One of the first things I heard about the military community is that there are a lot of cheating spouses.
Some people blamed it on the long deployments, boredom, the fact that people married too young or that they lived far away from their family of origin. You’d have to be living under a rock not to hear these kinds of rumors. Unfortunately, many of them have truth to them.
I’d like to share my story with you.
If you’ve been cheated on, I hope that by the end of my story you will know you’re not alone. I hope this gives you the courage to step up and share your story with others so that infidelity can be brought into the light.
If you’re a military member, I hope that you will take a stand for what’s right and begin to affect your circle of influence for good.
If you’re a leader in the military, I hope that you will begin to lead your troops in a way that encourages integrity within relationships.
I was married for less than a year when my husband took me to the recruiter’s office with him. I remember sitting there when he told us the good news. This particular sector of the military (special operations) is very family oriented, he said. This is the best place for families in all of the Marine Corps, he said. Coming from the infantry, which didn’t seem very family friendly, we were very excited about that news and prepared for my husband’s transition to the special operations force.
I entered into the SOF wife life thinking that our family was going to thrive here, that we were going to be in better shape than other families in the Marine Corps.
Oh boy, was I in for a surprise.
It took a couple of years, but what I discovered was that unless you are [both] actively working on your marriage and family, the SOF life had the power to destroy it. Of course, no one tells you this when you first join. It’s all rainbows and kittens. You have to figure all of this out yourself, or learn it from another wife who is bold enough to tell you her story. But let’s face it, there aren’t many wives out there who will tell the truth about the SOF life.
Why that is, I haven’t figured out, but the hush hush, everything-is-great-in-my-home bologna has to stop. Clearly, the SOF community is vital to our nation’s security and is not going away any time soon. Wives need to step up, step out and stick together.
Marriage in SOF is tough. Really tough.
No one tells you that the very same traits that make a good special operations soldier, also make a very difficult marriage partner. The military as a whole makes up less than 0.5% of the US population. Members of the special operations community are only about 0.1% of the military.
But just because your husband has what it takes to make it into this elite group, doesn’t mean that he’s got what it takes to keep your marriage strong. As hard as these guys work while they’re at work, a surprising number of them do not have the same work ethic when it comes to making their marriages last.
Take my marriage for example.
I got married four years ago with the expectation that my husband would be a lifer in the Marine Corps and that his ultimate career goal was to make it to the SOF community. I was okay with that because I am an independent person and wouldn’t mind the long stretches of time I’d inevitably have to spend alone while he was off training or deployed. I knew our marriage would be difficult, but I believed with all my heart that we could make it work.
I was not expecting that his career choice would have such a negative effect on our marriage. In fact, I was blindsided by how much he changed after becoming a member of the SOF community. Here are some of my observations.
SOF Marines, namely operators, are highly skilled individuals. They are trained to make big decisions on their own, especially when it comes to mission execution. When they are on a mission, they are trusted to make the right choice so that the desired outcome is reached. Let’s say he has to go into a dangerous place and take care of a bad guy. While regular Marines have to follow step by step orders from higher ups and only act when told to, operators often make a decision by themselves or with a small group.
There’s no time to get permission before they move in on the enemy, they just do it. That’s their job. They are trained to execute the mission and they know what is okay and what’s not before they go out there. This unique ability is vital to the success of the SOF mission.
The problem is, the freedom they have in decision-making at work often translates to arrogance, pride and a superiority complex in a marriage. For instance, instead of talking about issues with me, my husband would just do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it because that’s what he was used to doing in his job. Don’t get me wrong, not every operator is a self-absorbed jerk who could care less about his wife and family, but I’ve noticed a theme among operators that reflects this tendency.
Because work consumes so much of their life, I imagine that it is probably pretty difficult to shut off that part of themselves when they are faced with issues from home.
One of the things I clearly remember the recruiter telling us about SOF was that on days when he had nothing to do at the office, he would be allowed to go home early to spend time with his family. The prospect of having him home around lunch or after on days when he was not in a course or otherwise engaged, was a pretty big deal to me. He was coming from a unit that frequently worked long hours, so to have daytime hours free to spend with me was such an exciting thing for me.
You can imagine my confusion and disappointment when these days rarely ever came. I noticed that when he was not in a training course, there was almost always something to do at the office. I thought for sure the person in charge would grant him some reprieve after being in back to back courses for weeks on end, but no, this did not happen. His life was work, work, work. All the time.
There needs to be a better work-home life balance in the SOF community. On the flip side, the members of a small team like the ones in SOF need to know one another well and be able to trust them to the highest extent in order to complete the missions they’re given. And since they usually have not known one another long, the time they spend together is very necessary. It is a sad fact that many teams spend more waking hours with each other than with their wives and families.
After a year in the community, I noticed that SOF is like a boys club. Everyone wants to be accepted.
Correction, everyone NEEDS to be accepted because this is a vital part of their job.
An individual that is too different from the others is a distraction and will often be singled out. Operators all need to be somewhat alike to be in this job but the trouble with that is, there’s no competition, no way to stand out among the crowd. If you know anything about men, it is that they like competition. And for those operators who aren’t confident and secure in themselves, they will be constantly competing with others to try and prove who is the best. The ways they try to prove themselves are risky at best and self-destructive at worst. More on that later.
The trouble in my marriage began very soon after graduation from the initial training course just as the training tempo began to pick up. He was gone more than he was home and his stress level was at an all time high. Most of his peers were extremely stressed as well. I noticed that while they were at work, they got wound so tight and unless they took steps to relieve their stress in healthy ways, they were bound to self destruct at some point in the future.
One of the biggest stress release trends for that I noticed among the guys was the use of alcohol. For those who don’t have integrity, using alcohol as a stress reliever spells disaster. Consider the facts. Combine a pretty stressed out man who thinks he can do whatever he wants, one who is allowed to (and expected to) make big decisions on his own, and add in the inhibition reducing substance called alcohol, and what do you get? A boy who does whatever he wants because he thinks he deserves it because he works so hard.
My husband had always enjoyed drinking. Drinking in excess was easy for him to do because of his addictive personality. When he decided that his stress relieving activity of choice was to go out drinking with his buddies after hours, it was a dangerous one. Quite often, it was happening while he was away on training. Training that he didn’t have to talk about with me. Training that he sometimes could not talk about with me because the course was classified. I think he must have thought that he could get away with doing whatever he wanted. Maybe he thought that since he was not allowed to talk about what he was doing in training, he did not have to remain accountable for anything that happened while on this training trip away from home? I don’t know.
What this is all leading up to is that while he was away on these training trips, drinking after hours, he chose to be commit adultery. What I’ve noticed since his confession to me about this behavior, is that so many other SOF families are dealing with these very same issues. It is hard for me to pinpoint the exact reasons why infidelity is so prevalent in this community but I think it has a lot to do with the unique situations and skills these men have.
These men are highly trained, highly skilled. They are doing jobs that are often sensitive or classified that they cannot discuss in detail with their wives. They are very stressed and have little to no time to themselves. They are working in an all-male environment with very little competition.
These are my observations, my theories, my thoughts. I may be wrong, but hear me out. Give this some thought.
Infidelity: Stepping out on your marriage is the ultimate way feed all the desires of the individual described above.
Power and control: They are in control of the affair.
Secrecy: Only you (usually) know about it. Going behind your spouse’s back is a form of control. Hurting them by giving your body away to another person is also a form on control.
Stress relief: Though temporary, doing what’s wrong often gives us an emotional high.
Proving one’s manhood through competition with other men: To many men, conquering a woman sexually is the biggest way they can prove their manhood to other men. Even in no one knows about it, they do, and they feel like a bigger man for being able to get the girl. Even if it’s not sexual infidelity, being able to attract another woman’s attention will feed that desire.
I’ve noticed that alcohol abuse among these guys is high, and rising. Many times, SOF teams drink together in a group setting. At bars and restaurants, they have the chance to interact with the opposite sex. I think that while they are away from home on training trips, they find it easy to drink with women whom they’d never get to see again and for the married guys like my husband, this can prove to be a very bad choice indeed.
My husband had one night stands with women from bars he was drinking at with his peers more than I can count. This happened over a period of about a year. In an attempt to get the guilt and shame off of himself, he always confessed to me after this happened. At first it was right way, but then the time between the act and the confession would lengthen. At the time, I was really unsure of what to do. I wanted our marriage to work. I loved him and wanted to be a family with him. Each time he confessed, I believed he was sincerely sorry for what he’d done and that he would not make that mistake again.
It didn’t even occur to me until it was too late that I could go to his command for help.
I guess I didn’t even consider it. But at the same time, if I went to his command, there would be negative consequences. I didn’t want to get him in trouble, I just wanted help. Every military member knows about he UCMJ and knows that if someone is found to be guilty of adultery, he would be busted down in rank, kicked out or prosecuted, all of which would affect his family’s financial situation.
With kids to care for, most wives don’t see this as advantageous. I think perhaps the military should punish adultery in a different, less financially impactful, way. Especially for those with families. A wife who has been cheated on did nothing to deserve that kind of treatment and they shouldn’t be subject to financial hardship just because their spouse chose to commit adultery.
After enduring infidelity for a long time, I realized I didn’t have the power to change my husband. I tried getting him to go to counseling, read recovery books, meet with our pastor, and things like that. But still, the infidelity kept on happening.
I finally woke up and realized that I could only change myself. One day, I finally told him, “I want this marriage to work and if you do, I need you to stop cheating on me and stop abusing alcohol. If you can’t stop those things, you need to leave.”
He chose to leave.
At that point, since he didn’t seem to care about me and our children, I went to his command and told them the whole story of his infidelity and alcohol abuse. Expecting some sympathy or some action to be taken against him (even though I told them I didn’t want him to get into trouble), I was surprised when their response was,
“Well ma’am, I hear you, and I know this is affecting your home life, but it’s not affecting his ability to do his job, so there’s nothing we can do.”
I cannot describe the outrage I felt after hearing that.
Nothing you can do? Isn’t that the reason there are programs like Family Readiness? The SOF life is a LIFESTYLE, not a job. What happens at home affects the operator’s ability to do his job. I believe there is something that can be done in these situations. I don’t exactly know what would be the best thing to do. But considering the skyrocketing infidelity and divorce rates in the military, clearly SOMETHING needs to be done. As a now divorced single mother with no connection to the military other than the friends I had while married, I am still passionate about this issue. If enough wives wake up and stand up for what’s right, things are bound to change.
If enough operators stand up for what’s right, the environment is going to change.
We need more support on this front. Infidelity happens too much here and is too painful to deal with silently.