When you’re both in uniform: Military couples today

Military Service Members in Dual-Military Marriages. Numbers based on 2016 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community.Dual-military couples—where both partners are Military Service Members—are more common today than they once were. While it can be a huge plus to have a partner who really gets the ins and outs of life in the military, it also can be difficult to navigate a relationship where both people are subject to deployments, relocations, and personal risk. If you’re in a dual-military relationship, learn about the issues likely to come up, so you and your partner can prepare accordingly.

By the numbers

Overall, about 6.6% of active-duty Military Service Members and 2.7% of Reserve and Guard populations are in dual-military marriages. While romantic partners might come from the same or different branches, dual-military marriages are most common among members of the Air Force (both active and reserve components).  More than half of active-duty marriages don’t have any children, while a slight majority of Reserve and Guard married couples do.

 

Dual-Military Marriages by Gender. Active-Duty: Female 20.4%, Male 4.0%. Reserves: Female 8.3%, Male 1.4%. Numbers are based on 2016 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community.

Gender considerations

While the same number of men and women are in dual-military marriages, a much higher percentage of female Military Service Members are in military marriages because there are fewer women in the military overall. About 1 in 5 active-duty women are married to another Military Service Member compared to only about 1 in 25 active-duty men. Wives are more likely than husbands to leave the Service because of family concerns. However, if you’re a woman in the military, your chances of divorce are lower if you’re married to another Service Member than if you’re married to a civilian. (For men, marriage to a civilian spouse is more stable.)

Know what to expect

Building a successful dual-military relationship is an issue of readiness and performance. Not only does your relationship health affect your personal performance, it can affect your career too. A Military Service Member partnered with another Military Service Member is less likely to stay in the military (particularly later in his or her career) because of the extra challenges.

Try to coordinate your career paths

As a part of the military you’ve committed to much more than a job; for many, it’s a commitment to a career and a lifestyle. While many couples appreciate the job security that comes with being part of the military, the structured career paths and “up-or-out” policies can make it tough to coordinate with your partner and be successful at the same time. Talk about how you want to handle things when career opportunities (and locations) conflict. Think about whether you both can handle a “commuter marriage” where you see each other only on weekends or holidays. Many couples also choose to “take turns” every few years with whose career takes priority.

Dual-Military Marriages by Branch. Active-Duty: Army 5.2%, Navy 6.0%, Marine Corps 3.8%, Air Force 10.9%. Reserves: Army 3.9%, Navy 3.0%, Marine Corps 1.5%, Air National Guard 6.3%, Air Force 7.4%. Numbers based on 2016 Demographics: Profile of the Military CommunityPrepare for separations

Even if you’re married to another Military Service Member, the military will treat you and your partner as independent entities to maintain force readiness, so there’s a good chance you and your partner will be separated for periods of time, especially if you’re serving in different branches.

Set up a strong communication plan for your time apart and learn to optimize your time together. If you have children, you might want to discuss options around one of you being away while your partner stays put with the kids. Also, remember to use branch policies to your advantage by setting up your “join spouse” preferences to increase the chances you and your partner will be stationed together—or at least within 100 miles of each other.

If you have kids, plan for child care

Child care is already one of the biggest concerns when only one parent is in the military, but even more so when both parents are in uniform. With the long work hours, deployments, and relocations (especially separate relocations), it can be a real challenge to make sure your kids are well taken care of and to keep your family optimized.

Reach out to extended family, friends, and your community to help while you or your spouse (or both) are away. Each of you must set up a family care plan with the military and keep it updated. You and your partner might find that you’ll need child care on short notice, so plan ahead: Meet with babysitters. Create a list of people you can call in a pinch. And make sure they have all the instructions they need when you’re away.

Keep in mind that dual-military couples tend to be favored for enrollment in DoD child-development centers, so tap your DoD resources for extra support. Make sure you also have the contacts for your units’ Family Readiness Group (Army and Navy), Family Key Group (Air Force), Family Readiness Program (Marine Corps), or Work-Life Program (Coast Guard).

Bottom line

Partners in dual-military marriages often can be pulled between their relationship and their careers. Successful navigation of both makes a big difference for overall force readiness. To optimize your career and your relationship, be sure you and your partner are prepared, practice open communication, focus on the positives, and stay informed.

Resources

Department of Defense (DoD), Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy (ODASD (MC&FP)). 2016 demographics: Profile of the military community Retrieved from http://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/Reports/2016-Demographics-Report.pdf

Karney, B. R., & Crown, J. S. (2007). Families under stress: An assessment of data, theory, and research on marriage and divorce in the military. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2007/RAND_MG599.pdf

Lacks, M. H., Lamson, A. L., Lewis, M. E., White, M. B., & Russoniello, C. (2015). Reporting for double duty: A dyadic perspective on the biopsychosocial health of dual military Air Force couples. Contemporary Family Therapy, 37(3), 302–315. doi:10.1007/s10591-015-9341-y

Long, V. A. (2010). Retention and the dual military couple: Implications for military readiness In J. E. P. D. A. Levy (Ed.), Attitudes Aren't Free: Thinking Deeply About Diversity in the U.S. Armed Forces. Maxwell Airforce Base, AL: Air University Press.

Smith, D. G. (2010). Developing pathways to serving together: Military family life course and decision-making of dual military couples. Retrieved from College Park, MD: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a530475.pdf