What do you recommend we do if we notice that our friends are paying too much attention to someone other than their husband? We like to call these gals "deployment widows." and it's not a nice term ... thanks
This is a hard one. If it's a good friend, I would just sit her down and talk to her about it - in a nonconfrontational way. Take the approach of "Hey, I know you're really getting down during this deployment. What can I do to help?" And then follow through and spend more time with her. I think part of the time it's just loneliness. At least I hope that's all it is!
Of course, if a friend really decides to cheat, there isn't much you can realistically do about it, but if you see it coming, reaching out to a friend could really help.
How much of this did you find had to do with age of the veterans? My husband just came back from a year in Iraq and he has commented on younger guys having problems (like "Dear John" letters) that he, who has been married 14 years, hasn't had to deal with.
Our research is based on a sample of ever-married adults aged 18-60 years that was collected in 1992. This is important to understand, as it is an open question to what extent what we found holds for more contemporary veterans. In our research, we found that age mattered substantially. Older veterans were more likely to report that they had ever engaged in extramarital sex and they were more likely to report that they had ever divorced. Older persons have more opportunity for both things to have happened in their lives. This is why, as a social scientist, I am interested in looking at longitudinal data (i.e., I would like to follow people over time). Unfortunately, we don't have those data at this point.
Andrew - I'm also wondering how your research squares with some recent information from the DoD showing that divorce rates among active duty military are lower than in the civilian population.
FROM ANDREW: This may well be the case. Our data reflect a specific, mostly veteran population. Recent DoD data showing that current, active-duty military personnel have lower divorce rates would not be inconsistent with our findings. There may have been changes in who is serving and the context in which they are serving. Also, our results include veterans, some of whom have been out of the military for decades.
Why is there always a seemingly endless list of civilians who meddle in the private lives of the military? Have they nothing else to do? Did somebody ask them to "curb" certain behaviors or, as seems more likely, are they simply minding somebody else's business? If civilians don't have the guts to get really involved - i.e., put on a uniform - wouldn't we all be happier if they would just shut up?
I think I'm going to have to disagree with you here. As long as research is done and reported respectfully, we need to know what is happening with our military families and how 10 years of war are affecting us. Many of the programs we have now to strengthen our families might not exist if it weren't for scientific research showing that they are needed.
It would be nice if every person researching military families were a veteran as well, but that's not realistically going to happen. Let's not automatically assume that academics are trying to make us look bad. Let's assume that they truly want to help.
Here's a question/comment we got on the Blue Star Families Facebook wall for Professor London:
Data that is over a generation old is no longer relevant unless it's used for trending over time. Unfortunately, extramarital sex and divorce is a huge problem in our community, especially in this time of long separations due to the deployment tempo. Combine that with PTSD and the plethora of problems (like communication issues) that even civilian families deal with and it's not surprising that we have an issue. Is there currently anyone researching statistics since 2001 forward, since the wars started vs those recorded 20 years ago?
Your point about the datedness of the data is very important, and it is something we address in our paper. As a social scientist, I would disagree that the data are irrelevant; publishing such findings, even if they are historical and contextually-specific, can help stimulate new research and data collection. I do think they help establish a baseline. My colleagues and I are working on a follow-up study with more recent data. Unfortuantely, I don't yet have results to report as the data are very newly available.
The military eggs on teen and young adult marriage, with financial incentives, peer pressure, ceremonies like the sword arch and even references to personal life on ratings sheets. They push kids down the aisle. Over time, many of these immature folks act out, step out and bail out. The same would be true if you urged lots of civilian kids to marry. It's nuts, and it has been ever thus. Remove the overt and cultural incentives to too-young marriage: problem solved.
There is a lot of evidence that service members serving during the era of the All-Volunteer Force (since 1973) have earlier ages at marriage. There are some incentives to marry, including off-base housing options. So, some of the incentives are built into policies that may be changeable. But, some other social pressures might not be as malleable.
So why are veterans more likly to have an affair than civilians? What are the reasons?
This is a great question. In our research, we can document an association between veteran status and extramarital sex, but we don't know whether the extramarital sex occurred prior to the period of active duty, during it, or after it. Certainly, deployment-related separations may be a factor, but that may not be the only factor. For example, if veterans are more likely to be in occupations that involve travel away from home, then they may have more opportunity to engage in extramarital relationships. This would be one mechanism that could contribute to the association we observe. We need new data to examine possibilities.
Do you have future researched planned to see when and why the infidelity is happening? It seems that information like that would be great practical data that the DoD could use to help marriages that might end up in trouble.
From Stephanie: Here's a question that someone emailed me for Professor London.
How do you define "veteran" in your study? It appears that active duty military are included in that definition even though the populations can be very different.
We had a relatively small number of active-duty service members in the sample. We included them in the "veteran category". The vast majority of persons in the study who had histories of military service were no longer on active duty.
From Stephanie: Another comment from the BSF Facebook page. Michelle writes:
This a hard subject because every persons situation is so different. Just because one person was able to survive without cheating doesnt mean those whose marriage didn't survive has any less love or intended commitment the cheating happens both abroad and at home with those left behind. Less face it with war and these long deployments no one knows 100% what they getting into. Throw in giving birth while dad is gone etc its hard sadly many marriages have become a casualty of these wars. For those whose marriage didnt make it stay strong.. For those who did you're blessed.
Steph here again - Michelle, I think you really hit the nail on the head. Every person and every marriage is different. There are tremendous stresses placed on military marriages these days and all we can do is work hard to make our own marriages the best that they can be. And from time to time we need to step back and realize how lucky we are in many ways.
Our results show that veterans are more likely to have ever divorced than non-veterans even when we take extramarital sex into account. As we say in the paper, those results are consistent with the notion that military and veteran families face substantial strains that are un-related to the occurrence of extramarital sex but increase the likelihood of divorce.
From Stephanie: Another comment from the BSF Facebook page, not necessarily a question, but clearly people have some strong feelings on the topic of infidelity in the military. Christina writes:
Well I agree with the long deployments. Leave times are a joke. Yes please keep my husband out floating in the water for months on end for no reason other than to have him NOT use his studies he worked on for 2 years 16 hr days so he can serve fruit cups to people...And don't encourage them to cheat. Yeah I am saying it. It needs to be talked about. I can't count how many people have said crap to my husband trying to make him paranoid(higher ups more so than enlisted) and the guys trying to convince him to cheat as well during ports.
And they don't give two craps about families at all. They say they do during graduations and on websites for PR fluff. But when it really comes down to it, we have been shit on time and time again. I am in the EFMP and they STILL sent my husband to Hawaii for 3 years and refused to keep him here in the US since they consider Hawaii an over seas. They didn't care if I died or not.
Steph here again - I'm so sorry you weren't supported at a time when you really needed it. That's a situation that should never happen.
I expect that a lot of the strength of my parents' marriage is because of military service. My father was sent to Europ in the early 60s. She went too though that might have been a mistake (it was only 2 years and you were supposed to be away for 3 before being allowed to bring your spouse). They really had to rely on each other for support at a time when even phone calls were too expensive on his Air Force salary and letters took a while. They were very young - just 22 and 20 and had to finish growing up together. 50 years and counting.
You know, I suspect the same thing of my parents. They were 20 and 21 when they got married and then my dad was immediately off on bombing runs in Vietnam after his training was complete. My mother gave up a lot for the military life - career and aspirations of her own. But they've been married for 42 years and are still going strong.
This is an interesting question or hypothesis. It is something I wish social scientists who study marital resilience would take up.
From Stephanie: Another comment from the BSF Facebook page to share. Joy writes:
As a long time military spouse husband has been in 17yrs I don't think a deployment can drive someone to cheat. I've stood by my husband during long deployments and he's done the same. He's been transferred to another state and it's been 13mths since we've lived under the same roof for more than a week at the time. I love him and he loves me. I trust him with my life, and my heart. Now we are so focused on what's in front of us (retirement isn't too far off). I stay busy with our children and he's extremely busy with his career. Trust me ladies if someone is going to cheat on you in a foreign port give them time and they'll cheat on you at home. We have seen it all. A man that loves you will hold tight to the love you give to him, and he'll respect and feel honored that you keep the home fires burning while he is away doing his duty for our country. After all these years the men he works with would never cross the lines of trying to introduce things that aren't proper into our marriage, rather I find they are often wanting to know what our "secret" is. Trust pure and simple. Once it's lost you can never get it back so guard it as a one time gift.
Joy - Excellent points.
They're not trying to curb extramarital sex among SINGLE veterans are they? Because that would be stupid and intrusive - you tell a young man or woman to go out and fight and die and kill in a foreign land, and then tell them they can't indulge in consensual sex with another adult?
The question about extramarital sex that we examine in our research focuses specifically on sex with someone else while married. So, no, we are not looking at singles.
I appreciate Andrew London's point about establishing a baseline, but wonder if this publicity shouldn't be held for the results of the current study still underway. The conclusions drawn here apply to a very old group: "78 percent of the ever-married veterans in the NHSLS served prior to the era of the AVF, which began in 1973." Not that human nature has changed that much, but the military has. Reasonable people might think the headlines refer to some current boom in extramarital sex among recently discharged vets; after all, our minds are on today's wars, not Vietnam and earlier.