Gen. David Petraeus is just the most recent in a long line of powerful men to cheat on their wives. From former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to New York Gov. Mayor Eliot Sptizer and basically every U.S. president ever, high-profile leaders have been having extramarital affairs for centuries.
But why exactly do powerful men cheat? And why did Petraeus throw away his position as director of the CIA and tarnish a reputable military career for another woman when the risk is so much greater than the reward?
Robin Williams once said, “God gave men both a penis and a brain, but unfortunately not enough blood supply to run both at the same time” — an idea that could have some basis in biological truth. Conventional wisdom has it that men in positions of power have affairs because they can, and women engage in these affairs because they are attracted to power. But it could be a little more complex than that.
Renowned marriage and relationship psychologist Dr. Sheri Meyers, who has shared her expertise on CNN, Fox and countless other TV networks and radio shows, talked to The Daily Caller about why powerful men cheat, what could driven Petraeus to cheat, and what led to his eventual downfall.
“If we look at power and success, what makes most men rise through the ranks? It’s the willingness to break through ranks and take risks,” Meyers said. “For many of us who are conservative, and scared, they do not become heads of corporations.”
The inherent characteristics of successful, powerful people are some of the same traits that cause them to have affairs. Meyers said that the brain chemical dopamine has a lot to do with what drives both successful men and women to cheat.
“People who have uninhibited dopamine receptors are much more willing to take risks. People who have low dopamine tend to be more conservatives,” Meyers told TheDC. “Dopamine is what makes you feel good. Risk takers seek dopamine. What addicts addicts to drugs? It’s the dopamine surge you get. People who jump out of planes, race cars, etc. What the hell drives them? It’s dopamine.”
“Dopamine is at the heart of affairs,” she continued. “When dopamine takes over we become less smart: love stupid, lust stupid. When there’s dopamine, there’s not a lot of rational cognitive thinking going on.”
So the very chemical that drives someone to succeed, could very well drive them downward. But there are other factors at play in the Petraeus-Broadwell affair, Meyers suspects.
“My theory about that affair is that it wasn’t just about sex — it was a love affair as well. They had a lot in common. Military men and women have higher incidences of affairs because they’re away from their families,” she said. “You’re in a high-risk situation. You’re away from your family, you’re lonely. If you’re away for months or years at a time, it’s a natural instinct to want to connect with somebody.”
Meyers thinks that Petraeus eventually realized what he was doing was not smart, and broke off the relationship. For Broadwell it was much harder to rid herself of the emotional connection — and that’s when she grew obsessive and jealous of a Petraeus family friend, Jill Kelley (who is now entangled in scandalous matters of her own.)
“My guess is that [Broadwell] went into withdrawal from the high of the affair. The other side of [the high of being in an affair] is a devastating low. You’re looking for anything to fill the gap — chances are her mind started to all the possibilities.”
And that’s when she started the e-mail harassment that led to Petraeus’ downfall.
“Risk-taking personalities are bold — bold people make bold decisions,” Meyers said.