By Terri Orbuch PhD
What motivates men like Gen. David Petraeus, who seemingly “has it all,” to throw away his marriage, prestige, and career with an affair? What drives his behavior, the consequences of which cause him to face public humiliation in the aftermath, and subject his family to the same?
Here are five ways to understand why powerful men risk it all to have an affair:
The illusion of invulnerability.
Often, powerful men have affairs because they think they won’t get caught. And even if they do, they believe they won’t get in trouble because they have the resources to cover it up. These men often don’t worry about the long-term effects of their actions on others, only the short-term gains for themselves.
Ample opportunities for temptation.
Wealth, fame, and power are attractive to many women, who make themselves available to powerful men, sometimes aggressively and without scruples. Also, as was the case for Gen. Petraeus, such men are often away from home for days and weeks at a time. Loneliness and the desire for female companionship can trigger infidelity.
Many powerful men have positions that require a lot of responsibility, authority, and risk taking. They perform well under high stress and continually need and enjoy excitement or challenges to drive them forward. An affair gives them that same type of exhilaration in their private life.
Enabled by yes men.
Powerful men tend to be surrounded by people who protect them, idolize them, and even “enable” their vices in order to remain inside their influential orbit. Being surrounded by people who don’t challenge your decisions or give you honest feedback has an effect on your ego and your sense of propriety and limits.
Desire for change.
Let’s not forget that powerful men are still men, and usually an affair signals an internal need for change. Something in the man’s life or his relationship isn’t okay — and the affair creates the trigger for change. Boredom and relationship ruts are common reasons couples cite for infidelity after many years of marriage.
While influence, wealth, and celebrity may present some additional challenges that are unique to powerful men, the fact is that not all such men succumb to infidelity. And the explanations above are certainly not excuses for the behavior of those who do.
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Terri Orbuch PhD is a bestselling author, professor, and the director of a landmark, 25-year study of marriage and divorce that’s funded by the NIH. A popular love advisor on TV, radio, and online, she blogs for Huffington Post and Next Avenue, among others, and has a private therapy practice. She is author of a new book, Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship (Sourcebooks, 2012), and a previous book, 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great(Random House). Learn more at http://www.drterrithelovedoctor.com./