Problems with Marriage in the Military

Feb 14, 2024 | Divorce, Military Divorce, Relationships

Marriage in the military comes with its own set of obstacles, ranging from frequent deployments to the stress of reintegration. These challenges can put a significant strain on relationships, leading to higher divorce rates compared to civilian marriages. Let’s delve into some of the significant issues faced by couples within the military community.

 

Factors Contributing to High Divorce Rates in the Military

Did you know that couples in the military industry have the highest divorce rates out of any other work industry? First and foremost, the military is more than just a job. The military has to come first, even before the marriage at times. Plus, there are other factors contributing to these high divorce rates in the military. We discuss below.

Deployment

When couples and families face extended periods away from one another, it poses a significant challenge on them. These challenges encompass a wide range of issues, including emotional strain, communication barriers, and logistical hurdles. For an example of some logistical hurdles, they may include finding childcare, redistributing household responsibilities, planning events around a long period of leave, and more. 

The nature of the military industry

The demanding nature of military service, including long hours, high-stress environments, and frequent relocations, can also contribute to marital discord by limiting quality time spent together and increasing tension within the relationship and home. For example, one Redditor, 25justthrowmeaway, on r/Army said it best:

“It takes a strong spouse to come to terms with being away from their loved one for long periods of time; going weeks months or even years without physically seeing them. Not to even mention the CONSTANT moving every 3-4yrs, thus being unable to form longterm friendships or secure a job. Spouses for the most part have to put their entire professional and personal lives on hold for the entire time their spouse is in the military. Not everyone is ready for that kind of commitment.”   

Financial issues

Financial instability, resulting from lower pay scales, frequent moves, and the additional expenses associated with military life, can further exacerbate marital strain. For instance, young couples starting out in military life may not make enough money to feel comfortable. A full-time enlisted Army Private with under two years of experience makes about $24,000 per year, according to GoArmy.com. Add on top of that deployment and a high-stress work environment, and you’ve got yourself a whirlwind of potential marital problems. 

Military culture

In addition, the culture of the military, with its emphasis on duty, honor, and sacrifice, may prioritize the needs of the service over those of the family, leading to feelings of neglect or resentment among spouses and children. For example, military spouses often say they feel that the military comes before their marriage. This is because of the nature of the work a military personnel has committed to–protecting the country over everything else.

Mental health issues

A sad, but real fact of military life is the prevalence of mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and substance abuse, which can contribute to marital problems. PTSD from the military can be caused by the trauma of war. These conditions may affect communication, intimacy, and overall relationship satisfaction. 

Infidelity 

According to CBS News, 70% of military counselors reported infidelity as a problem in military marriages. It’s no wonder infidelity is considered an “epidemic” in the military industry, as reported by CBS News, because of the long separations between couples and high stress work environments. 

 

Military Marriage Problems and Its Affect on Military Readiness

Problems in marriage can significantly impact military readiness, potentially compromising the effectiveness and efficiency of military operations. The Department of Defense explains “readiness” as the following:

“The United States military prides itself on always being ready to respond to the orders of the President. The requirements of what goes into “being ready” are determined by the senior leaders of each military service based on global commitments and priorities and are validated by Department of Defense policy makers. These requirements ensure that soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines receive necessary training and well-maintained equipment that enables them to succeed no matter the mission. When readiness suffers, the risks to forces increase.”

One way marital issues can affect military readiness is through their impact on the mental and emotional well-being of service members. When military personnel are dealing with marital problems such as conflict, separation, or divorce, their focus and concentration may be compromised, leading to decreased performance and productivity. 

In addition, marital issues can also manifest in physical symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, or health problems, which can further detract from military readiness. Service members experiencing physical-manifesting marital problems may struggle to maintain fitness standards or meet deployment readiness requirements, impacting their ability to fulfill their duties effectively. 

Even further, widespread marital issues can have an impact on retention and recruitment efforts which indirectly affects readiness. High divorce rates and marital dissatisfaction within the military can contribute to decreased morale and job satisfaction among service members, leading to higher attrition rates and difficulties in retaining experienced personnel. The perception of instability or lack of support for military families may deter potential recruits from joining the military, affecting recruitment goals and overall force readiness.

The bottom line? Addressing marital problems within the military is crucial not only for the well-being of service members and their families but also for maintaining military readiness and operational effectiveness. 

 

Effects on Military Personnel and Families

Divorce and marriage problems can not only impact the couple directly involved but also may affect children and extended family members. The individuals indirectly impacted by a divorce can often be overlooked, as they are not the ones directly experiencing its immediate effects. Let’s dive into the ways that families of military marriage. 

Lack of support systems

The lack of support systems for military families is a significant concern that can exacerbate the challenges they face. While the military provides some resources for families, such as counseling services and support groups, these may be insufficient, low quality, or underutilized due to factors like stigma or limited access.

One deleted Redditor on r/USMilitarySO gave advice on parenting while one spouse is active in the military: 

“I thought I was ready for it but my baby was in the nicu for 140 days and I did everything completely alone. Even now he’s deployed and I have 0 help and 0 friends to talk to about it. I’m sure it all gets much easier when the kids are older but when they’re babies and toddlers it feels near impossible sometimes.”

Compromise quality of parenting

The quality of parenting may decline when parents are preoccupied with marital issues, leading to inconsistencies in discipline, decreased involvement in children’s activities, or diminished emotional support. This can leave children feeling neglected or unloved, affecting their self-esteem and confidence.

Emotional stress

Witnessing parental conflict can create emotional distress and anxiety for children, impacting their overall well-being and sense of security. Constant exposure to arguments, tension, and hostility within the household can lead to feelings of fear, confusion, and helplessness, ultimately affecting their mental and emotional development. For example, the Institute for Family Studies explained that “children from high-conflict homes are more likely to have poor interpersonal skills, problem solving abilities and social competence.”

Worsening parental behavior

Strained marital relationships can also result in changes in parental behavior, such as increased irritability, withdrawal, or preoccupation with marital problems, which can indirectly impact children’s daily routines and care. For example, when a military couple is fighting, they may become irritable with not only their spouse but also their children. They may have lower thresholds of patience to deal with their kids when they are constantly fighting with their partner. 

Financial Strain

Financial strain resulting from marital problems, such as legal fees, child support, or the cost of maintaining separate households, can impact children’s access to resources and opportunities. In addition, low pay scales from military salaries can lead to financial strain on a household. For instance, the pay for new active duty members across all branches is around $2,000 per month, according to Military OneSource. This low pay can lead to disruptions in their children’s education, extracurricular activities, or access to basic needs, leading to additional stress and uncertainty.

How To Mitigate Military Marriage Issues

Addressing this issue on a wide scale is extremely difficult, as every family and situation is different. However, there are some ways that military communities can start mitigating military marriage issues and supporting their troops. 

A key way to help the troops and their families are by offering a range of resources and support systems tailored to their needs. This could mean providing top-notch counseling services, supportive communities, and programs that focus on improving communication and coping techniques. Additionally, offering flexible work options and financial assistance can really lighten the load of military life, especially with frequent deployments and financial stress. It’s also important to educate military couples about the challenges they might face and give them tools to tackle them, maybe even through pre-marital counseling sessions or similar support programs.

 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the hurdles that military marriages face are real and deeply impactful, stretching beyond just the partners involved. From the strains of separation during deployments to the relentless demands of military life and the toll of mental health issues, these factors contribute to higher divorce rates and dissatisfaction within military families. The ripple effects of these marital struggles touch children, extended family, and even impact the readiness of our armed forces. It’s crucial that we recognize these challenges and actively support military families with robust resources and understanding. By prioritizing the well-being of these families, we not only strengthen relationships but also bolster the effectiveness of our military. It’s a human endeavor, and it requires a human response.

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Military Marriage Problems

Let’s dive into some commonly asked questions on this topic. 

Q: Why do military marriages tend to face more turmoil than civilian marriages?

A: Military marriages often face more challenges compared to civilian marriages due to unique factors inherent in military life. For example, the demanding nature of military service, which includes long hours, high-stress environments, deployments, intense dedication culture, and frequent relocations, can create additional stressors for couples. 

 

Q: How common is divorce in the military?

A: Divorce rates in the military tend to be higher than those in the civilian population, according to Military.com, with factors such as deployments and military culture contributing to marital strain.

 

Q: How does deployment impact children in military families?

A: Deployments can be emotionally challenging for children, leading to feelings of anxiety and insecurity. Maintaining regular communication and routines can help mitigate the impact of deployment on children.

 

Q: What steps can military leaders take to address the challenges faced by military couples?

A: Military leaders can promote policies that support work-life balance, provide accessible counseling services, and prioritize initiatives aimed at strengthening family resilience.

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