MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — If military families are quietly "coming apart at the seams," as the wife of the Army's top soldier told Congress in June, the evidence is here in the dining room of Army Capt. Mark Flitton and his wife, Lynn.
Their oldest child, Scott, 15, stormed into this room early this year after an argument with his father, asking why his mother ever married "that man." It was here in March where the couple first discussed divorce.
In July, Mark and Lynn explained at the dining room table how they live together now only on a superficial level, driven apart by back-to-back combat deployments and marking days until he goes back to war in Iraq next year.
"I haven't come home yet," admits Mark, 46, who during the past 10 years has spent a cumulative 36 months away in three separate tours. "I'm still in the war mode, and I don't know that I'm going to come out of it until I know I don't have any more war rotations to go back on."
"We've just become so comfortable in living separate lives," says Lynn, 49.
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to demand long and multiple deployments of soldiers, the Army high command is focusing more attention on a tragic consequence to military families. Soldiers and their spouses are learning to live separate lives — the soldier at war, the spouse at home with the children — and it is becoming more difficult with each deployment to get back together.
The Army's second in command, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli, says he learned of this during a tour this year of six Army installations hit hard by deployments.
"Spouses were telling me that their husbands were not reintegrating with the family," Chiarelli testified before a House subcommittee Wednesday. "They just realized that that was too hard to do in the short period of time they had (before returning to war) and they would back off from the family, which creates the relationship problems."
The Army is scrambling to address the issue, providing more counselors to help couples address their marital issues, expanding a program run by chaplains that offers marital therapy retreats. In an interview Monday, Chiarelli said he was encouraged by a pilot program creating online counseling services for soldiers and their families.
A crucial goal is to lengthen the time soldiers spend at home between deployments, he says.
Still, many fear that the damage done to marriages is lasting.
"What families are dealing with are the cumulative effects of nearly eight years of war ... effects (that) are not easily reversed," Sheila Casey, wife of Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, told a Senate subcommittee in June.
Army documents and interviews with military families identify why communication between a soldier and his wife break down and problems ensue.
Husbands acquire stoic "survivor" instincts at war — the ability to control their emotions, for example — and bring these skills home. Wives who become experts in living independently struggle to relinquish power.
A soldier's depression or combat stress can make matters much worse, according to research published in February in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
Statistics are showing a trend in broken military marriages.
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