Some are excitement junkies. Others feel omnipotent, bored or are plagued by loneliness.
There are all sorts of reasons why powerful men cheat, agree experts, but one thing is for sure: the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
The latest to join the Hall of Shame is former four-star general David Petraeus, who abruptly resigned as CIA director on Friday and admitted to an extramarital affair.
Petraeus, a highly-acclaimed architect of war, was the architect of his own demise, self-destructed by a sex scandal just like other high-profile philanderers including Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer.
“The more powerful men are, the more risks they take, and the more risks they take, the more powerful they feel,” says infidelity expert Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil. “And what’s riskier than compromising national security?”
But it’s a path to mass destruction. The thrill-seeking, stress-busting and self-medicating quick fixes provide an endorphin high but ultimately, “the very thing that they need to make them feel powerful is the very thing that will torpedo their public and private life,” says the New York therapist at doctorbonnie.com.
The general and “his instrument of mass destruction” are under siege. His career and reputation are in ruins, likely too his marriage.
According to Dr. Terri Orbuch, “powerful men are especially vulnerable to common traps that jeopardize marriages.” Consequences be damned!
“Petraeus was probably lonely, lustful and stressed out - the reasons most people have affairs. The affair with Paula Broadwell offered temporary relief from the strains of his weighty position,” surmises Orbuch, a marriage and relationship expert.
Influence, wealth, and celebrity can promote bad behaviour. For powerful men, their resources and influence often give them a false sense of invincibility, says Orbuch, and this is fueled by an entourage of yes men “who don’t help them check inappropriate or misguided behaviour.”
And women flock to them, making themselves amply available, says Orbuch, of drterrithelovedoctor.com.
Orbuch agrees that an affair can feed that need for thrills. “When risk takers, natural-born leaders and brilliant innovators achieve their mammoth goal - win a war, conquer a market sector or sell a $100-million company, for example - they have to then find a challenge that’s even greater in order to feel that same level of fulfillment…”
Experts agrees that boredom and relationship ruts are major affair triggers. “This doesn’t necessarily mean Gen. Petraeus’ marriage was bad, only that he may have felt unfulfilled in some way - even simply because of geography and their extended physical separation from one another,” says Orbuch.
According to Eaker Weil, 70% of men cheat; “one partner in 80% of marriages has an affair.”
Generally, the most stressed-out men are the most likely to have affairs – “it calms them down momentarily and fills that emotional chemical emptiness but not for long,” says Eaker Weil, author of Adultery: The Forgivable Sin.
Meanwhile, seems the axis of evil was aligned – there was means, motive and opportunity.
“When a woman appears in the life of a powerful man and offers to place him in the centre of her world – for example, write a book about him - the possibility of a pleasant diversion might prove an irresistible opportunity to a mind fatigued by the weight of responsibility and the accumulating jet lag of constant travel,” says Dr. Rick Kirschner, of theartofchange.com.
“It might - and apparently did - take more self control than even a General can muster to enjoy such attention without wanting more,” adds Kirschner.
Keep your eyes open to these red flags, advises infidelity expert Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil.
- Picks fights
- Acts unappreciated
- Becomes critical and finds fault
- Become distant and non-communicative
- Carries cellphone with him everywhere at home
- Changes his image, i.e. loses weight, buys new clothes
- Telling you there’s something wrong with you and you should seek professional help
- Repeatedly brings up someone’s name, followed by glowing comments
- Changes his money behaviour
- Changes in sexual behaviour, patterns, positions and frequency – wants more sex or to sexually experiment
- Buys gifts and does good deeds, such as chores around the house and helps more with the kids – “this assuages the guilt he’s feeling and it counteracts his bad behaviour away from home.”
- Unexplained absences.
- Starts leaving earlier for work and arriving home later.