Marriage in the military: Couples need to seek help

  • Published
  • By Capt. Aaron Harris
  • 22nd Medical Operations Squadron Mental Health Clinic flight commander
Inherent stressors of military life lead to a variety of psychological-social symptoms in our team members, but I believe the most common issue the military mental health community deals with is marital or relationship distress.

Recent research has found military marriages are now sustaining some of the highest divorce rates since the beginning of the Global War on Terror. Twenty percent of all military marriages fall apart within two years when a spouse is overseas.

Divorce rates continue to climb and many of those marriages that have remained strong through the stress of military life still experience significant challenges. Deployment, parenting, financial and extended family issues appear to be the most common points of friction between spouses.

The health and well-being of military families is crucial to our members performing at their best and achieving mission goals.

Marital problems are associated with decreased work productivity in the military. Relationship stress also has a direct and adverse effect on many aspects of physical and emotional health.

The health of our families is a common discussion topic among base leadership and helping agencies. The challenge is to find creative and effective ways to bolster military marriages while still meeting the needs of the Wing's mission.

This is an ongoing effort and focus of those responsible for the "health" of Team McConnell. "One Family," the opening of our Wing vision, underlines how seriously we take this issue.

What can Airmen who struggle in their marriages or seek to strengthen their relationships do? Giving the "state of your marriage" a little attention is a great place to start.

Relationships are about momentum. Rarely do marriages just stagnate. Partners either grow closer to or distance themselves from one other. That growth often seems to pick up speed as spouses feed off the cues they give each other. Assess where things are headed in your relationship and talk about it with your partner.

Get a marital health checkup. Like a routine physical exam, seeking some feedback on your marital functioning can prove to be wise investment of time. Meet with a licensed mental health professional and talk about how to further strengthen your marriage or how much intervention it might take to get things back on track. Available options for seeking help include active duty and civilian providers at the Mental Health Clinic and the Family Advocacy Program, as well as numerous off-base Tricare resources and providers.

A patient in our clinic, who was coming in for individual counseling to work through marital problems, indicated she did not want to come in with her spouse because she did not want a counselor to see them fight. There may be no better place to talk things out than with someone who can act to mediate conflict and facilitate good communication. Therapists have the advantages of being objective, and focused on the health of the marriage.

The marital bond you share with your partner is similar to a muscle, you need to exercise it regularly to keep it strong. That means work, effort and lots of reinforcing activities. What are you doing daily in your marriage to make it better or keep it strong? You should seek to improve yourself as a person and as a partner, then make the time you need as a couple for relationship-building activities.

How a couple fights seems to be linked to divorce, more than what they fight about. Learning to listen to your partner with empathy and being able to express your needs in a way that does not make your partner defensive are the building blocks. Each couple needs to establish rules for discussing issues as they arise. This is referred to as fair fighting and serves to keep discussions about emotionally charged issue safe. The safer the relationship is, the more likely that key communication will take place.

For more information, contact Alisa Norlin, 22nd Medical Operations Squadron, at 759-4325.