Fort Drum— Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division is the most deployed division in the country with 80,000 troops annually. ABC50 spoke with a local Psychologist on the impact deployments have on military families and marriages.
Doctor Thomas Knudsen board certified psychologist and board certified in clinical psychology by the American Board of
Professional Psychology (ABP) told ABC50:
“Transitions are the hardest on families- from when the soldier leaves to when they come back. There is a change in the soldier when they return from deployments. This change is to be expected, no one comes back from war the same person. If the soldier can admit to the change and the wife can admit to it too, that’s the first step. I hear constantly from wives that ‘he’s not the same person as he was when he left.’”
With the 10th Mountain Division preparing to deploy again sometime in January, Doctor Knudsen explained that the biggest thing wives need to do is to get to know the changed soldier that returns. Rather than fighting or expecting soldiers to return and resume life as if they didn’t deploy to war, embracing change is the key to any successful military marriage.
Doctor Knudsen explained that it takes time for families to re-adjust to one another after a deployment. Wives are used to taking care of all the bills and household duties, so when soldiers return an adjustment needs to be made regarding the sharing of responsibilities. Knudsen explained one of the worst things a military spouse can do before, during or after a deployment:
“The mistake is to overwhelm the soldier with everything once they come back. Expecting things to be the way that they used to be and things are not. Soldiers feel that people don’t understand, so home becomes a strange and foreign place for them. They feel that no one can relate to what they are going through and so they withdraw.”
Knudsen stated that emotional withdrawal and distancing behaviors is one of the number one defense mechanisms soldiers tend to do before and after deployments. The numerous deployments have changed and have caused so much stress on military families. According to Doctor Knudsen's professional opinion, longer deployments tend to cause more PTSD in soldiers. Knudsen clarified Post Traumatic Stress for most of the public and media’s misrepresentation and misunderstanding of PTSD:
“It is not just the guys in the front lines, it is also the support teams and those not in the front lines. All soldiers regardless of their position and rank are in hyper-alert constantly and this causes physiological problems in the body as well and how they react to their environment. When one is working 24 hours, 7 days a week for 9 months, 1 year or 15 months- the soldier is bound to be effected by this.”
Most may assume that there are high numbers of divorced military marriages centered around deployments. However, a recent study from the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy: Innovations in Clinical and Educational Interventions stated the following:
“Findings from a large, randomized controlled trial of couple education are presented in this brief report. Married U.S. Army couples were assigned to either PREP for Strong Bonds (n = 248) delivered by U.S. Army chaplains or to a no-treatment control group (n = 228). One year after the intervention, couples who received PREP for Strong Bonds had one-third the rate of divorce of the control group. Specifically, 6.20% of the control group divorced, while 2.03% of the intervention group divorced. These findings suggest that couple education can reduce the risk of divorce, at least in the short run with military couples.”
Another study by UCLA’s Benjamin Karney and Rand Corporation’s John Crown also had an unlikely result countering most who may assume divorces are higher during deployments:
“In the other 13 significant analyses, however, the effect of deployment on sub- sequent risk of marital dissolution was significant in the opposite direction. Specifically, for enlisted members of the Army, Navy, and Marines and for officers in the Navy and Marines in the Active Component, for enlisted members in the Army and Air Force and for officers in the Army and Navy in the Reserve Component, and for all services and ranks in the National Guard – in short, for the vast majority of the U.S. military – the longer that a service member was deployed while married, the lower the subsequent risk of marital dissolution. In these groups, deployment appears to enhance the stability of the marriage, and the longer the deployment, the greater the benefit.”
"Anger", Doctor Knudsen stated,"is a very natural reaction from military wives. Usually there is anger towards the Army and frustration related to multiple deployments. It is a stress reaction to what they cannot control” said Knudsen. However, he went on to say that understanding and resolving what one cannot control is not an impossibility. Wives can and do resolve anger issues, just as soldiers can learn and have been able to successfully transition home after a deployment.
Military families endure so much sacrifice and it takes a special kind of wife to support their soldier during deployments and living a military lifestyle. Embracing the positive benefits of military life, and reaching out to the many resources available for military couples is the key. The more educated a military wife can be, the better understanding builds and resentment or anger dissolves. Being informed and staying plugged in with Family Readiness Group (FRG), having the phone number of the Army Chaplain and other such resources is vital for healthy military marriages.
Fort Drum offers several marriage retreats available for military couples through out the year. One should check with their FRG leader and Chaplain for details and further resources. Deployments are tough, but more than just love- educating oneself with the military lifestyle, staying proactive, and getting therapy if one needs it is very important. Military marriages can sustain hardship and weather difficult challenges of deployments with the proper education, staying informed, utilizing resources available, and obtaining moral support when one needs it.