Female soldiers struggle with higher divorce rate
The Associated Press
Two failed marriages were the cost of war for Sgt. Jennifer Schobey.
The breaking point in her first marriage came when her husband deployed to Afghanistan, the last in a long line of separations they had endured as they juggled two military careers. Schobey married another combat veteran, but eventually that union failed under the weight of two cases of post-traumatic stress disorder — his and hers. They now are getting divorced.
Separations. Injuries. Mental health issues. All are added weights to the normal strains of marriage.
For women in the military, there’s a cold, hard reality: Their marriages are more than twice as likely to end in divorce as those of their male comrades — and up to three times as likely for enlisted women. And military women get divorced at higher rates than their peers outside the military, while military men divorce at lower rates than their civilian peers.
About 220,000 women have served in Afghanistan and Iraq in roles ranging from helicopter pilots to police officers. Last year, 7.8 percent of women in the military got a divorce, compared with 3 percent of military men, according to Pentagon statistics. Among the military’s enlisted corps, nearly 9 percent of women saw their marriages end, compared with a little more than 3 percent of the men.
Like all divorces, the results can be a sense of loss and a financial blow. But for military women, a divorce can be a breaking point. Why military women are more burdened by divorce is unclear, although societal pressure is likely a factor.
“It’s a strange situation, where there’s a fair amount of equality in terms of their military roles, but as the military increasingly treats women the same as it treats men in terms of their work expectations, however, society still expects them to fulfill their family roles. And that’s not equally balanced between men and women,” said David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland.
One speculation is that while more traditional men join the military, women who are attracted to military life are less conventional — and perhaps less willing to stay in a bad marriage.
About half of all married women in the military are married to a fellow service member, compared with less than 10 percent of military men. While it can be an advantage to be married to someone who understands military life, balancing two military careers poses challenges.
Female service members married to civilians face their own challenges. The rate of divorce among military women is higher for those married to civilians, said Benjamin Karney, a professor at UCLA. Research has found that the husbands of female service members were less likely to be employed than military wives.
“You’ve got to look at the realities of what military life is like on the family, and it really is kind of set up around a traditional married model of a husband and a wife that runs the house, if you will,” said Kimberly Olson, a retired Air Force colonel who is executive director of Grace After Fire, a support organization for female veterans.
Olson said many female warriors don’t get the support and space they need after war service to transition back to their roles as wives and mothers.
“The expectation that you can just turn that emotion back on just because you walk off the plane and they have signs and balloons and your baby runs to you, it is not realistic,” Olson said.
When divorce does happen, it only adds to the stress faced by an already stressed-out population.
Staff Sgt. Robin D. Duncan-Chisolm, 47, of Prince George’s County in Maryland, was deployed to Iraq last year with the District of Columbia National Guard while she was getting a divorce. She said she worried the entire time that she’d lose custody of her teenage son or lose the house that she and her husband had shared.
“I was able to smile … but inside I had a lot of turmoil I needed to have resolved, things I needed to bring closure to,” Duncan-Chisolm said. She credits the support in the Guard with helping her get through the divorce.
“If you don’t have anybody to talk to, sometimes it gets difficult. I’m glad I had a system in place,” Duncan-Chisolm said.