When your job takes you away from your loved ones, whether a couple times a month or for months at a time, it can be difficult to stay connected. Add the hardship of one spouse working in a battle zone while the other battles to maintain stability on the homefront, and you've got an inkling of what couples that have one partner serving in Iraq and other military outposts are facing. It's no wonder that divorce among recruits is more common than ever. In the U.S. Army, for instance, divorce rates have shot up 50 percent since 2000.
This problem is all the more tragic when you consider that a breakup with a loved one is a leading cause of suicides among soldiers. Fortunately the military is significantly increasing its budget for marriage-boosting programs.
On the brighter side, we aren't the first generation to face such distance and hardship. Sheryl Kurland, the Longwood, Fla.-based author of Everlasting Matrimony, Pearls of Wisdom from Couples Married 50 Years or More, interviewed several couples whom survived long separations due to military duty, without benefit of cell phones or e-mail.
How did they do it? "For couples in Everlasting Matrimony, the ability to handle long periods of separation simply boiled down to one thing: 'determination,'" says Kurland. "The 'D' word in their generation has been 'determination' whereas the 'D' word in our generation is 'divorce.' Compared to today's couples who experience separation due to work, the strains the elder generation had to deal with were either identical - extreme loneliness, money issues, single-handedly raising children, sexual abstinence - or more rigorous because they didn't have today's communication technologies."
Lillian Charschan, 80, one of the women featured in Kurland's book, agrees.
"It would never occur to me not to be faithful," says Charschan, who was married to her husband, Sidney, when she was 18. They were separated for several long periods, once for two years, when he served in World War II. "We had a very strong love for each other, and it was more important than having all the pleasures of having him around."
Her methods for keeping their love strong: writing letters to her husband every day (he wrote as often as he could), spending Friday nights with his parents and going out with girlfriends. "We went to movies, the opera. We didn't go looking for trouble and we didn't find it," she says.
Charschan also planned for a joint future, depositing every allotment check her husband received in a savings account along with a small portion of her own paycheck, earned as a secretary and switchboard operator for a clothing manufacturer in New York City. "Today too many people think about how much pleasure I can have today and never think about tomorrow," she says.
"No matter what the circumstances, for any couple to sustain a strong, solid marriage, the union must be perceived as a 'lifelong journey together' rather than 'if I'm not enjoying the journey, I'll just end it,'" says Kurland. "The roadmap is constantly changing, and the twists and turns, good or bad, can either strengthen or devour a marriage. It's a conscious decision."
May these old-fashioned insights inspire modern-day couples whose work takes them away from each other for long periods of time.
Got a problem at work? Leslie Whitaker, co-author of The Good Girl's Guide to Negotiating, would like to hear from you. Send Leslie an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 5063, River Forest, Ill. 60305
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