Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Military Life Isn't Easy

About the Author

Tanya Biank is an award-winning journalist, Fulbright scholar, and the author of "Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives" (St. Martin's Press). She is an Army brat and Army wife. As a military journalist, Tanya has deployed around the world with military servicemembers and has appeared on national TV and radio shows discussing military issues. Visit Tanya's website www.tanyabiank.com for more details.

I've never heard of the military making a weak marriage stronger. But the fabric of military life — the hardships and heartache woven in with the joys and warm memories — can make a strong marriage flourish. Couples separated by war tend not to take life or each other for granted.

A just-released RAND Corp. study requested by the Pentagon, reveals military marriage divorce rates have not "skyrocketed" despite stress from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, married servicemembers who had been deployed were less likely to divorce than those who never deployed and "longer deployments were associated with greater reductions in risk," according to the study.

The study's findings no doubt surprised a lot of people. No one ever said the military was an easy life. Yet retired military couples almost always look back at their years in the military as some of their best. Simply put, couples can either grow apart or grow together during their military journey.

With the Pentagon's recent announcement of extending tours in Iraq to 15 months, the impact on military families, many on third, even fourth deployments since 9-11, remains to be seen.

I asked Army wives about their marriages and what they've learned along the way. Their advice is something we can all gain from. Life is about learning from one's mistakes and those of others. Army wives offer these pitfalls to avoid in marriage:

"Never stop caring what is going on with your spouse," said Rachel, who is stationed in Hawaii with her Army husband of eight years. "I want to know — to the extent that he can tell me — what my husband does every day, what is happening with him professionally, what he sees or hopes for his career path. Likewise, he wants to know what is happening with me, what my goals are, what my thoughts are. I see so many military wives who really have no idea what their spouse does. If you had a friend who didn't care about anything that was going on with you, would you stay friends with them? I wouldn't. Why should my husband and I want to stay together if we don't know or care what is happening with each other or what each of us is thinking?"

"One of the worst feelings that either one can experience is loneliness, whether by the spouse left at home or by the service member while deployed," said Liza, an Army wife of 17 years stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. "This often leads to liaisons that can destroy marriages. The best rule to live by is find solace from persons of the same sex, not the opposite."

"‘If my spouse were standing right here, he would approve of my actions,'" is a statement that has helped Phoebe, an Army wife of three years. Both she and her husband serve in the military in the Washington D.C. area. "Rumors are horrible. A good trusting relationship will not fold, but communicate and understand each other, and don't let outside influences sway your judgment or contentment."

"We have seen many couples spend too much money and live way beyond their means," said Nicole, an Army wife at Fort Belvoir. She has been married 16 years. "My husband's income is so predictable that we know there is not going to be some huge bonus at the end of the year to fall back on. We know that we have two kids to send to college. And we know that it is not important to shop in department stores or have a big screen television."

For the newly married and the soon-to-be-married, Army wives offer the following advice that has helped in their own marriages:

"Remember the military is a lifestyle," said Noel, a Fort Bragg Army wife. She has been married 21 years. "It isn't just your husband's job."

"Know that there will be times in your marriage when Uncle Sam will seem like he is number one," Liza said. "Hang in there. Your spouse will eventually realize that the number one love of his is, and will always be, you."

"Remember you are on the same team," said Lyn, who has been married to her Special Forces husband for 21 years. "It is not natural for a couple who wants to get married and be together to spend so much time apart. There will be times of loneliness, jealousness, and longing. Learning how to address the feelings and discuss them and remember again, you are on the same team and you believe in each other."

"You really need to learn to be flexible and understanding if something ‘pops' up at the office or the field," said Anne an Army wife of 15 years who lives at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. "Believe me, they want to come home to eat dinner just a badly as you want them there for it."

"Take advantage of all the wonderful parts of military life," Rachel said. "Tavel. Experience different cultures and ways of life, even within our own country. Open your heart and your home. You will be amazed by the gifts of love and friendship that you receive. Kindness builds kindness and military life is what you make of it. For me it is the experience of a lifetime."

"Don't argue," Nicole said. "In a minute it can all be taken away. Live on post or base. Get involved. Be honest. Be a volunteer. Always wear a smile. Be a sister to your neighbors. Don't do or so anything you will regret — again, in a minute it can be gone."

© 2007 Tanya Biank.

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