Petraeus experienced childhood wounding or has Twelve Step experience, but nonetheless I do ponder how her own actions may have exposed her to injury.

Let me first reject out of pocket notions that her appearance invited betrayal.  Trying to live up to another person’s or a cultural ideal of beauty is a recipe for unhappiness.  The Twelve Step tradition has a name for it—people pleasing.  People pleasing is seeking affirmation not from what is authentic within our own souls but from others’ opinions of us.  It’s proven to be a losing proposition.   I don’t know if Holly Petraeus has people pleasing tendencies, but she appears not to be a slave to fashion, and I applaud her for that.

What were Holly Petraeus’ alternatives?  She grew up in a powerful military family.  When she married, she chose to stay in the ecosystem that prized her connections.  She could have married outside the military, to someone who might have valued her only for her authentic self.  Attractions are a complex mix of personality, intelligence, soulfulness, and, undeniably, looks and power.  I couldn’t possibly deconstruct her husband’s attraction 38 years ago, much less the attraction of hypothetical non-military suitors.

The question does, however, invite us to contemplate what draws us into relationship.  Am I seeking some personal gain, a lifestyle or cachet?  Do I seek validation based on my connections, looks or power?  Or is it genuine appreciation of another human soul that leads me into relationship?

Join the conversation.  What relationships have most nurtured you and what was your initial attraction?

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