We were talking about military women and their marriages — and the fact that the divorce rate among military women outpaces the rate for either military men or civilian women. The numbers are known, but the reasons are not. While there is little research about the causes of these break-ups, psychologists and military experts have some ideas.
A military marriage poses its own challenges, especially when combat duty is involved. In addition to the “normal” stresses of marriage — finances, division of labor — these marriages must endure long separations, injuries and mental health problems. One GI reported that her second marriage couldn’t withstand the pressure when both she and her husband suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Subtler forces are at work, as well. Women have more career opportunities in the military than at any other time in history, allowing greater workplace equality than many private sector employers. Outside of work, though, the military is more “traditional.” A female GI is expected to be wife and mother to her husband’s head of household. It’s difficult to maintain a marriage in which the partners’ roles can shift dramatically at the moment the work day ends. It’s even more difficult going from 24/7 combat duty to 24/7 wife and mother duty.
That shift is hard, according to one military organization researcher, because of the types of men and women attracted to a military life. Men with more conservative views of gender roles tend to be attracted to the service. Women in the service tend to be less conventional, more attracted to the non-traditional work and leadership opportunities.
This is not to say that military men or non-military spouses of military women don’t face challenges in maintaining their marriages. The marriages of military women have come into focus more recently because there is more data available. Almost a decade of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq combined with an increase in numbers and responsibilities of military women have given us more information about the subject than ever before. The next step is to turn that information into insight, so we can work to preserve these marriages.
Source: Associated Press, “Female GIs struggle with higher rate of divorce,” 03/08/11