Navy Pushes Resources Amid Rising Military Divorce Rate

Re-integration programs seek to keep families together after deployments

Across the military, divorce rates are the highest they have been since 1999 with nearly 30,000 military marriages ending last year.

Much of that is blamed on war time deployments which can be more frequent-- and certainly more stressful-- for both service-member and spouse.

The US Navy is taking steps to address one of the biggest challenges of military marriage during wartime: not just how to cope when couples are apart, but also the lesser known, but other daunting challenge: how to make a marriage work well when getting back together after deployment.

When sailors return from a long deployment, the reunions with family are emotional.

It is easy to see joy, relief and the love that binds a couple after long, tough months apart.

But what the happy pictures don't reveal is the substantial anxiety often felt by both service members and their spouses surrounding the challenge of re-connecting.

"We have to tip-toe around each other a lot and that is really weird," said Leah Washington, Navy spouse. "And it sets everything up for a lot of failures."

For a list of confidential Navy resources click here.

In their short marriage, Navy corpsman Chris Washington, his wife Leah along with their two young children have undergone three deployments which they find don't get much easier.

Their interactions once Chris returns home are uncomfortably familiar to many military families.

"They don't really take me in right away," Chris said. "Things i was doing before deployment, now she is doing. And if i start doing them, its not the way it was done so now I am an hindrance instead of a help."

Leah said she senses this feeling and also has difficulty making the change.

"When he comes home, that adds another person in the mix that needs time, more attention than what we are used to in the last six months or so," Leah said. "So getting him back into we do is really hard."

"You just feel like you've been replaced," Chris said. "Its pretty emotional."

When asked how the first few days go after Chris returns, Leah said they don't really know how to interact.

"We don't know what each other has been through for the most part," she said.

Throw in the added stress that the children don't recognize their father at first, and that their mom is also trying to study for a degree.

It might be easy to overlook the fact that the Washingtons have a loving relationship and that their challenges are shared by millions in the service, according to Mary Kirby of Navy Fleet and Family Services.

"We tell our military families, homecoming is not a day or that first hour, or the first kiss or first hug," she said. "It's a process and it's a process than can take 60, 90 days sometimes to find your rhythm and that's normal."

To that end, the navy is offering dozens of workshops including one attended by the Washingtons called Effective Communications to help couples just like them.

"We don't want them to have to reinvent the wheel," Kirby said. "There are a lot of couples who have thrived during this experience and we want to share their secrets of success."

These workshops are part of the Navy's bigger effort to address the psychological health of service members and the quality of their relationships.

Mary Kirby says the biggest challenge can be getting a service member to attend.

"Stigma and fear of consequences of it reflecting badly on your career is still a strong myth we have to fight all the time," she said. "The truth is we are a confidential resource and have so many people that want to see you succeed."

Chris and Leah give high marks to the couples workshop where they got some welcome tools and advice.

"People have done this before me and may have done it better than I could and coming these classes," Chris said. "They can teach me things that people already know that i don't know."

Contact Us