- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dear Ms. Vicki,

My problems have increased since my husband returned from Iraq. This was his second deployment, and the first time, we seemed to work out our problems. Now it seems we did not solve anything because the old issues have come back from the dead.

My husband wants a divorce, but I want to work out my marriage, if nothing else for the sake of our children. But what can I do if all he keeps saying is “Leave me alone,” “I don’t want to talk about it,” “I want a divorce.” How can I talk to someone who speaks that language?

I think the stress from deployment has ruined my marriage. I hate to admit it, but it seems we got along so much better while he was deployed. I can honestly say that most days since he returned, I don’t like the guy all that much. He makes me sick. But I don’t want a divorce. I’m sure he doesn’t always like me or understand where I’m coming from.

Why can’t I just let him go? Maybe I would be better off. I’ve raised the family, taken care of all of the bills and helped him be Mr. Army. Now he wants a divorce from me. Is this marriage over? Do you hear about this often, or am I the only one who’s having marital problems? I’m just ready to move on with my life if he does not want to be with me anymore. I’ve been by myself since I married him anyway. Do you think counseling will help? Please refer me to a counselor. - Divorce in My Future

Dear Divorce,

Don’t give up on your marriage so quickly. Yes, to my dismay, I receive numerous letters just like yours, explaining how deployments and long separations have caused a marital gap and much discord. However, many of these marriages emerge from the discord stronger if the couple is willing to work on the marriage.

Deployments give us time to grow as individuals. You explained it perfectly as you recounted ways you have become emotionally stronger and more independent in your husband’s absence. This is normal, and it’s a good thing, too.

Now, the two of you must come together as a couple and work on ways to make your marriage work. One of the first things I noticed is the faulty communication you have together: You say something, and he hears the wrong message, and vice versa. I’m sure the communication between the two of you has become very negative and condescending, so much that you believe you will be better off by yourself.

Listen, you are not alone. Yes, I definitely think counseling will help. There are many resources on bases to help, including couples communication classes and relationship coaching. There are services off base as well.

If you want on-base services, start with your Army Community Service or Social Work Service department. Staff there can let you know if they have classes and marital counseling available. If you want to see a professional off base, I recommend that you contact Military OneSource (888/342-9647), which will refer you to a provider in your community. All sessions are free.

In the meantime, go to the Internet and read about combat stress and its symptoms. Your husband has some of the symptoms. This is not to say he is not responsible for his actions, but it will help you understand how multiple deployments can affect our service members emotionally and mentally.

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I know women are usually the ones who write to you expressing concerns or complaining about one thing or another. I must admit it makes me sick to read the letters. They complain about the Army way of life, the housing, the schools, the deployments and other things. In my opinion, if you have a decent home, live in a fairly good community and are married to a husband who sacrifices to serve his country, why can’t you shut up and be satisfied?

I came back from Iraq to an empty house. My wife and children were gone. My wife even took my furniture and my dog. Now I am in debt up to my ears, with collectors calling my mother’s house looking for me.

I am angry because of how she did this to me. She didn’t even bother to write me a letter, and I wasn’t expecting this. Now, after all of my praying and trying to stay alive, I have more problems than I had in Iraq. I don’t know what I will do to her when I see her.

Would two deployments make a wife do this to her husband? - Back from Iraq

Dear Back,

I truly appreciate your hard work and your sacrifice to our country. Please accept my sincere thanks.

I have to be honest; I get letters like yours every day. I’m not sure what your wife’s motives were for not only leaving you, but also taking the children and the dog without notice and leaving you in financial despair.

Let me say quickly that because you write that you don’t know what you would do to her if you saw her, I would advise you not to try to see her right now, because that would escalate the situation.

Reach out to your family and close friends you can trust and on whom you can depend. I also would recommend that you talk to some of your battle buddies. Their support will be very important to you right now. Consider visiting with your chaplain on base or another clergy member with whom you can vent and on whom you can depend for support. This situation won’t be easy for you to understand or get over, so the more support you have, the better.

You are experiencing an array of emotions at this time. All of this is normal given your situation, but there are professionals who want to help.

Many marriages survive deployments; some spouses make positive changes and experience personal growth. Conversely, deployments can have the opposite effect on marriage and relationships. Sadly, not every reunion will result in a happy homecoming. What you are experiencing is unwanted, but not uncommon. You deserve better.

Take it easy, and don’t try to see your wife right now. I think you are too angry, but I understand why you feel as you do. Try to focus on your own emotional stability right now. Visit the legal office on base for advice and resources and also visit your Army Community Service Office on base for consumer-credit and other financial information. I wish I could do more for you at this time. Feel free to write to me and vent anytime. Keep in touch.

Vicki Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three. Her column runs in The Washington Times on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at dearmsvicki@yahoo.com.

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