Every week thousands of our military move around Australia and overseas in the defence of our country.
The unique nature of being married to those in the military puts strain on partners and families. Often there is little guidance what works until things start to unravel. This article provides some hints and tips to help you enhance a military couples relationship, and to help weather the changes that occur.
Here is a list of things to consider before you make the decision to commit to a long term relationship:
- Have you agreed on how things will be managed at home when the military partner is away for long periods of time? Who will be in charge of paying bills, or delegating money from the military partner’s bank account when they are not contactable?
- Do you have limits on how long they can be away? Is the non-military partner unable to tolerate months apart at a time and would the reserve forces be another option?
- Does the military partner have an obligation to serve for a few years as a way to make up for training or a promotion? Have you discussed your feelings about this commitment before undertaking such an obligation?
- If the military partner is away or has a particularly hazardous job role does the non-military partner have sufficient coping skills to live with the knowledge that their partner and possibly parent of their children may constantly be in harm’s way?
- Have you discussed having extra social supports if the non-military partner has a crisis or significant life event? Frequently military partners may miss events such as the birth of a child, family engagements or weddings, graduations, birthdays and anniversaries.
- Military pay is excellent when the partner is away on active duty. Has this pay been allocated in ways that is supportive of them when they return?
- Suppression of sexual needs is one of the most important discussion points. If a couple is going to be separated for weeks or months at a time, what plans does each person have to manage sexual desire, especially if one partner has a high libido?
- For reservists, there is the additional stress of the military partner having two demanding jobs.
Most of these things are not discussed in depth by couples before making a decision to get married or have children. Taking the time to explore this list of questions at length may be difficult to deal with during an engagement, but very necessary in the long term to make things work. One of the most stressful events for our defence force is trying to manage a deteriorating relationship when deployed. Sometimes the dangerous activities on a war front may be more tolerable than a partner threatening to leave while they are away. Certainly in the higher levels in the military the partner’s ability to support the military partner is often taken into consideration during the promotion process.
I believe that each military relationship will have different needs depending on the role of the military partner. Sometimes ongoing counselling for the non-military partner may be one solution to missing out on having a partner as a sounding board.
Agreeing to behaviours that support the marriage and the military role can be very challenging. Talking with a trained professional is one way of working out how to prioritise the needs of both in the relationship. Discussion topics for marriage counselling include:
- Social role changes when returning from deployment. Being in charge at the base doesn’t mean being in charge at home when returning!
- Mentoring of children when one parent is absent. Often grandparents and relatives or friends may play a more important role in children’s lives.
- Sharing decision making and leadership roles in the house when returning home. If the non-military partner has had to change things while the military partner is away, it is important for each to allow a grace period of adjustment when returning home.
- Giving the military partner support when leaving and while away. Sometimes this may mean that the non-military partner feels left out often and not on the receiving end of gaining support if they are always preparing to see their partner leave or have them return.
- Work out under which conditions would a couple make a decision to leave military service rather than risk losing the relationship.
- If separation or divorce is necessary – then how to do this without hurting each other in the process.
- Substance misuse is a common problem with those in the military and discussing what is okay and what is not is important.
- Building the non-military partner’s social and career network so that they effectively parent and work without experiencing being alone and feeling like a solo parent. Sometimes this means that the military partner will have an absent relationship when returning home if the non-military partner has an active life that no longer accommodates partner activities.
If you feel that you would benefit from learning more about strategies and skills to enhance and improve being married to the military, then book an appointment when you are both available. I have many years’ experience in managing FIFO relationships in the context of parenting and a long term commitment within the military context. Involving a professional can be one way of ensuring that both parties have support in sharing their needs and having a voice.
Author: Vivian Jarrett, B Psych (Hons), MAPS, MAICD.
Vivian Jarrett is the Clinic Director at Vision Psychology in Mt Gravatt and now M1 Psychology at Loganholme. She is passionate about providing high quality psychology services to Australians from all walks of life.
To make an appointment with Vivian try Online Booking – Loganholme or Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.