Saturday, September 02, 2006

Soldiers' wives are tougher than their husbands think

September sees the deployment of more British troops to Afghanistan, but what is the impact on the wives and families left behind? Research from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) discovers that the wives of British soldiers on active duty are more resilient then their husbands might imagine.

These women may have their dissatisfactions, but the work-life tensions of military life are outweighed by the financial security provided by the Army. So say researchers 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.

Their study included analysis of face-to-face interviews with 50 Army wives around the start of their husbands' six-month deployment to Iraq in 2004, and again after it ended, along with data from parallel research into the health and well-being of the soldiers. They found the wives, who were based in Germany, much more tolerant than the servicemen of the pressures that the military places on them.

More than 80 per cent of wives were proud of their husband's career, but half did not like them being in the armed forces. When the deployment ended, however, 88 per cent wanted their husbands to stay in the Army because of salary and pension. Fifty-one per cent of wives thought their marriage was affected in a negative way by their husband's career, and 47 per cent saw this tension as emotional conflict, especially family stress caused by long absences and husbands missing important family occasions.

However, one time when soldiers were more relaxed than wives, was before the men left for Iraq. Wives were concerned with the extra demands of running the home, but the husbands believed the women were more than able to cope, and did not perceive any concerns on their part.

Considering the affect of deployment on marriages, husbands, overall, were more concerned than the wives. Soldiers believed that their family life was more important than their service careers (89 per cent), whereas wives were more likely to place these on equal footing (41 percent). When it came to mid-deployment two-week rest and recuperation periods, wives found it stressful having to say goodbye for a second time, while husbands saw the break as a vital period of release from the stress of military operations.

Soldiers felt that their wives were well supported by their unit during deployment, though the women preferred informal social networks as a buffer against the stresses involved. Even so, wives were also convinced that it was important to have formal networks available as 'insurance'.

All but one of the wives claimed they did not have a say in their husbands' work commitments, though 53 per cent accepted that this was part of being in the Army. Professor Dandeker said: "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 Ј10 billion a year.

"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."

Homefires: War Through The Eyes Of A Military Wife