A lot of us veterans make bad decisions, epically bad decisions. If we always made brilliant decisions, we might not have ended up in the military. We drink too much, buy cars we can’t afford, marry strippers, and destroy our credit. One of my best friends blew all his money from a 15-month deployment in a weekend in Vegas. Another one got cheated on by his wife while he was in Iraq and came home and got “Fuck Love” tattooed across his chest. Another good friend decided to just not come back to Afghanistan after his R&R leave because his wife asked him to go AWOL. One of the stupid things we do, usually way too young and without much thought, is get married.
There’s a reason divorce rates are high in the military, but we need to get those numbers up. Like Matthew McConaughey says in Wolf of Wall Street, “You gotta pump those numbers up, those are rookie numbers.” Veterans make bad decisions left and right. The first good move I made in my marriage was to end it. Unfortunately, before you know it, there I was ready to ruin my life again and dove headfirst into another marriage. It took me getting divorced twice to get my bad relationships out of the way and grow up a bit, but hopefully you can do it in one divorce.
If I was to list things that matured me in my life, war and divorce would be top of the list, so I recommend you do both. I’m not sure which one of those took more blood, sweat, and tears. Two divorces before 30 probably aren’t required unless you want divorce master status like me, but you should at least get one. Like one of my dead buddies told me, “I couldn’t trust a soldier who’s never been divorced.”
One of the beautiful things about veterans is that we are a committed people. We believe in the power of commitment; we sign serious contracts and are willing to put our lives on the line for what we believe in. Marriage is a lifelong contract, kind of. But it is an oath and take our oaths seriously, in this regard too seriously. But being overcommitted has consequences, we stay in toxic relationships for too long and don’t get out even when we know we should. We don’t want to give up, we resist waving the white flag at all costs. Servicemembers are stuck in the military for the entire contract, we don’t have a choice. If we sign up for four years, chances are we are doing every second of those four years. We aren’t trapped in our marriages like we are in our military contracts, even if it feels like it. Escape is possible with the magical word that will change your life, divorce with a capital D.
Your first military marriage is like your first military contract, both are testing the waters. If it works, congrats. If it doesn’t then get the hell out. We get married younger than civilians, who the hell knows who they are or who they want to marry at 19? The military incentivizes us to get married to get some extra cash, supposed benefits, or just to escape the terrible barracks life. A lot of us take the bait too young and grind it out, refusing to quit. Your brain isn’t even fully developed by the age veterans usually get married. When we say “till death do us part” we mean it, even to our own detriment. There are joint bank accounts, you own houses together, and maybe some kids. We are more comfortable sometimes at war than peace, so we stay on the front lines of our shitty marriages.
Bad relationships play a big part in veteran depression, anxiety, and financial problems. Bad relationships make PTSD worse, bad relationships make everything worse. A good relationship alleviates depression, removes anxiety, and you grow together. Maybe it wasn’t the military that screwed you up, maybe you screwed you up by getting into a bad marriage. Or at least you aren’t helping yourself get better if you’re staying in an unhealthy marriage. Some wars and marriages are unwinnable. If you have the courage for combat, you have the bravery to get divorced.
Just because the relationship has lasted a long time, doesn’t mean it’s a good relationship. Our military careers transform us, whoever I was before the military is a total stranger to me. It took being alone to figure out who I really was. Rocky should have thrown in the towel when Apollo was fighting Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, you need to do the same if you are getting destroyed. It wasn’t that couples counseling would have helped my marriage, it was that we were teenagers and morons and shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. A divorce will admittedly be an emotional and financial struggle. The phrase “it’s cheaper to keep her” is said on every military base I’ve ever been on. But the cost of a long-term bad marriage is more expensive for your soul than your bank account.
In the military we learn things often get worse before they get better. Veterans like to learn things the hard way and sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to wake up. The problem is, if you’ve been at rock bottom it might be all you know. We are too used to “embracing the suck” and we’ve taken that into our relationships. A lot of life happiness comes from our relationships. A stressful relationship impacts every area of your life, from your friendships, to your sleep quality, and professional life. Don’t let your marriage be an anchor weighing you down. The bottom line is, it isn’t a problem veteran divorce rates are higher than the civilian population, the problem is they aren’t high enough.