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Soldiers' Wives Tough It Out

September 6 2006 - September 2006 sees the deployment of more British troops to Afghanistan, but what is the impact on the wives and families left behind? Research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council "The Family and Military as 'Greedy Institutions': Negotiating a work-life balance in the British Forces" reveals that the wives of British soldiers on active duty are more resilient then their husbands might imagine. Army wives have their dissatisfactions, but the work-life tensions of military life are outweighed by the financial security it provides.

The report's authors 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 interviewed 50 Army wives around the start of their husbands' six-month deployment to Iraq in 2004, and again after it ended. They also analyzed data from parallel research into the health and well-being of the soldiers. The wives, who were based in Germany, were found to much more tolerant than the servicemen of pressures placed on them by the military.

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 benefits. About half (51 per cent) of wives thought their marriage was negatively affected by their husband's career, and 47 per cent experienced this tension as emotional conflict, especially family stress caused by long absences and husbands missing important family occasions.

However, soldiers were more relaxed than wives before they left for Iraq. Wives were concerned with the extra demands of running the home, but husbands believed the women were more than able to cope, and did not perceive them to be concerned.

Husbands overall were more concerned than wives about the effect of deployment on marriage. The majority of soldiers believed that their family life was more important than their service careers (89 per cent), whereas wives were more likely to assess these as of equal importance (41 per cent). The study found that reactions differed to the two-week rest and recuperation periods half-way through deployment. 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. However, 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. The report calls for further research into whether similar differences occur among military families based in the UK, and from units less firmly rooted in traditional garrison communities.

Christopher 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 £10 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."


 

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