Military deployments cause strain within the relationships of military couples. Extended separations during deployment, reunion, and reintegration bring many stresses to these couples, causing conflicts within the relationships that that can be damaging in many ways. Financial stress, emotional stress, and stress of loyalty are only a few issues that face these couples; but there are ways that can help rebuild the relationships for the couples. A strong relationship after a deployment can be possible with help and hard work. By reaching out and accepting help from counseling, marriage enrichment programs or training programs separation can be avoided.
There are many issues that can cause stress during a deployment such as finances, emotions and fear of loyalty. Finances can cause stress and conflicts within the relationships of military couples during a deployment. The spouse that is remaining at home may have never had to maintain a household, balance the checkbook, create a budget or handle the majority of the financial responsibilities until the soldier is deployed. This alone could cause stress from being faced with these new challenges (Watson 20). The soldier could be faced with the stress of worrying about the financial well being of his or her family while he or she is away, in addition to his or her spouse is handling the duties of managing finances. The deployed spouse may have little control over the finances of the family and feel powerless to ensure financial stability which can lead to arguments over disapproval of spending.
The couple’s state prior to deployment may also be a factor in causing stress for both parties (Watson 20). If the couple is already in financial distress, a deployment could reduce income, causing further money problems. The spouse who remains at home deals with a lot of emotional stress from coping with the spouse being gone.
This emotional stress can bring on physical changes, such as headaches, irritability, change in sleeping patterns, and weight loss or gain (Watson 16). Both spouses go through “The Emotional Cycle of Deployment:” Pre-Deployment, Deployment, Mid Deployment, Pre-Homecoming, Reunion and Post Deployment. At each stage of this cycle different stressors can affect the couples emotionally (Pawlowski 15, 16).
Soldiers, returning from a deployment have to face the challenge of reintegration into a civilized world and adjust to the changes that may have occurred in their family during the separation. The soldiers have to go from full-time “military mode” to having to change their mindset for a non-combat atmosphere, thus potentially causing conflict within the relationship. Military couples that are faced with a deployment have to also face the stress of trusting one another during the separation. Soldiers fear that their spouses will not be able to handle the separation and loneliness in their lives and step outside of their relationships. Spouses at home fear that the soldiers will turn to a fellow solider of the opposite sex for comfort and understanding of their feelings during the deployment and also betray the relationship. As a former military wife that has been through a deployed and is heavily involved in the family support programs, I hear over and over that the trust issues in military couple cause conflict and strain during all stages of the deployment process.
The strain of deployments within a relationship has caused an increase in divorce rates. It has been reported that the divorce rate of officers has gone up 78 percent since 2003 and has tripled since 2000; whereas the divorce rate of enlisted soldiers is has gone up 28 percent since 2003 and 58 percent since 2000. A study conducted by RAND Corp. has challenged reports that suggest that the divorce rates have increased as an effect of deployments. This study shows that there is no evidence that deployments are the cause of divorces in military marriages. According to this study the rate of marital dissolution is at the same rate as it was in 1996, which is prior to the increase of combat deployments within the armed services. However, this study was unable to confirm which service members that divorced had seen combat and which had not (Grant 16).
Divorce and conflicts within the relationship of military couples may be able to be avoided if preventative measurers are taken. Strong Bonds is a program that was designed to provide skills that military couples can use to strengthen their relationships and marriage after returning from a deployment. This program is lead by unit chaplains and is done in a retreat format (www.strongbonds.com). Military couples can benefit greatly from marriage counseling after the soldier returns from a deployment. Counseling can help a couple talk through how they felt during the deployment and how they feel now that a reunion has taken place, along with helping to learn how to effectively communicate. Soldiers go through training called Battlemind prior to deployment and post-deployment, which is a Warrior’s inner strength to face adversity, fear and hardship during combat with confidence and resolution. It is the will to persevere and win. Now, with the increase of deployments Battlemind training is available for spouses during post-deployment reintegration as well to help families transition from deployment (www.battlemind.army.mil).
Although there are conflicting studies and reports that there has been an increase in the divorce rates of military couples and that the cause is deployments, it is well documented that deployments cause strain and conflict in many ways within these marriages and relationships. Today there is help and education during pre-deployment, during deployment and especially post-deployment to aid in repairing and strengthening marriages and relationships in hopes of avoiding separation or divorce. With these programs available, hopefully the divorce rates will not increase; but rather decrease.
Ager, Susan. “Family values meet reality.” Detroit Free Press”
Battlemind 8 November 2008
Greg Grant. “In Love and War.” Government Executive
Pawlowski, Lisa M. Coping with military deployment: The C.A.R.E.S. resource for couples.
Strong Bonds Program 8 November 2008 http://www.army.mil/aps/08/information_papers/sustain/Strong_Bonds_Program.html
Watson, Summer Effects of the war in Iraq on military marriages.