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Mobile military life can stress marriage

Being married in the military can stress wedding vows.

“Being married in the military is entirely different than being married in the civilian world because of the lifestyle,” said Stephanie Hanson, a Marine spouse and private tutor in Jacksonville. “Outside of our world, people just don’t understand. Military life is different because of the deployments and the job requirements. It’s a totally different culture to live in.”

Studies of military divorce rates indicate 3.5 percent — or one in 27 — of active-duty military marriages will end in divorce, according to a 2012 RAND Corp. study. Within the Marine Corps, female Marines have a higher rate of 9.4 percent, according to that study.

Aside from deployments and constant training, Hanson said the requirement of being a Marine 24-7 is stressful on a marriage because even after work, he is still a Marine and must act accordingly at all times.

“It’s hard when someone has to put their work first before our relationship, but any stress-related to that is overcome, thankfully,” Hanson said. “The most stressful thing is the constant unknown with the military. You never know the specifics of things. Things are always up in the air, which is difficult for me because I’m a planner by nature. You never know specific things like dates and times. It’s very stressful.”

While it is not her husband’s first deployment, this tour will keep him away for the holidays — something that never is easy, she said.

“They are lonely,” Hanson said. “It’s unimaginable having to go through the holidays while not having your spouse with you. I think it’s even harder without kids because I don’t have anything to take my mind off of things. It’s a void that nobody can fill — not even siblings or friends.”

Marriages in the military are complicated by many factors, according to Tim Smith, a 25-year Army veteran and a licensed marriage and family therapist aboard Camp Lejeune. Possible stressors, he said, include deployments, training obligations, long work hours, reintegration upon discharge or returning home from deployment and the potential for being wounded or killed. All of these stressors, he added, can be overcome through teamwork and establishing a proper support network for the service member and his or her spouse.

“It’s not an easy life being part of the military,” Smith said. “When you’re dealing with life-and-death issues, marriage becomes very special.”

After recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many service members have come home after surviving multiple traumas. Trauma, Smith said, can make family life hard and cause emotional disconnection, withdrawal from normal activities and a dwindling relationship between the service member and his or her spouse and children.

“The number one indicator of recovery is the quality of the support system which can be family or unit members,” Smith said. “But sometimes it’s hard to get support from other guys (in the unit) when they are emotionally wounded also. That can cause even more stress on the marriage because the service member is looking and longing for peer support.”

For the wives and children of military spouses, having their loved one wounded in combat adds stressors to their relationships, said Smith.

“They worry their lives will never be normal again,” Smith said. “Anger can happen, especially with children, because it feels like their whole world has changed. Somehow, wives feel as though they are inadequate to help with their husband’s unique issues.

“There is hope though and there is help,” Smith said. “All they need to do is ask.”

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