Deployment. It is the thing everyone questions me about with sincere concern when they find out I am in the military. But there is another “D” word that is almost as common in the military. One that scares me more than deployment. Divorce.
After returning from a brief field exercise with 30 of my Navy brothers and sisters, I came to the realization that we all have a lot in common. This weekend we talked about many things. We heard down-range stories from those who had deployed, discussed the training we were participating in, and talked about our jobs in “the real world” outside the Navy. But one conversation that came up repeatedly throughout the exercise was divorce. It was quickly evident that most of us had lost a marriage, an engagement or a very serious relationship through the course of our time in the military.
Divorce is so common in our community, yet it is something we hardly talk about. We are prepped for handling deployments from day one of being in the military. We are trained to do our job to its full capacity while under the pressure of combat. We are instructed how to complete legal forms and make family plans before we deploy through numerous classes and required checklists. We are also given tips and support systems for handling separation of deployment. Some marriages do not last a deployment due to infidelity, financial irresponsibility or bitterness from the spouse left at home, reinforcing the fact that only the strongest of marriages survive a deployment. But the battle doesn’t end with the homecoming.
Those of us who have been deployed or welcomed a significant other home after a deployment realize the battle has just begun. The readjustment phase upon coming home is often the toughest part of a deployment on a relationship. Those marriages and relationships that are lucky enough to survive the seemingly endless separation, are now faced with a very stealthy enemy.
Dealing with PTSD and feelings of isolation after a deployment are ongoing struggles for a service member. Dealing with feelings of abandonment and disconnect are common for a significant other. There is resentment on both sides, whether it is intentional or not. A type of loneliness develops that is not resolved by physical closeness. It is emotional loneliness caused by a growing gap in communication.
Speaking with my colleagues, many were on their second marriage or in another serious relationship. Such as Brian and myself, most of these subsequent relationships are dual-military, with hopes of decreasing the gap of misunderstanding that destroyed the first relationship. We hope we have matured with age and wisdom so not to repeat the types of mistakes from the first failed relationship. We hope, being with someone who is also in the military, there will be more understanding and less alienation. But many of us realize that we may not entirely understand why the first one failed. We make speculations, though the PTSD and internalization of feelings stay with us from one relationship to the next unless dealt with properly.
We are a community that supports one another with stresses of military life. Yet, we are often not supported when it comes to our personal relationships. We get constant training on sexual assault and alcohol abuse because those cases make headlines that negatively impact public perception of the military. Yet we hardly get training on re-acclimation after deployments and preventing divorce which plagues most of our members. Our spouses also don’t get any support or training on welcoming their service member back into their life or understanding the experiences that they had. The annual divorce rate in the military is on a downward trend from its peak after the beginning of the Iraq war, currently ranging right around 3%. But it does not account for the likelihood of a divorce or major relationship loss during the course of an entire career. If every military member has a 3% chance of divorce annually for 20 years, there is a high cumulative chance of divorce over the span of a career. Many things can influence this probability; however, it is significantly higher then our civilian counterparts. Military divorce rates increase in correlation with deployment tempo.
This part of a deployment is rarely talked about. Homecoming is supposed to be happy and joyful. But it is often marked with pain, loss, anger, and emotional damage. Time and again relationships do not make it through this critical time of reconnecting and the result is often divorce. This “D” scares me more than the other. The ending of these strong emotional connections can hurt just as much, if not more, than the agony suffered from deployment.
What are your thoughts on divorce rates in the military?