While it’s often a difficult decision to end a relationship or marriage, it’s not uncommon to find yourself wondering if you should. A little less than half of marriages end in divorce, most commonly within the first 7 years. And while military couples aren’t necessarily more likely than civilian couples to divorce, the realities of military life (such as frequent separations, limited communication, financial stress, or injury) can challenge your relationship…over and over. Effective communication, respect, intimacy, and empathy can help keep your relationship strong and repair damage when it occurs even through the tough times. But if you continue to find yourself struggling, you might start to consider whether divorce is the right option for you and your spouse. There are many issues to think about because legal divorce can have a lasting effect on your family, home, health, and job—and especially your well-being.
Marriage, health, and performance
Taking the plunge into legal marriage can be a big step that changes your relationship and your life. Healthy relationships can be a source of support and stress relief. Building a happy and satisfying marriage can also improve your mental and even physical health and longevity. Meanwhile, high conflict or unhealthy relationships can actually be a source of stress and cause psychological damage over time. And the nature of your relationship will likely spill over into other areas of your life. For instance, problems at home can make it hard to stay healthy, focus on work, and perform at your best while on duty. So while there’s no definitive way to know if you and your partner are “meant to be” if things aren’t going well, it’s still important to find a way forward that will work—either together or apart.
An ounce of prevention…
There’s no single reason that couples divorce, nor is there necessarily a way to predict which couples will divorce. The challenges you’ll face as a couple will shift throughout your relationship. For example, early on, a couple might part ways because of compatibility issues or personality conflicts, while later down the road the challenges of raising a family, relationship boredom, or simply growing apart might cause an end to the union.
More commonly cited reasons for divorce include incompatibility, cheating, troubles with money and talking about money, or alcohol or drug use. Extended deployments can also play a role in military divorces. In all of those cases, it often boils down to lack of connection and emotional support. If you and your partner are just getting started (or any time really!), it’s important to put a good amount of energy into growing your bond and communicating with respect and validation.
What to consider when considering divorce
Sometimes even the best efforts in a relationship can still leave you feeling unsure whether you’re going to (or want to) make it for the long haul. There are many issues to think about when you’re considering divorce.
Safety matters most.
- Reasons to stay together. Even if you’re in a place of thinking about the end of your relationship, it’s important not to ignore the reason you stayed (or might continue to stay) together. Couples who ultimately decide to stay together do so because of love, friendship, good communication, commitment, and respect. Others stay together because of the barriers to divorce, including kids, religious beliefs, or financial need.
- Opportunities for repair. It might be worthwhile to think about whether you and your spouse can work things out. In many cases, learning and working on conflict resolution and problem-solving skills can help troubled couples get back on track. Emotional wounds and attachment injuries can also be repaired with time and tools. A counselor or couples therapist can help you explore ways to repair your relationship as well. Most couples report that therapy does impact their relationship and that it helps to have a space to talk and learn how to interact differently.
- Financial adjustments. Financial stress can be both a cause and outcome of divorce. There’s no doubt that money troubles heavily impact couple relationships, but divorce often comes at a price. The divorce itself can certainly be costly, but splitting a household and going from two incomes to one or one income to none can be a hard hit. One of you might also have to pay child support or alimony for an extended time too. The financial impact of divorce on military couples can also mean the loss of on-base housing, medical benefits, and support during deployments or PCS moves.
- Changes for families with kids. Over a million kids have parents who go through separation or divorce each year. Couples with kids often worry most about how their children will react to the separation and how family dynamics might change. Using age-appropriate language to explain to your kids what’s going on and doing your best to offer support and validate their concerns, rather than simply reassuring them, will go a long way. You’ll also want to think about healthy ways to co-parent and be aware that cooperative co-parenting isn’t always possible.
- (Temporary) upheaval to your well-being. Divorce is one of the most stressful events for many adults. It can sometimes bring difficult emotions like feelings of depression, guilt, or loss. And it can be one of the most critical, if not traumatic, transitions of your adult life. In times of stress, it’s common for people to use unhealthy habits (such as overeating, smoking, or drinking) as a way to cope. If you’re thinking about divorce, focus on building your coping resources, specifically your social support system. The good news is that declines in physical and emotional well-being are temporary, as the most common long-term result of divorce is resilience.
Assess your resources
In addition to the social support of your friends, family, and community, you might want to consider what other resources are out there to help you and your spouse make a decision or navigate a divorce. Know your rights as a Service Member or spouse and how the military handles divorce.
Relationships are often hard work, and at times you might wonder whether you and your spouse are better off together or apart. While keeping your couple relationship healthy is often a better plan than repairing it after it breaks, it’s not an uncommon place to be. Thinking ahead about the impacts of divorce can help you prepare for what comes next.