Through the rapid increases and decreases in marriage, one thing can be said: each time period, and in association each war, has had its own unique pattern. Through the Iraq and Afghanistan War, another pattern has emerged: one of more stability.
This war is different in that it is current and still happening. Thus far, there have been over two million people involved with hundreds of deaths. Of the casualties, most have been soldiers 21 years of age from the eastern coast of the U.S (Home and Away: Iraq and Afghanistan Casualties, n.d.). Of those, the highest casualties in Afghanistan occurred in 2010 and the highest casualties in Iraq occurred in 2004 (Home and Away: Iraq and Afghanistan Casualties, n.d.). While many sources contradict each other, the average soldier for this war is between 18-30, which makes sense since they recruit in high schools and have older, more experienced generals.
Marriage has reached a steady state compared to past wars. There was no dramatic rush towards marriage. This is because over half of the soldiers who have served/ currently serving are married (Williamson & Mulhall, n.d.). The others involved in the war were too young to be considering marriage because the current trends in society have shifted marriage to later in life where most get married in their late 20s. So, instead of quick, ‘shotgun’ weddings as seen in World War II and such, there is a slower, more consistent rate that changed little with the war.
With every war, there are stories of successful marriages and there are stories of not so successful marriages. As is the case with Lisa and Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris, it started out as the latter and morphed into success come the end. Chris Faris began his service in the Gulf War and later was part of the Delta Force in the Iraq / Afghanistan War. During the Gulf War, Chris almost died, causing him to face his death and the very real possibility that he might die. After serving, he came home a very changed man, very distant and calloused. As his wife put it, “Something had died inside of him and he was there. But he wasn’t there” (Married Special-Operations Troops Feel Strains of War, n.d.). He came back a cold person because he learned to feel nothing to survive in war. He then re-enlisted to serve in Iraq / Afghanistan where for the 6 years he served, he was home for no longer than 2 months. At that point, his wife insisted they live as roommates instead of spouses because reintegrating was too difficult to bear. Their relationship was strained and his anger was palpable. One night, while his wife and two daughters discussed American Idol, he said “Shut the (expletive) up. What is wrong with you? Have you no concept of what is important in the world? Do you know what’s going on? The three of you disgust me” (Married Special-Operations Troops Feel Strains of War, n.d.). After some time, Chris realized his mistakes and how he had distanced himself from his family. He begged his wife to give him another chance because divorce was right around the corner. Fortunately, she agreed and they sought counselling, a service the army successfully provides. This saved their marriage, and now Lisa and Chris travel around to conferences and speak with soldiers and veterans about marital strain and how to deal with it.
Another success is that of Angel Stanley and Matthew McCollum. Their relationship never faltered, (at least in the major scheme of things meaning it never came close to divorce) mostly because of how Angel dealt with his return. When Matthew returned, one of the first things they talked about was his experience. She told him to “Get it off your chest. Tell me the worst thing you did” (Freedberg, 2010). When he told her, Angel said “Sounds reasonable to me. I’m glad you’re OK, now let’s move on” (Freedberg, 2010). In having him tell her the worst thing he did, it released the burden of guilt, and he no longer had to carry that around as a secret where he felt as though he would be judged if he mentioned it. This kind of relief could possibly be the best advice given to any returning soldier because it helps to rebuild the relationship and to start fresh.
There can never be success without failure as well. Marriages fail for many reasons but can be summed up as poor marriage quality. According to a study completed in 2009, marital quality in soldiers had decreased over time with the increase in infidelity and separation (Riviere, Merrill, Thomas, Wilk, & Bliese, 2012). This trend in dissatisfaction remained even after controlling for factors such as mental health, combat exposure, physical health, etc. ( Riviere, Merrill, Thomas, Wilk, & Bliese, 2012). This means that all of these factors had in some way an influence in satisfaction and consequently divorce. Higher PTSD rates were corresponded to higher separation rates and so on. On some levels, it seems the mental wounds left over from war posed more of a threat than any physical wound ever could.
Divorce, like marriage, has reached a state of somewhat stability. There again was no dramatic increase in rate and was really not significantly different from the general population. For example, in 2001 there were 5,600 army divorces and in 2004 there were 10,477 army divorces (Baker, n.d.). Additionally, military divorce in 2005 had only risen to rates observed in 1996 (Williamson & Mulhall, n.d.). What these statistics reveal is that while there was a change, it was not significant enough to stand separate from time and regular trends in divorce. The highest rates of divorce were for females serving in the war. Between 2005-2008, divorce in army women rose 2% as opposed to men: 0.1% which is a rather interesting difference (Williamson & Mulhall, n.d.). The reasons for this difference are foggy, but perhaps husbands at home are less likely to deal with the separation well.
Are these problems fixable? As Jeffrey Murrah (licensed marriage and family therapist) has said, these problems are caused from soldiers arriving home too quickly. He is of the opinion that men serving now get home so quickly that they do not have time to decompress and deal partially with their experiences, which is a major change from previous wars such as World War II (Baker, n.d.). Perhaps soldiers need a quarantine period where they can mentally regroup so as to avoid relational problems at home. This goes along with the words of Sven Wilson of BYU: “Traumatic experiences like combat seem to have a persistent impact on the ability of people to form and maintain successful relationships” (Baker, n.d.). Their experiences are so unlike anything dealt with by the general American populous that it affects soldiers to the core; those experiences combined with little decompressing time leads to strained relationships and ended marriages. A way to fix this would be to perhaps require counselling upon reintegrating into society. The stigma of therapy would have to be broken, but it could do a significant amount of good.
Baker, S. (n.d.). Marriages — Another Casualty of War?. divorce360.com. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://www.divorce360.com/divorce-articles/statistics/us/marriages—-another-casualty-of-war.aspx?artid=403
Freedberg Jr., S. J. (2010). Oral History Of Iraq & Afghanistan: Angel McCollum. National Journal, 2.
Married special-operations troops feel strains of war. (n.d.). USATODAY.COM. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/military/story/2012-04-24/military-marriages-special-forces-war-strain/54513768/1
Riviere, L. A., Merrill, J. C., Thomas, J. L., Wilk, J. E., & Bliese, P. D. (2012). 2003-2009 Marital Functioning Trends Among U.S. Enlisted Soldiers Following Combat Deployments. Military Medicine, 177(10), 1169-1177.
Williamson, V., & Mulhall, E. (n.d.). Invisible Wounds Psychological and Neurological Injuries Confront a New Generation of Veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Retrieved April 15, 2014, fromhttp://iava.org/files/IAVA_invisible_wounds_0.pdf