Why Marriage Should be Like Enlistment


It shouldn’t take much of an opening paragraph to get most in agreement that divorce rates are absurdly high (in both the military world and civilian world). There are conflicting statistics as to what divorce rates actually are, but for the most part we know that these days divorces are more common than they ever have been before.

The reasons for that are debatable and the reasons are not what this blog is about.

Instead I want us to imagine for a moment that the signing of a marriage agreement was taken as seriously as the agreement an individual makes when they decide to enlist in the military. Because there are few agreements in life that carry as much weight as when an individual signs on the dotted line to join the military.

Let’s start from the top. The courting period of a relationship is much like conversations with a recruiter. Everything is butterflies and rainbows. During the courtship we tend to overlook the flaws that may be right in front of us. We don’t focus on the obstacles and challenges that will come our way, instead we dream of all that is good. We fantasize about the blissful romance that will never end. Believing that the length of our marriage will reflect what we have conjured up in our mind while we date our mate.

Think about the conversation with the recruiter. He/she doesn’t emphasize the possibility of deployments, TDY’s, mandatory formations at odd hours, etc. Instead the recruiters tend to tell us all the great things that are in front of us. Great things like job security, the chance to see the world, retirement benefits, etc.

I believe most people would agree, marriage is a wonderful thing. I also believe most would agree that being part of the military is a wonderful thing. The difference is if someone wants out of the military, they can’t just get out. But in a marriage it doesn’t take much to end the agreement.

So what if we took our marriage agreements as serious as an enlistment contract? What if each day we did a form of PT (Physical Training) with our marriages? That could mean waking in the morning and making sure we put a smile on our spouse’s face. That could be delivering breakfast in bed. That could be any number of things. The point is we would need to be “mission ready” within our marriages and put in the extra effort to be prepared. Besides, wouldn’t it be great if our spouse wore something like a PT belt when they woke on the wrong side of the bed warning us we may need to be cautious?

No servicemember likes the mundane and repetitive trainings, briefs and FTX’s (Field Training Exercise’s), but they are invaluable to our service members safety. Likewise, regular training and FTX’s (but make these “date nights”) could be used to strengthen our relationships. It’s not always fun sitting down and discussing some of the hard subjects, but the more we practice it the better off our marriages would be. Think about it, what servicemember really looks forward to going through that week’s end safety brief? So what if we did something similar in our marriages? Instead of sharing for the thousandth time the dangers of risky behavior, our marriage safety brief each Friday afternoon would include things like “Honor and respect your spouse this weekend. Disappearing to hang out with ‘the guys’ all weekend could be detrimental to your marriage. Ignoring your ‘honey do list’ and your family could have serious consequences. Putting yourself in questionable situations could be risky. Make sure you make time to take time.”

Now let’s assume that someone just wants to get out of the marriage. If it was like trying to get out of the military before your contract expired it would be nearly impossible to do. Of course there are reasons that you could get out of the military but those reasons would have to be huge, if not extreme. You can’t just get out because it’s harder than you thought. You can’t just end your agreement because what you conjured up in your mind isn’t exactly what is playing out. No … you can only get out if something serious happens. Otherwise you have to keep working on it to make things right.

So what do we do with those people who do “get out?” We label them just like we label our servicemembers when they get out. The label could be “other than honorable” for those who just don’t want to work on the marriage. It could be “dishonorable” for those who have abused their spouse or cheated on them. Or it could be “honorable” for all those who lived up to their part of the marriage agreement yet their spouse did not.

Could you imagine if when dating someone you were able to see their “discharge” papers from their previous marriage(s)? You would know right away what you were getting in to.

Here at Fort Riley our service members are ingrained with “Duty First. Service Always.” Imagine if we adopted that thought process to our marriages.

**For the record, if I was giving myself a counseling on how I do with my marriage, I would be put on “profile”.” Hopefully I can avoid being “flagged”.**


About the Author

Wayne Perry
Wayne Perry is a male military spouse (or as he likes to say, a MANspouse). He and his wife have been married for nearly seven years and she has been in the Army for three. Wayne is a stay-at-home dad with two boys that keep him extremely busy. Wayne is also an advocate for MANspouses, inspiring them to get involved in the military community and support each other. Through the facebook page MANning the Homefront he hopes to connect MANspouses with one another.
  • echo

    This guy must be living in a bubble??

    He makes it sound like it’s soooo easy to get out of a marriage. While it’s true that you can get out of a marriage at a time of your choosing? It’s not all that easy when there are children involved. And not to mention when personal property is involved. Now the military??? You have only signed on for a certain set number of years. When that time is up in 3 or 4 years? Unless you re-up and sign an agreement that you will stay another ? number of years, you are OUT! No lawyers, no court, no custody battles. Period! You are out and it didn’t cost your whole savings account. It didn’t cost your heart, your pride or your belongings!!!! Nor does getting out of the military at the completion of your contract cost someone’s financial future for the next ??? years as you pay child support or in some cases alimony.

    Truthfully in some ways it should be as easy to get out of a marriage as it is to get out of the military.

    • Sam

      The idea is that at the completion of the contracted period of time: Yes, it’s easy to get out of the military. But have you tried to get out before the contract is up?
      A “Marriage Contract” has the agreed upon time period of the rest of your life. So, yes, I imagine that if you try to get out before the contracted period of time is up, then: Yes, it’s hard! As it should be!
      That promise we all took in the “I do” process was not supposed to be empty. THAT is the fine print of the marriage contract.
      I agree with you, getting out of EITHER, before the contract is up, is extreamly hard.
      But, It counts as breaking a contract, and with that, there is a cost.

  • Mel

    So you think that people just give up too quickly and want to “get out” or marriage because it got “too hard.” I agree that you should try very, very hard. I agree that you should exhaust all avenues (counseling, a pastor, etc.), I agree that you should not marry for the wrong reasons (like you should not enter the service for the wrong reasons) and I agree that both parties must commit to doing the work. But marriage is not like being in the service. Marriage is a choice. Divorce is a choice too. It’s all about free will. The military is not about free will. You are paid by the Government, held accountable, and expected to fulfill your duties/job. I can choose to work on my marriage or I can choose to end it. If I chose not to do my job in the military, someone will end my service for me. But when it comes to marriage, it’s MY CHOICE. It’s not a contract that, if I violate it in some way, I will be subject to some sort of penalty such as reduction in rank or reduction in pay or “other than honorable” separation. It’s absolutely NONE of your business as to why ANYONE gets divorced. No one has to wear the scarlet letter if they get divorced. It’s not a crime to get divorced. And divorced people are not criminals, despite the fact that you suggest that a divorced person should be treated the same way a “less than honorable” discharged person should. Just because you don’t personally believe in divorce doesn’t mean you won’t face a situation somewhere down the road that won’t cause you to either think about divorce or actually get divorced. What if you are your spouse becomes involved with someone else? It’s so easy to say “that will never happen to me/us” but until you are there and in the situation yourself, you have no idea how you will react and deal with it. Marriages fail for many reasons. Sure, it’s easy to justify divorce if one spouse cheats on the other, or a spouse molests the children, or a spouse gambles away the mortgage money instead of actually paying the mortgage. But there are plenty of other reasons, not nearly as dramatic or severe as to why a marriage fails, perhaps to even include “not trying hard enough.” But whose definition of “trying hard enough” are we using? Yours or mine? Everyone has different levels of tolerance. It’s my business if my marriage fails, not yours. Further, If I’m dating someone, and I’ve been married before, while it’s fair to expect me to disclose the fact that I’ve been married and divorced, it is no one’s business why until I choose to share the reason(s). Yes, marriage is important, once you’ve entered into it. Marriage is sacred and while I’m not overly religious, some would say that marriage is an agreement that you make with God and your spouse. But it’s YOUR agreement and not anyone else’s. You aren’t getting a monthly LES to be married. Only you and your spouse can hold each other accountable. The government is not holding me accountable as to whether I stay married or not and neither should you. Why anyone gets divorced is simply none of anyone else’s business. Unless you were a party to that marriage, it is not your job to hold anyone accountable and demand to see their “discharge papers.” Getting a divorce does not make someone a failure or a bad person. Period. Also, I note that you’ve been married for all of six years. But you have children, ages two and 11. That tells me that perhaps someone was married before? Should I be asking you why either your first marriage or your spouse’s first marriage failed? Should I be asking if someone didn’t “try hard enough?” OF COURSE NOT! It’s absolutely none of my business! It’s absolutely possible that your children are adopted, or some other circumstance led you to having children those ages. But how can you pass judgment on people who want to get divorced (for whatever reason they choose) when someone might ask you, “Hey if you’ve only been married six years, how come you have an 11 year old child …. were you married before?” I would never dream of asking someone that because it’s none of my business.

  • Mel

    He may not be living in a bubble, but he has only been married for six years. Yet, he has children ages two and 11. That suggests that either he or his spouse has been married before and has a child from a previous marriage. Be honest … it would be easy for me to assume that, based on the only facts that I know about him. Should I be asking him why his or his spouse’s last marriage failed? Should I be branding him with a scarlet letter and demanding to see his “discharge papers?” Should I be thinking poorly of him or his spouse because one of them didn’t try hard enough in the last marriage? Should I be “labeling” him in some way? Of course not! Because it’s absolutely none of my business. And it’s very possible that neither he nor his spouse have been married before and the children are adopted. But again, it’s none of my business and I’m not going to brand him a “failure” or “less than honorable” just because he or his spouse might have been married before and it didn’t work out. Marriage is a choice. Divorce is a choice. But those choices belong to me, because i have free will. The military does not offer free will. You sign a contract and you are expected to fulfill your contract and do your job, or someone will end your contract for you. It is absolutely no one’s business why I choose to stay married or choose to get a divorce. A person is not a failure or a bad person if he/she gets divorced. (And for the record, I’m still married to my first and only husband. We celebrate 20 years this month, while he’s deployed).

  • Ashley

    Here’s an idea…how about we teach our children the value and importance of commitment and working through the hard times instead of running away as soon as it starts getting hard. We can’t change the people of our generations, but we can raise our children to be better.

  • Katy

    Great article, great analogy.