Divorce : An Effect of War on Military Families

 Divorce : an effect of war on military families

Prerna Chauhan 

 ENG (061L) – College Composition

Alicia Steffan

Divorce : An Effect of War on Military Families


The eight years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking a toll on all involved.  However the ones feeling the weight of it the most are military families and the families are trying to deal and cope with it the best they can.    As Gregg points out in “Broken Families,” one of the many effects of war on military families is that it leads to the breaking down of communication between the soldier and their spouse.  Another effect of war weighing down the families and creating distress is the combat stress on the soldiers and the depression that it leads the soldiers to.  War also forces families to live a superficial life, wherein, they show how happy they are to the world from the outside whereas, from the inside, the families are completely broken.  The consequence of all these effects combined is that it ultimately leads to divorce. 

As Gregg mentioned in the article “Broken Families,” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are leading to higher divorces in military families as they are leading families to learn to “live separate lives” (page 2).   When one spouse is at war, the other is left to deal with all the issues on the home front.  The spouse at home ends up having to behave like a single parent and becomes responsible for doing everything on their own to take care of the kids and raise the family.  They also become responsible for taking care of all other household and financial issues related to take care of the family, essentially leaving them little to no time for themselves.  The lack of time for self, leads to depression and resentment in many spouses who then feel like they are trapped in a marriage where they are responsible for making all the sacrifices.  As William noted in “When Mom goes to war, families fight own battle,” when the spouse at home thinks of all the things the spouse who is deployed is doing, such as yoga classes, trips to nearby places, instead of realizing that while deployed, they have to rely on such activities to keep them busy, they start resenting the fact that their spouse is able to take time to do things for themselves, where they have no time to do anything they want to as, they are overwhelmed with taking care of the family.  This resentment carries over from one day’s conversation to the next and creates a communication barrier between the couple which can be difficult to overcome. 

Along with this, not being able to adjust back into a normal family routine is also a huge factor contributing to the reason for divorce.  As Freedberg points out in “When The Troops Come Home”, when the deployed spouse comes back home, it is hard for them to get out of the habits formed overseas and get back into the habit of doing little things that one would normally do in everyday life.  Whether it is putting the dirty dishes into the dishwasher or letting the shift in balance of power go.  Not getting angry or yelling at your kids and spouse when they aren’t following your instructions exactly as you want them to takes a lot of willpower from the soldiers.  They have a hard time in realizing that they are not with their units and in the circumstance where they are used to giving and receiving orders.  The soldiers take time to get acclimated to the fact that life on the grounds is different than the life at home.  Most of the times, it is the culmination of these issues that then become the cause of a growing distance, ultimately becoming a reason for the couple to opt for a divorce. 

“Mental health problems, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder and depression” is another effect of war leading to divorce as pointed out by Gregg in “Divorce rate rises in 2008 among soldiers, Marines” (page 2).  Freedberg agrees in “When the Troops Come Home” that post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] makes it extremely difficult for families to get along once the spouse returns from war.  As he recalls one soldier’s story, ‘…one memory haunts him [the soldier] in particular. “It was a dad and a daughter,” Simpson said, before describing mutilations that will not be printed here. “That, I think, really affected me because the girl was around 9 to 11 — so, older than my daughter would have been, but still a daughter, nonetheless, and a dad couldn’t do anything to stop it” ‘ (page 3).  The soldiers deal with such incidents and situations every day when they are in a combat zone.  When they come back home, they bring the memories and the visuals back with them and have a hard time getting it out of their minds and consciousness.  The stress from having to deal with these haunting memories, does not allow them to function normally, in their daily routines at home.  The soldiers come back home with a lot of anger and depression of what they have seen, had to do and been through in the combat zones.  However, they do not share what they are feeling with anyone as they don’t believe that those who haven’t been to the combat zone and experienced it would understand it.  More often than not, when the soldiers meet other soldiers who have been to the war zones as they have, they talk about the time they had spent on the grounds and the life they had seen and lived through.  The conversation and bonding that is happening, is very apparent to the families and makes them feel like the outsiders who, the soldiers see as strangers and the families no longer know.  Internalizing what they are feeling, and all the anger they are carrying, makes the soldiers more depressed leading them to have severe PTSD. 

According to Skipp, Ephron and Hastings, in “TROUBLE AT HOME”, the length of deployment (mobilizing the forces in times of war), is another factor leading to divorce.  “In Vietnam and Korea, the average soldier spent less than a year overseas” (page 1), whereas in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the soldiers have had to deploy multiple times for varying lengths at a time.  For example, though the Army might require a soldier to deploy for one year, it’s usually multiple deployments causing the families to be apart for anywhere from 12 to 36 months in many cases.  The effects of PTSD and living a superficial life intensify and multiply with each deployment.  In many instances, soldiers do not make an attempt to get back into the routine of their normal lives when they return only because they feel it would be useless as they have to turn around and deploy again in a short while.  This attitude of “I have to leave anyways”, leads to disagreements, frustration and anger in the spouse who is eager to get the family back into a regular normal-life schedule. 

One of the main reasons, which leads to divorce, is role reversal states Freedberg in “When the Troops Come Home.”   When the wife is the spouse who is deployed, most men have a hard time accepting the changes in the role they have to play.  “Most men — or some men — just can’t accept that, being the caregiver and stuff and having to do everything, and not knowing ‘When is she going to have to go again?’ Across the armed services, marriages in which a military woman is married to a civilian man rupture at a much higher rate than marriages between a civilian woman and a military man. In fact, military wives and their civilian husbands break up more often than couples in which both partners are in uniform and subject to deployment. Despite the higher stress on the “dual-military” couple, including husband and wife going to war at the same time, a wife going off to war while the husband stays at home with the kids turns out to be more of a role reversal than many can bear.” (Page 5) 

Looking at the rise in divorce rates and its implications on the family and the recruits, the military realizes the importance of making the families work because, there are many instances where, the military loses its recruits due to the pressures on the family and, the soldiers choosing to save their families, instead of staying in the military.  According to Gomulka in “Saving Military Families,” many of the military spouses believe that the divorce rate released by the Department of Defense, tremendously underestimates the extent of marital problems in the armed services, especially never-ending problems among those who have made multiple combat deployments.  The military has invested a lot in family support networks and in educating the families on what being deployed to a war zone will mean for the family and how to face and overcome the challenges.  Soldiers and Marines have shouldered the burden of most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the high stress levels endured among military families after years of multiple combat tours and lengthy deployments, it is no surprise that divorces among enlisted Soldiers and Marines reached a 16-year high in fiscal year 2008. There were nearly 1,000 more divorces among enlisted Soldiers in 2008 than in 2007” (Page 1).  Gregg points out in “Broken Families” that the Army is scrambling to address the issue, providing more counselors to help couples address their marital issues, expanding a program run by chaplains that offers marital therapy retreats. In an interview Monday, Chiarelli said he was encouraged by a pilot program creating online counseling services for soldiers and their families. A crucial goal is to lengthen the time soldiers spend at home between deployments, he says” (Page 2).  Though the efforts are being made by the military, many families don’t believe enough is being done.  They don’t believe that putting a lot of families in a room together, before deployment and running a PowerPoint presentation on a screen, does not prepare them for what’s in store for them and the changes they have to go through and firmly believe that the military needs to be more proactive in accurately preparing them for the days ahead. 

Some would argue that it is not the effect of war but rather, the effect of deployment which leads to divorce however, I disagree because then the same effect would be seen on business people who travel often and stay away from their families for extended periods of times.  In addition, deploying to military bases around the world where it is not a combat zone would have the same effect but, as of now there are no statistics or data that shows the same effect from deploying in a safer place where there isn’t an ongoing war.  Until there are studies done that point to the deployment having the same effect regardless of where one is deploying, it is safe to say that the issues that arise from being in a war zone, such as, living a superficial life, having communication barriers, being diagnosed with PTSD and the difficulty to acclimate oneself with the normal daily routines again, are the effects that lead to the biggest casualty in the lives of the military families – divorce – the demise of a family.

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  1. Lee Gunnoe
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 08:17:24

    I really like your article. It’s evident that you have a lot knowledge on this topic. Your points are well made and relatable. Thanks for writing engaging and interesting material.


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    Mar 26, 2016 @ 01:26:38

    An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers


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