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Infidelity and the Military Spouse: When Distance Tests Love

Military Couple Hugging After Deployment

Imagine waving goodbye as your partner departs for another deployment. The uncertainty of when you’ll truly reconnect hangs heavy in the air. In the world of military marriages, where love is often stretched across continents, the heartache of separation is just the beginning. The impact infidelity has on the military spouse can be far-reaching.

In this space of prolonged absences, fears about fidelity can quietly take root, challenging the trust and resilience of even the strongest bonds. 

This blog is a heartfelt exploration into the lives of military spouses, delving into the emotional whirlwinds stirred by the possibility of infidelity, and offering a beacon of understanding and support for those enduring this silent battle.

It's been estimated that 70% of U.S. military marriages have invloved at least one case of infidelity

💡 Question for Reflection: How do you maintain a sense of closeness with your partner during long periods apart?

Operational Separation and Its Impact on Relationships

In the unique world of military life, spouses often face long periods of separation due to deployments. This absence not only affects the physical connection but also emotional connection, presenting distinct challenges that can test their relationship's resilience.

  1. The Burden of Anxiety and Loneliness: The solitude that comes with managing life alone, coupled with constant worries about a partner's safety, creates a heavy emotional burden. This can lead to doubts and fears, including worries about infidelity, something the military spouse may not have considered under normal circumstances.

  2. Vulnerability and Trust Issues: The peculiar pressures of military deployments can expose relationships to vulnerabilities such as infidelity. Trust becomes both a shield and a challenge, crucial for maintaining the bond but often hard to sustain over long, uncertain separations.

  3. Coping with Silence and Uncertainty: Limited communication during deployments can amplify fears and let the mind wander toward worst-case scenarios. This silence can be daunting, making it essential for military spouses to find strength in patience and faith in their relationship.

Effect of Deployment on the Homefront Partner

  1. Increased Loneliness: The absence of a partner due to deployment often leaves the spouse at home feeling profoundly lonely. This loneliness is not just about missing a partner's physical presence but also the emotional support they provide. The home, once a shared space filled with shared routines and conversations, can start to feel empty and silent.

  2. Loss of Shared Experiences: Important life events, holidays, and daily experiences that would typically be shared are experienced alone or communicated through brief messages or calls. This constant reminder of separation can intensify feelings of isolation, making the spouse feel like they are living a parallel but separate life.

  3. Reduced Social Interaction: The social dynamics for the stay-at-home spouse can also shift dramatically. They may find themselves withdrawing from social engagements either because they feel out of place without their partner or because they struggle to relate to others who do not share their unique experiences of coping with deployment.

Emotional Strain on the Military Spouse

  1. Anxiety and Stress: The uncertainty surrounding a partner’s safety and the exact duration of their deployment can lead to constant anxiety. The psychological strain of managing household responsibilities alone, often alongside parenting duties, can also accumulate, leading to high stress levels and emotional exhaustion.

  2. Fear of Drifting Apart: Emotional distance can foster fears about the long-term impact on the relationship. Spouses might worry about growing apart from their partner or that their partner might change in ways that will affect their bond. This fear can be compounded by the lack of regular, deep communication, making it harder to maintain a sense of emotional closeness.

  3. Vulnerability to Negative Thoughts: Isolation and stress can make the stay-at-home spouse more susceptible to negative thoughts and doubts about their relationship's stability, including fears of infidelity or concerns that their partner will no longer find them relatable upon returning.

Heightened Emotional Distress Due to Infidelity Concerns

With simmering concerns of infidilty, the emotional turmoil experienced by the military spouse during deployments is a significant issue that can affect their mental health and the stability of their relationships. 

Understanding and addressing these impacts is crucial, requiring both partners to actively work on maintaining their emotional connection and ensuring support systems are in place for the spouse at home.

The emotional challenges faced by military spouses during their partner's deployments can be intense and multifaceted, often characterised by loneliness, fear, and anxiety. These feelings can become significantly amplified by the fear of infidelity, which may either be based on specific signs or arise from the vulnerability and isolation experienced during extended separations.

Has it always been this way?

I was speaking with my Father about this very topic just recently. He shared the following memories from his childhood, growing up on Royal Air Force bases in the UK and Cyprus.

"Infidelity does not choose who to strike based on race, class or culture. It can happen anywhere at any time and to anyone, leaving its targets feeling like a bomb dropped from nowhere.

I was reminded recently of days gone by, when our Military's finest would return home after months of service, only to discover their partner's infidelity.

Some say absence makes the heart grow fond. Others counter this with "While the cat's away, the mice will play". Either way, someone was feeling lonely and needed some extra-marital fun, whatever the risk.

Popular culture has it that in true military form, secret codes were used to inform potential lovers that the door was open for business.

One such remarkable piece of code was rumoured to have been the use of the famously "Whiter than White" washing powder, OMO from the 1950's through to the 1970's.

It transpires that OMO boxes would be left on kitchen windowsills to indicate the status "Old Man Out" to potential lovers. Flip the box upside down and now it's Old Woman Out".

Advert for OMO

And there you have it, the perfect coded invitation for a bit on the side. Having lived on RAF camps throughout my first 16 years, I often wondered why Mr. Jones was so popular with the ladies and why Mrs. Greens TV was always breaking down."

OMO Box in military house window

But, What are the Modern Day Signs and Signals of Potential Infidelity

Recognising the signs of potential infidelity can be particularly challenging in a military context, where normal communication patterns are already disrupted by the nature of deployments. With the advent of modern comminication methods, long gone are the OMO days.

However, there are several indicators that might raise concerns:

  1. Changes in Communication Patterns: A noticeable decrease in communication or significant changes in the tone and content of communications can be alarming. If a partner who normally shares daily updates becomes reticent or vague, it may trigger fears of betrayal.

  2. Emotional Withdrawal: If during communications, the deployed spouse seems emotionally distant or disinterested, it can raise doubts about their emotional fidelity. This withdrawal can be particularly painful when the stay-at-home spouse is already feeling vulnerable.

  3. Inconsistencies in Stories or Schedules: Any apparent inconsistencies in what the deployed spouse shares about their routine or experiences can be troubling. Unexpected changes in schedule that are not adequately explained or stories that don’t seem to add up can fuel suspicions.

  4. Reluctance to Engage in Future Planning: If the deployed spouse starts showing reluctance to discuss future plans or avoids making commitments for activities or decisions after their return, it could signal a cooling of their emotional investment in the relationship.

  5. Changes in Financial Expenditures: Unexplained expenditures or secretive financial behaviour can also be a sign that something is amiss, although this may be more difficult to monitor during deployment.

It is crucial for military spouses to approach these signs with understanding and caution. The stress and isolation inherent in deployments can sometimes lead to misinterpretations.

Open communication, where possible, and support from counselling services or peer support groups can help navigate these turbulent emotions effectively, ensuring that fears and suspicions can be addressed constructively, rather than allowing them to erode the relationship's foundation.


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Battle Between Trust and Doubt

This potential array of signs can thrust the stay-at-home spouse into an intense internal conflict. 

On one hand, trust is a foundational element of any strong relationship and is critically important when partners are physically apart. On the other hand, the seeds of doubt, once planted, can grow quickly in the fertile ground of loneliness and stress common in deployments.

Table showing the impact of trust and doubt

Family Unit Under Stress

The effects of these struggles do not stay confined to the marital relationship but ripple out to affect the entire family.

  • Ripple Effects on Family: The emotional struggles of a military spouse affect the entire family, not just the marital relationship.

  • Emotional Atmosphere: Children and other family members sense and react to emotional cues like distress, anxiety, or sadness from the stay-at-home spouse, which can change their behaviour and emotional state.

  • Parenting Changes: Relationship stress can make the stay-at-home spouse irritable, impatient, or emotionally detached, impacting their interactions and the overall parenting experience.

  • Stability and Security: The stability and security of the family environment can be compromised when the core marital relationship is strained, affecting especially the children who rely on a stable and reassuring home environment.

  • Navigating Challenges: Addressing these issues often requires external support such as open communication, professional counselling, and support from trusted friends, family, or military-specific support groups.

Impact of Infidelity: The discovery of infidelity can disrupt foundational trust and security within the family, leading to profound emotional consequences for all involved, particularly impacting children deeply.

"The worst part about infidelity is the way it erodes the foundation of trust and leaves you questioning everything you thought you knew about your relationship." Luke Shillings

Tactics for Managing Infidelity Concerns

Seeking Support from Friends and Family: Having a strong support network can be invaluable. Friends and family can offer a listening ear, practical help, and much-needed emotional support. They can also provide a sense of normalcy and occasional distractions, which are crucial during times of stress.

Professional Support Talking to a coach, therapist or counsellor can help individuals process their feelings, manage stress, and make informed decisions about their relationship. Professionals can provide unbiased guidance and coping strategies to deal with the emotional turmoil of infidelity suspicions.

Keeping a Journal: Writing down thoughts and feelings can be a therapeutic way to cope with emotional stress. It allows individuals to express themselves freely and reflect on their feelings without judgment.

Staying Busy and Engaged: Engaging in hobbies, volunteering, or taking up new activities can help distract from negative thoughts and provide a sense of accomplishment and normalcy.

Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices like meditation, yoga, and mindfulness can help maintain emotional balance, reduce stress, and improve overall mental health.

Podcast Briefing with Caz Grant

Podcast episode 84 with Caz Grant & Luke Shillings

For more insights and personal stories, listen to the podcast episode“ 84. Breaking the Ranks: Navigating Infidelity in Military Marriages with Caz Grant" featuring Caz Grant. She shared her emotional journey dealing with the complexities of deployment and infidelity suspicions. Listen to the podcast here.

My podcast,"After the Affair", along with other resources like articles and workbooks, offer additional support. These tools draw from the latest research and expert opinions, providing a well-rounded approach to healing.

To Wrap it Up

This blog has highlighted the emotional isolation, vulnerabilities to infidelity, and the impact on family dynamics that can arise from the physical and emotional distances created by deployment.

Though difficult, taking steps such as joining support groups, seeking professional guidance, and maintaining open communication with the deployed spouse are crucial for managing these challenges.

For military spouses grappling with these issues, remember: you are not alone, and your resilience is commendable. Support is available, and reaching out can be the first step toward healing.

Whether it's through a discovery call, engaging with community resources, or listening to shared experiences on my podcast with Caz Grant, there are avenues available to support you in building a future you can trust.

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