A Seventh Day Adventist Chaplain at Robins Air Force Base recently lamented a divorce rate that has risen from 2.5% in 2001 to 3.9% in 2011. Is that a lot? Is there a solution? Have divorces really even increased? A religious perspective (as well as most of society) says any divorce is bad no matter what, but that might not be a healthy perspective on relationships.
The fact is that many* (but not most) marriages do not last “till death do us part.” Especially in a military context, pressure to marry young is higher because people want to stay together as one person ships off to training or to war. In addition, the military affords private housing and extra pay to married couples, so marriages of convenience are not uncommon. It can do more damage to try to push these types of couples to stay together after they mature and realize it might not have been the best choice. Coaching couples to an amicable divorce is an option many religious counselors may overlook.
In addition, the frequent separations and deployments can put great strain on marriages. A religious perspective does not allow for “open” marriages where wives or husbands are given permission to seek other partners during a long deployment. And, to be fair, the macho and patriarchal nature of the military can exacerbate the territorial instinct especially for men and “their” women. Coaching about safe and honest open marriage might provide couples an option to extend and improve relationships suffering long separation due to combat deployments.
It’s impossible to confirm whether military divorce rates are high or low relative to the general population because the military uses total divorces divided by total marriages. “There is no comparable system for tracking civilian divorces,” said an Air Force Times report. Civilian statistics are measured in divorces per capita (PDF). Honestly, the military metric is probably better, but it is odd that there is no comparative demographic.
Whatever the metric, the perception that all divorce is bad combined with an expectation of an exclusive, closed marriage may be hurting the military. A religious bias of chaplains who often do marriage counseling may be hurting military families in some cases. This is not to say that chaplains don’t recommend divorce in extreme cases of physical or mental abuse. A perspective of “right-sizing” the divorce rate to ensure that couples marry for the right reasons, stay married for the right reasons, and get divorced for the right reasons would be preferable to a “make it work at all costs” approach.
*As of 2009, the Census reported more than 10% of first marriages don’t reach their 5th anniversary and about 25% don’t reach their 10th anniversary. These statistics are in addition to the cultural pressure to enter young marriages, to marry solely because of pregnancy, or to stay in unhappy marriages. There is also a ubiquitous media stereotype of unhappy, controlling, sexless marriages.