Does being in a military marriage increase the likelihood of divorce? Not according to the most recent statistics about military divorce.
But military marriages continue to be perceived as unstable due to popularized dramas and misinformed stereotypes. We know that military marriages are strong and resilient, because we are constantly being tested and constantly passing those tests.
Even the best of marriages need boosters; they can become passive, leaving partners feeling unappreciated, unheard, and lonely. As a marriage and family therapist working with military couples, both in premarital and marriage counseling, I have identified six key factors to building and sustaining a successful, ACTIVE marriage.
Appreciation: Daily sincere mutual appreciation can be difficult. However, it is critical for each partner to be able to make unprompted statements to their spouse that show they recognize their partner’s value. During deployments, it can be a challenge to remember to show your gratitude when you are feeling overwhelmed by daily life. Examples such as “I appreciate your dedication to our family” build a strong foundation during difficult times. Don’t stop after homecoming! Strengthen the bond with positive daily statements to express that you are thankful for each other.
Communication: Listening skills can assist in areas of communication such as conflict resolution, goal setting, and pre-deployment discussions. The speaker stays on topic for no more than 10 minutes and uses I statements: “I would like my parents to be at homecoming.” The listener does not interrupt unless asking a clarifying question and when time, restates partner’s meaning. The roles then reverse, providing the other partner time to reply: “I would like time alone with you at homecoming." This allows each partner to be heard and an open discussion to ensue, coming to a mutual compromise: The parents visit a week after the return.
Teamwork: This is Team Marriage. Your participation is critical to its success. You and your partner work together to solve problems, set short- and long-term goals, manage crisis and celebrate triumphs. You are building a life -- together. Knowing what your responsibilities are as a team member, what is expected of you, what your objectives are, helps the team work smooth and efficiently. Communicate, appreciate each other’s strengths, and make a plan. Together, you work toward your future.
Individuality: In supporting Team Marriage, individuality can get lost. Rediscovering ourself is how we infuse new ideas and improve our teamwork. Through education, employment, hobbies, groups, learning a craft, or sports activities, the individual builds self confidence, finds a support network during deployment, and opens opportunities for self and family. Through these activities, each individual can appreciate their spouse with a fresh outlook, communicate to them what they have learned or experienced and enrich the lives of both members of Team Marriage.
Vitality: Team Marriage’s survival is in its ability to grow. As individuals, we change because of our life experiences, which include children, multiple moves and deployments, physical and mental traumas. This may lead to a weak team structure and poor communication. Breathe life back into your relationship by communicating your needs and desires at each of these life stages. Embrace the changes and develop together by creating new experiences through joint interests like hiking, travel, taking a class or exploring a new duty station.
Empathy: As a therapist I hear, “He/she doesn’t understand” as a common thread in the most troubled relationships. When a couple loses their ability to see the struggles they each endure daily, it is a significant blow to the success of Team Marriage. A relationship built on mutual gratitude and expression of needs has a strong foundation. The creation of goals for Team Marriage with secure development of the individual shows an investment in the life of your relationship. Through an active marriage, putting yourself in your partner’s shoes comes more naturally.
Military marriages have to face their challenges. My practice has taught me that the more you and your spouse pursue an ACTIVE marriage, the more likely you are to stay together forever.
-- Elizabeth Cabibi is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Hawaii and Washington State. She works with clients experiencing struggles in such areas as military deployment and lifestyle, child protection services, individual educational plans with behavioral components, as well as blended families, divorce and sibling rivalry.