I had the privilege of sitting in the United States Congressional Auditorium yesterday to hear the results of the BSF's most recent project, the Military Family Lifestyle Survey Report. I looked around the room and knew that the back of each head I looked at represented a story just like mine ... a husband, a mother, a son, a brother ... that most of the people in the room had a connection and an experience in common.
It always feels good when I feel like I'm sitting among friends I don't even know.
The report opened by identifying the top five most important issues identified by military families, and the numbers didn't surprise me: (1) pay and benefits; (2) spouse employment; (3) effects of deployment on children; (4) effects of OPTEMPO; and (5) how to address TBI, PTS, and general combat stress.
What did surprise me, however, were the survey results about family well-being. Although the military families surveyed reported that their servicemembers spent nearly half their time away from home, a whopping 86 percent reported that they were "happy" or "very happy" with their marriages.
How can that be?
In light of the recent reports concerning increasing divorce rates among military households, I was surprised to hear that spouses were self-reporting, in droves, that they considered themselves in "happy" marriages.
I started to think about the intensity of the work being done on PTS to remove the stigma associated with the diagnosis to encourage servicemembers to seek treatment for those issues sooner (notice they have now officially dropped the "D" for "disorder" from the acronym). I wondered if we, as spouses, need to find ways to be honest with our marriage assessments, and to find ways to remove the stigmas associated with admitting that the challenges associated with reintegration are difficult and often painful.
After the presentation I approached Rich Morin, Senior Editor at Pew Research Center, to talk about this statistical quandary. While he agreed that the terms "happy" and "very happy" were somewhat subjective labels that had a wide range of meanings to a wide range of different people, he pointed out specifically that military spouses tend to be independent and strong and may not view their predicaments as problematic the same way that their civilian counterparts might. In addition, our moderator Dr. Vivian Greentree pointed out, military spouses are historically and statistically proven to ask for help when they really need it, but usually when it involves their children.
Maybe we should be more fervent advocates for our marriages, too.
I can't help but think that as our sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines return home in droves, and as the military focuses on scaling back forces, we are going to have a military marriage war of our own on our hands. I'm ready for the challenge, and I'm ready for an open discussion about the real state of military marriages. But it's going to require the kind of stigma-removing work that has been done for PTS, and it's going to require us all to work together on the thing that military spouses are so good at: binding ourselves together and supporting the military family.
Are you surprised by the survey results? Or do you just think the term "happy" is too relative to be a useful measure of the success of the programs that are available to help military marriages after long or repeated deployments?