Soldiers' Wives Tougher than the Soldiers

What is the impact of soldier deployment on the wives and families left behind?

Research discovered that the wives of British soldiers on active duty are more resilient then their husbands might imagine. Professor Christopher Dandeker and Claire French from the King's Centre of Military Health Research, based jointly in the Institute of Psychiatry and the Department of War Studies at King's College, London, have conducted face-to-face interviews with 50 Army wives, based in Germany, around the start of their husbands' six-month deployment to Iraq in 2004, and again after it ended.

They found the wives much more tolerant than the servicemen of the pressures that the military places on them. Although more than 80 percent of wives declared themselves proud of their husband's career, half of them did not like them being in the armed forces. However, when the deployment ended, the army salary and pension started to weigh more and 88 percent of the wives said they wanted their husbands to remain in the Army.

Around 51 percent of wives said their marriage was affected in a negative way by their husband's career, 47 percent reported emotion conflict about their husbands' job. They said this was due to their husbands' long absences and the fact that they were missing important family occasions. However, the survey has found that the husbands are more concerned about their marriages than the wives: 89 percent of soldiers said their family life was more important than their service careers, whereas 41 percent of wives placed them on equal footing.

Soldiers said they think their wives are well supported by their unit during deployment. However, researchers found that women preferred informal social networks for dealing with the stresses involved. Nonetheless, they also appreciated the existence of formal networks because they offer "insurance".

"The background to our investigation was the growing interest in the idea of a healthy balance between the world of work and personal and family life. It has been estimated that stress related to this issue could cost UK business up to £10 billion a year," Professor Dandeker said. "The military is not alone in making 'greedy' demands on its employees. Indeed, the traditional family has also been described as a greedy institution which demands unquestioning commitment and undivided loyalty from its members." Further research is needed to consider whether differences would occur among military families from the UK, and from units less firmly rooted in traditional garrison communities."

Photo: The soldier (Michael Polak) and his wife (Angela Pierce). Credit: Richard Termine

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