While it would seem that the extended deployment of married service members to war zones would be a factor in military marriages ending in divorce, this is not the case, according to a Rand Corp. study of troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. The report found no spike in marriage breakups among families separated due to Middle East deployment, but instead found other possibilities that raise additional questions about why military marriages end in divorce.
A Rand Corp. report issued in 2007 by UCLA social psychology professor Benjamin Karney noted that divorce in the military is substantially higher among females than males, but overall rates are no higher than for civilians. The findings suggest that the military provides incentives, such as pay, benefits and housing, for both sexes to marry, and for men to stay married. But these incentives disappear when service members return to civilian life, and they suffer higher rates of separation and divorce. The military may be encouraging unions that would not be formalized into marriage if the dating couple were civilians, and these may be more fragile upon exit from the military, Karney suggested.
High military divorce rates may be tied to recruits in basic training rushing into marriage and limited income on the part of junior enlisted personnel, writes retired Navy chaplain Gene Gomulka on Military.com. Gomulka also cites family incentives designed to promote retention that in effect encourage junior personnel to marry before they are mature enough to cope with military life and marriage. Spouses on the active military spouse site Spouse Buzz cite frequent moves as stressful, uprooting them from friends and family. Couples also need to reconnect after deployment, Gomulka notes. Difficulty of adjustment to family life after separation is a factor, agrees Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokesman, along with the stress of combat itself.
Reflecting stresses, incentives and to some extent the larger society, the overall divorce rate for the military in fiscal year 2009 was 3.6 percent, according to the Washington Times, compared with 3.4 percent in 2008 and 3.3 percent in 2007 and 2006. The national divorce rate hovers around 3.5 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Detailed figures compiled by the Department of Defense for 2006 show that 7 percent of service women and 2.7 percent of men get service divorced,.
Military families face unique challenges that may tie into family dissolution, note East Carolina University sociologists David Knox and Caroline Schacht in "Choices in Relationships: An Introduction to Marriage and the Family." Families may feel a loss of control during deployment, and wives especially report loneliness, fear and sadness, according to a 2008 survey of military wives. Spouses face a risk of infidelity during deployment. Frequent moves may place children far from grandparents and spouses away from siblings and friends, in remote areas with little support, the authors note. Civilian wives especially may face career disruption, low salaries or underemployment as they move to follow their spouse.
The Army recognizes the need for volunteer fighters to be in healthy marriages, states Lt. Col. Peter Frederick, an Army chaplain assigned to oversee family support programs. The Army has instituted weekend retreats to help soldiers and spouses address at least one of the reasons for divorce: the transition from combat to home. Soldiers rotating home are told to ask for counseling, and they will be made available
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