If you or your spouse is a member of the military, you know that sometimes the separations are long and the stress levels are high. At times, you may even have worried: can our marriage survive this? Perhaps you’ve heard rumors that military marriages have shockingly high divorce rates, or that “only the strongest survive.”
What’s the real truth of the matter? Are military marriages on a collision course with divorce court? In fact, over the years, many researchers and experts have tried to find out how marriages within the military fare when compared to civilian marriages. Do couples break up more often?
What We Know—And Don’t Know
As it turns out, it’s really hard to compare the military divorce rate to the civilian divorce rate. For one thing, they are tracked differently, by different agencies (and in some states, civilian divorces actually aren’t tracked at all). For another, if we just put one divorce rate next to the other, we’re comparing “apples to oranges.” To really make things accurate, we would need to compare people who are similar in other ways, too—age, level of education, race, background, and so on. But such comparisons are quite hard to do.
But from what we do know, it seems that on the whole, military couples are probably not more likely to divorce than civilian couples. They may actually even be less likely to split up. (However, some studies suggest that there is an increase in divorce after the military spouse leaves the military. Rates also vary somewhat depending on branch of the military, age, and officer vs. not.) What’s more, being in the military actually encourages marriage.
This may come as a surprise to some. But remember, as employers go, the military is pretty decent, providing a steady income and good benefits. Many civilians, especially those with little education, aren’t so lucky when it comes to their job situation. The military also does provide quite a bit of support to families and couples, something many in civilian life don’t have access to. And, here’s a question to ponder: could it even be true that men and women who join up tend to value family and/or the bonds of marriage more deeply than general society?
Some Groups Faring Poorly
But there are some troubling numbers, too. Although overall, the stats look pretty good, certain subgroups among our military are not doing quite as well.
For instance, when the spouse in the military is the woman, the numbers on divorce can look pretty bad. In fact, some studies show that the divorce rate for couples with a military woman are twice those of couples with a military man. However, this number seems to be getting better, for reasons no one quite understands.
Marriages that see longer deployments are also more likely to divorce, probably because the increased time apart eventually just becomes too much of a hardship.
Finally, deployments where members see combat or weapon usage are also known to be associated with increased risk of divorce. This has been an increasing concern with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some research does show an uptick in divorce among those who served in these conflicts.
Coping with the Stress
Marital problems related to deployment and military service can include, but aren’t limited to:
--Struggles related to service-caused PTSD, depression or anxiety
--Caregiving challenges and adjustments if a servicemember is injured
--Feelings of isolation or resentment on the part of spouse at home
--Infidelity related to long separations
--The “rollercoaster effect” of the ups and downs related to deployment
So, what can couples do to reduce the strain on their partnerships?
- The armed forces do offer many helpful support programs for couples and families, including classes and retreats. Take advantage of these, even if you think you don’t need them.
- Consciously work on ways to maintain your connection when apart, using tools like care packages, journal exchanges, and sharing memories and future goals.
- Reach out for assistance from friends (others who are going through the same thing may be helpful), family, and military programs. See Resources below for some websites that can help.
- Educate yourself on the stages of deployment and typical reactions to these stages, so that you understand what’s going on. It can be very comforting to realize that you’re not alone.
While being part of a military couple definitely has its challenges, these marriages and spouses unquestionably also have their strengths. It may help to know that there is no clear evidence that the divorce rate is higher for these marriages. Together, you and your spouse can unite to face the challenges of remaining close while continuing to serve your country.
Are you in a military marriage? Looking for ways to connect and communicate better with your partner? The SMART Couples project is offering ELEVATE, a fun, FREE, research-backed relationship enhancement class for couples, in 5 Florida counties. Sign up today!
Marriage and Family—from Military Onesource
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Bushatz, A. (2015). Military divorce rate hits lowest level in 10 years. Retrieved from http://www.military.com/daily-news/2015/02/25/military-divorce-rate-hits-lowest-level-in-10-years.html
Karney, B.R., Loughran, D.S., & Pollard, M.S. (2012). Comparing marital status and divorce status in civilian and military populations. Journal of Family Issues, 33(12), 1572-1594. doi:10.1177/0192513x12439690
Negrusa, S., Negrusa, B., & Hosek, J. (2014) Gone to war: have deployments increased divorces? Journal of Population Economics, 27, 473. doi:10.1007/s00148-013-0485-5
Philpott, T. (2012). Military marriages show a surprising level of resilience. Retrieved from http://www.stripes.com/news/military-marriages-show-a-surprising-level-of-resilience-1.174275
Pollard, M., Karney, B., & Loughran, D. (2012). Comparing marital status and divorce status in civilian and military populations. Journal of Family Issues, 33(12), 1572-1594.
RAND Corporation. (2013). Lengthy military deployments increase divorce risk for U.S. enlisted service members. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/news/press/2013/09/03.html