Six Ways to Support Military Spouses
Have you read the military marriage divorce statistics? Among all US military servicemembers, the divorce rate of married couples is about 3% per year. In other words, for every 1,000 servicemembers who are in a marriage, each year about 30 of them get a divorce.
Unfortunately, the divorce rate is higher among female servicemembers, with female Marines having the highest divorce rate of all (as high as 9.9% in 2010). For comparison, the divorce rate among all US residents was about 3.2% in 2016.
War may increase military divorce rates. For example, the Army reported that divorce rates almost doubled for Army servicemembers between 2001 and 2004, as the Iraq War got started. Another study suggested that men who are veterans of combat are more likely to get divorced than men who’ve never fought.
Your military marriage doesn’t have to be a statistic. Knowledge and effort can improve your situation just like they can on a battlefield. Below, you’ll read about the challenges you and your spouse face and get tips for maintaining a military marriage.
What Makes a Military Marriage Different
If you have a spouse who was never in the military, he or she will make sacrifices and have struggles that many traditional spouses may not expect to face, such as:
- Raising children alone
- Moving to new homes quickly, leaving friends and family behind
- Taking orders from the military about where to live next
- Celebrating holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays without you (maybe even giving birth without you)
- Worrying about you while you’re in combat
- Sacrificing his or her own career for the military
- Missing out on an ideal wedding ceremony or honeymoon
- Being willing to suffer the pain of separation
- Dealing with the politics and drama on a base
- Talking about and thinking about death and pain
- Possibly living with a changed version of your after your discharge
You can support your spouse in these challenges by using some of the following six tips for maintaining a military marriage.
1. Discuss and Listen
If you listen carefully to your spouse, you’ll understand more of the specific problems he or she faces. That’ll help you decide which of these tips might work the best on the homefront.
Be open and honest about the challenges you each have been in a military marriage. Listen well. If there are problems, you can’t solve them unless you’re both honest about them and both listening. It can be hard to hear about certain problems, but you can challenge yourself to listen just like you challenge yourself when you overcome any other difficult task.
2. Encourage Each Other
While you’re in the military—and afterward—you need your spouse’s strength, and your spouse needs yours. When you think of “encouragement,” you can think of “putting in courage.” Encouragement means giving your spouse some of your courage, along with hope and confidence. It doesn’t mean trying to make your spouse do or feel what you want. It’s about helping your spouse be his or her best self.
3. Make Memories
When you are able to get together, focus on doing things you both enjoy, activities you’ll remember for a lifetime. Go out to your favorite places, take pictures, and do other things that really define you as a couple. Remember why you got together.
4. Accept Changes
If you change while you’re in the military, you’ll expect your spouse to accept those changes. You also can be accepting toward the normal changes your spouse goes through while you’re away. Change is inevitable, and you’ll build a stronger foundation for your marriage when you accept, trust, and respect your spouse.
5. Avoid Criticism and Blame
Some psychologists have found that the top relationship killers are blame and criticism. When you and your spouse talk on the phone or get together, make sure you don’t criticize how your spouse talks, or does chores, or anything else.
When a marriage is in trouble, the spouses take less and less responsibility for their own feelings and actions. For example, a husband might feel bad about what his wife said, blame her for that feeling, and try to control what she says through criticism.
A wise spouse, though, takes responsibility for his or her own reactions and doesn’t try to control the other. Realistically, how long can someone really control someone else, anyway? Unhealthy spouses run out of energy eventually. It’s better to show your spouse you want him or her to be able to exercise free will and feel and act the way he or she chooses.
Besides, what are we fighting for in the military if we don’t respect free will in our spouses on the homefront?
6. Enlist Community Support
You can get your community involved in supporting your spouse who stays at home. “Community” can refer to your family, church, neighbors, or any other group of people you can depend on.
Give your community a list of activities they can do. Often, they’d love to help and just don’t know what to do. It could be a relief to them when you give them specific direction. It can also let them feel like they’re supporting the country by helping a military marriage.
If you or an ally know how to do this, you could make a coupon book with services for your spouse in it. That way, your spouse won’t feel as self-conscious about asking for help. Whether it’s through a coupon book or not, you can tell your community that they can offer:
- Babysitting (to give your spouse time for errands, friends, or relaxation—or a date with you when you’re home)
- Running errands
- An hour of housework
- A friendly get together at a cafe
- Repairs around the house
- Free rides if the car breaks down
- Yard work
- Shoveling snow
- Washing windows
- Cleaning gutters
- Financial counseling
- A pre-cooked entrée, an easy-to-make dinner, or cookies
- Help getting your spouse and kids out of the house on a family activity
- Care packages on special occasions, like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day (but you can make these a surprise)
- Encouraging phone calls and visits, especially if they’re on a regular schedule, like once a week
The military marriage divorce statistics show that you could be just as vulnerable to divorce as civilians are, or moreso. If you understand the challenges, though, you don’t have to be a statistic. You can use our tips for maintaining a military marriage to support your spouse.
Practicing some of these tips can turn them into habits, and your habits might give you a better long-term marriage than if you’d never joined the military, faced the challenges, and built those skills.
For information about benefits available to military families in your state, contact Low VA Rates.