In this article, I combine research findings about military spouses and relationships with practical tips on saving your marriage to a military spouse. If you’re married to a military man, you already know your marriage isn’t the same as a non-military relationship! These tips on how to save your military marriage are based on research about military spouses, deployments, and divorces.
Have you heard of Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages? His latest book on love and marriage is The 5 Love Languages Military Edition: The Secret to Love That Lasts. In it, Chapman offers stories of military couples from every branch of service who have found ways to use the five love languages in their unique lifestyles. He also shares a Decoding Deployments section at the end of each love language chapter, offering tips on how to express love when your military spouse is deployed. And he included an updated Question and Answer section that addresses issues and problems that are specific to military marriages.
One of the interesting research findings about marriage to a military spouse is that they happen earlier than non-military marriages. This type of information can help you save your marriage, because it gives you insight into your military spouse’s personality, lifestyle, and emotional makeup. For instance, an emotional need for stability is one reason why military spouses get married younger than non-military couples.
15 Things You Need to Know About Your Military Marriage
These facts about military marriages will help you save your marriage, because they bring insight and understanding to military relationships. These tips are based on research about marriages in the military, deployment, and divorces.
Military spouses marry younger and earlier
The marriage rate among military service members is much higher than civilians of the same age, according to previous research and common knowledge. However, new research from Jennifer Lundquist, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has found specific reasons why military spouses marry younger. The average age of people getting married in the military was 22 years old, in this study. A desire for emotional stability and concern about an unstable future often causes military marriages to happen more quickly than non-military marriages.
Military spouse will change during his deployment
A healthy military marriage acknowledges that both spouses change during the separation. The military soldier has seen traumatic and unpleasant events. The spouse at home may be stressed from having to do it all. Accept this and take it slow. Don’t try to make up for lost time too quickly, or expect you and your spouse to reconnect emotionally overnight.
The government – military service – deliberately encourages marriage
Financial considerations and the requirements of military service (eg, deployment to foreign countries for war, the military’s demand for frequent geographic relocation, etc) leads to personnel policies that rely on families to make these conditions more bearable for military spouses. Military policies are part of a larger institutional culture that directly and indirectly encourages marriage among its recruits. Knowing how military service affects spouses is one way to save your marriage, because this insight brings awareness.
Deployment is easier if you have a strong support network
Here’s a tip not just for saving your military marriage but for being happy while your military spouse is deployed, from Don’t Like Being a Military Wife? Tips for Deployment and Marriage: If you don’t have any friends at this duty station and you can’t see yourself being friends with anyone there, then make friends in other ways. Some military duty stations are in or near cities or towns; can you take fitness classes or adult education courses there. If there is absolutely no way to make friends at your military spouse’s duty station, then make friends online. Search the internet for military marriage blogs or military families. Find an active, supportive, busy marriage website that brings military spouses together. Talking about how deployment affects your marriage can help you deal with deployment.
Military marriages help retain personnel, which is good for the military
“When you look at marriage rates in the military, it’s like going back in time to the 1950s,” says Lundquist, whose research has been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family (Vol. 76, Issue 5). “Marriage is deliberately made to be compatible with military life because this is an important way to retain personnel. The conditions of military employment also lead naturally to marriage. There’s stable employment, comprehensive family benefits, and economic mobility in an entry-level job. That’s not a common job market condition encountered by most high school graduates.” She adds that military service offers a path to class mobility that most working class people lack.
Military spouses face an unknown future, which leads to early marriage
This sociologist’s research showed that the threat of geographical separation due to war deployment and relocation transfers was also repeatedly tied to early military marriages. Many military spouses said marital decisions met an emotional need for stability in the face of this unknown.
The Permanent Change of Station affects military marriages in several ways
“By far the most common pretext for marriage in the military revealed by the interview data relates to the Permanent Change of Station process, which occurs every two to three years,” says Lundquist. “To deal with the globalized nature of U.S. peacekeeping, the military must offer its labor force a way to include families in the face of an imposed nomadic lifestyle. The military’s solution is to incorporate families in their entirety, and it pays the full relocation costs for each family member – as long as they are married.” This military policy causes spouses to marry earlier than they had planned to, and sometimes to people they would not otherwise have married. The Permanent Change of Station is also a crucial way for the military to ensure a portable support system for its employees.
Get my free weekly "Blossom Tips" email - it's short and sweet. You'll love it!
In Military Weddings and Honeymoons, Rod Powers says: “If you have Permanent Change of Station orders, and get married before you actually make the move, you can have your spouse added to your orders and the military will pay for the relocation of your spouse and her property (furniture and such). However, if you report to your new duty assignment first, and then get married, you will have to pay for the relocation of your military spouse out of your own pocket.
Young military marriages aren’t about housing incentives
She believes that her research on military spouses and marriages downplays the widely-held belief that military members most often marry to receive housing incentives.
“While previous explanations for high military marriage rates have focused primarily on the incentives provided by housing benefits for married couples, housing benefits are but a small piece of the puzzle,” Lundquist says. “I found that housing benefits actually played more of an escape role for enlistees than a financial one.” She adds that the barracks afford far less privacy than a private residence and that barracks are subject to rules and scrutiny by one’s superiors. Thus, housing doesn’t play a big role in military marriages – but it be something to consider if you want to learn how to save your marriage without counseling.
Lundquist concludes that the biggest policy implication of our research relates to all families, not just military families and marriages. Marriage is widespread in part due to stable, decent-paying jobs and the availability of health care and education benefits to family members. “Given growing class inequality, precarious underemployment, and long-term unemployment, perhaps there are some aspects of the military employment model that could be extended to all U.S. youth,” she says.
The length of a military spouse’s deployment is related to divorce
A different study – from the RAND Corporation – found that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been hard on military marriages. The longer military spouses are deployed, the higher their risk of divorce. In other words, the risks of divorce rose directly in relation to the length of time enlisted military spouses were deployed to combat zones. This is another tip on how to save your marriage: reduce deployment time, if at all possible!
Female military spouses have a higher risk of divorce if deployed
The effect of deployment on military marriages were largest among female military members, with women facing a greater chance of divorce than military men under all the scenarios examined by these researchers.
Military spouses need time to “unwind” after deployment
Taking time to become re-acquainted after a deployment is a good tip on how to save your marriage. Know that you will both be different. Talk about your experiences. Take it slow with your intimate relationship. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but the unfamiliarity will pass. Also – let go of your wishes, daydreams, and imaginings of how your reconnection “should” be. It probably won’t be like you imagined.
Afghanistan and Iraq deployments had a more negative effect on military marriages
While researchers found that any deployment to any country increases the risk of divorce among military spouses, the negative consequences were higher for those deployed to the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among military couples married before the 9/11 attacks, those that experienced deployment of 12 months to war zones were 28 percent more likely to become divorced within three years of marriage (compared to military spouses who experienced similar deployment before the wars began).
Military spouse to emotionally withdraw after a deployment
In Quotes on Military Marriage, a reader said that military spouses undergo a phase of “not feeling” after a deployment. This is a defense mechanism. It is dangerous for military spouses to feel emotions, because if he lets his emotions overwhelm him, he could be hurt or killed in the line of duty. His military comrades are depending on him to hold it together. Turning off his emotions is an easier way to deal with the constant stress of potentially dangerous situations. It takes time after military spouses return home from deployment, but at-home spouses just need to be patient. That article about military marriage quotes has alot of really good tips on how to save a military marriage.
If you feel emotionally distant from your spouse, read Emotional Disconnection in Marriage – How to Feel Less Alone. It’s not written for marriages in the military, but it can help you reconnect with a military spouse.
Divorce for military marriages decreased after 9/11
The study found that the divorce risk was lower for couples married after the 9/11 attacks than for couples married before 9/11. Researchers theorize that military spouses who married after the 9/11 terrorist attacks were better prepared for the challenges posed by marriage in the military than those who married before the conflicts began. This is consistent with the hypothesis that only the couples willing to accept the risks associated with military life went ahead to marry in the post 9/11 era. Again, a tip on how to save your marriage: know what the risks are when you marry a military man or woman.
Cumulative deployment increases the divorce rate for spouses in the military
Researchers found that cumulative months of deployment matter. The more cumulative months of deployment, the more increased the risk of divorce among military couples, regardless of when the couple married or when the deployment occurred. The risk of divorce in a military marriage was higher for hostile deployments than for non-hostile deployments. Female military spouses were always more likely to divorce than male military spouses as a result of time in deployment.
Researchers say cumulative deployment may be more disruptive and harder to adjust to in military marriages where a service member is female, although the study did not specifically address reasons for the higher numbers of divorce when the military spouses is a woman.
Ninety-seven percent of the divorces in military marriages occurred after a return from deployment. The risk of divorce was lower among military families that had children.
If you’re tired of thinking about deployment, divorce, and military marriages, read 10 Best Gifts for Couples in Long Distance Relationships.
I welcome your thoughts on how to save your marriage to a military spouse – as well as the effects of deployment on divorce rates and military spouses. However, I can’t offer personal counseling or advice. It may help to share your experience of a military relationship, though…
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.
Sources: Lengthy Military Deployments Increase Divorce Risk for U.S. Enlisted Service Members and Sociologist Explores Why Military Service Members Marry So Much Younger than Average Americans via University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Reinstitutionalizing Families: Life Course Policy and Marriage in the Military.