If you’re in the military or married to a soldier, you already know how hard marriage can be. The divorce rate for female military personnel is double that of male personnel. And cheating during deployment on the part of both spouses isn’t uncommon thanks to isolation, stress and communication barriers.
So, what puts a relationship at risk for cheating during deployment? Lots, but here are a few of the most common:
The distance of deployment puts a huge strain on communication. Military couples both love and hate Skype because it’s the lifeline of their relationship. Sometimes all they have is a shared satellite phone or old-fashioned letter writing. Many take advantage of every social media platform that they can. It’s recommended to try to communicate at least once a day.
According to relationship expert Rhonda Milrad, it’s important not only to keep communicating, but to be strategic about what you communicate.“It’s really important to share with your partner, what’s meaningful to them, not what’s meaningful to you,” says Milrad. Regular, meaningful communication can reduce any jealousy that the civilian spouse might feel towards those in whom his or her soldier confides during stressful events.
On the other hand, if you’re a civilian milso, don’t stuff your feelings about whatever is happening at home. When talking to your serviceman or servicewoman, share about your feelings and life. If you don’t, it can lead to feeling like your life doesn’t matter to your service member milso, which can in turn create the desire to seek out someone to whom it does.
It wasn’t the distance. It wasn’t that my husband was gone for so long. It was that he took my identity from me. He made me into His Wife instead of my own person. My husband is a great man and at the end of the day, I just couldn’t make the sacrifice I needed to make to be his wife. I’m not sure I’d hope any woman could lose herself so completely, and be okay with that.
Lack of Emotional Support
Both civilian milsos as well as the deployed loved ones need a strong emotional support network. Because when things get tough, it’s easy to turn to someone who’s not your spouse for support:
IED explosion, rocket attacks, deaths, etc. I wasn’t married yet, just engaged, but I thought after a convoy that I was going to die. Called my family, my fiancé, no one answered. Turned to my battle buddy. [It was] vulnerability. We shared a traumatic experience. Doesn’t make it right, but it happened. We stayed friends. — Maria, 27, Marine Corps
Keeping a strong network can be an especially difficult challenge with Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves, which force you into a completely new environment where you don’t know anyone.
Friends, family and the unit’s family readiness group form the base of your network, of course. But you can add lots of online resources such as:
While civilians often think of Meetup.com as a place for hobby and career events, the site actually provides opportunities for milsos to come together for support.
Coping with Extreme Loss
“Death and mortality often live in the shadow of an affair,” relationship expert Esther Perel says in her famous TED Talk, “Rethinking Infidelity.” She adds that, “Affairs are an antidote to death.”
It was Iraq, July 2009, and three days before we had lost a truck team to an explosively formed projectile that ripped through the cab of a Maxxpro. My female driver, also a married specialist, came by the CHU to talk, and it just happened. She started it; it’s kind of blurry but we woke up together when my roommate got back from a mission. It didn’t really make things awkward for the rest of the deployment and wasn’t talked about after the fact. We were both grieving from the loss of three of our brothers. — Robert, 28, Army
But like alcohol and drugs, affairs are a destructive way of dealing with extreme loss, whether it’s personal stagnation or actual bereavement. What’s worse, adultery can be a criminal offense under certain circumstances. Leaning into one’s support network and spiritual life with the help of the unit chaplain is a far healthier way to deal with grief. And fortunately more mental health resources are available than ever before. RealWarriors.net offers some great tips and alternatives.
No One Is Immune
While writer David French of the National Review seemed to think the military has an infidelity problem, not everyone shares that view. In fact, Sgt. First Class Kent Phyfe relays that, “The military is a cross section of our society, and just as in civilian communities, there are always promiscuous men and women. The type of work soldiers deal with tend to attract partners that have similar attractions to duty, honor and commitment,” added Phyfe.
Keeping a military marriage strong can be a challenge, but the rewards are well worth it. For your relationship, and for the nation.