Monday, October 25, 2010

Stress in Military Families

I wrote most of the following as a response to a question posted on I realize that parts of it may upset or offend some people. If you get offended, forgive me, but it is what I truly believe. The original post was talking about how many military folks get divorced and how sad that is. I agree: it is sad. It is also largely preventable, and really not so different than the civilian world. My answer seemed to touch some of the other readers, so I am posting it below. I have split it into two parts because of the length. For non-military readers, perhaps this will give people something to think about into the life of the military family and divorce in general.

When my husband and I first met, we were both active duty. Many of the people we've known over the years have been dual military. We've seen marriages that have worked and those that have split up. DH has now been in 16 years; I was in for six (four married) and have been out for nine.

For dual military couples, there are a few factors involved that we've seen. 1) you work in a VERY close environment a lot of the time and so feel like you know each other better than you really do

2) people marry regardless of their chances of getting to be stationed together in the future

3) the jobs tend to be high-stress regardless of whether or not your job is "high stress." I suppose that is confusing.

As an example, Jeff was a flight chief in his unit at one time and had almost 50 subordinates. Each of the nearly-50 needed to have evals done, reports turned in, counselings (sometimes) done, etc. Even though he was "home" (i.e.: not deployed, which is a whole 'nother story) he was never - and I mean... er... almost NEVER - home in reality. He would routinely spend up to 30 hours at the office, with me driving him in and back so that he wouldn't crash. Alternately, he would come home after about 15 hours, sleep for two hours and head back in. That was stressful in a different way than the civilian world might consider - I heard more than once, "at least he's not deployed." Well, no. not really. At that point, he might as well have been deployed because of how little we actually got to see him at home!

From the perspective of a "mixed-military" family (one civilian, one military) - a lot of times, the spouses don't know what to expect from the military. The scenario I've described above is not something that one might expect coming from the civilian world. Add to that deployments and a lack of information and you have a high stress environment no matter what you do. Many bases offer classes for the spouses to take prior to a deployment, and those are marginally helpful. They give needed information but no one tells them: get to know your spouse's commanding officer, finance and support personnel, etc. 

No one takes spouses under their wing the way they should. The services try: the Army has a family support thing (sorry I forget what it's called) and the Air Force has the Key Spouse program. When properly used, these programs can be huge advantages, giving the spouses access to *someone* who can hook them up with the "right people" when needed. But the spouse has an obligation to step out of her shell and find friends and join groups as well. There is a real need for the spouse at home to see that those military links, whether or not they like it, can be a huge benefit, at the least in terms of being with people who understand what they are going through both during deployment and during off times.

So what is a spouse to do? Reach out, ask for friends, let people know that you're looking for someone to get together with. Know that those deployments, and deployments-at-home will come, and they will be hard. 

Most importantly: Support one another. Look to give as much as you receive. Here are links to two other posts that I think dovetail with this one. I hope you'll give them each thought as well.

The first is How to Support a Military Family Member During Deployment - I give 10 ways to support those around you whose spouses are away. 
The second is Divorce and the Military Family - in truth, this post can be applied to civilian marriages as well

At the end of the day, let's find ways to uplift one another and support each other in our day-to-day struggles. It can make such a HUGE difference to know that others care enough to reach out. Do you?

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