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Picking up the pieces: (re)framing the problem of marriage breakdown in the British Armed Forces

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posted on 17.06.2010, 09:24 authored by Lynda Nicholson
This thesis examines the issue of marriage breakdown in the British Armed Forces in light of claims that rates are double that of the civilian population. The research is situated within the context of existing research on the relationship between the service family and the military organisation. This thesis is distinctive in that it employs Bacchi's (1999) method of critical analysis to problem framing in Governmental policy and existing discourses on service families. The objective is to show how the impact of military demands on marriage and family life are framed by the media, politicians, and academics as a problem for the military, in relation to a tension that exists between retention and divorce. Attention to the effects of service life on families is therefore embedded in policy directives, and framed by concerns over the retention and recruitment of military personnel as implications for operational effectiveness. By re-focusing attention to the implications of marriage breakdown for service families this thesis constructs new problem frames, a key question being: what is problematic about marriage and marital breakdown for military wives? The empirical areas explored through in-depth qualitative interviews with a sample of ex-service wives from across the tri-Services are women s experiences and perceptions of marriage and family life, and of marriage breakdown in the military. This methodological approach is unique in that previous studies of service wives have focused on a single community. The voices and experiences of ex-service wives are noticeably absent in previous research, representing neglected routes to experience and knowledge that are vital to a more holistic understanding of the impact of military demands on the family. This thesis highlights the role of emotion in the socialisation of service families which has not been made in the existing literature to date. It has been acknowledged that the conceptual boundaries between the public and private spheres are practically non-existent where the military and service families are concerned. The interface between work and home can be explained in terms of the invisible emotion work service wives perform in support of husbands careers and the institutional goals of the military. This thesis is also distinctive in that it defines wives work in relation to the military in terms of emotional labour and the two-person career. As wives receive little recompense for this labour, responding to role appropriate emotions can have implications for the well-being of military wives, and illustrates the complex picture that emerges as to the reasons why military marriages might end. Factors linked to issues of marital adversity were: infidelity, domestic violence and emotional and psychological abuse, the effects of a culture of alcohol, and the impact of post-operational stress. In addition, family separation was viewed as creating emotional distance between couples. Many women became very independent and adept at coping with the military lifestyle, which created problems for the reintegration of personnel into family life. Moreover, husbands that were perceived by women to be married to the military, in terms of an institutional and social identity, were less satisfied with their relationships. This thesis concludes that the construct of the service family is embedded in institutional rules and regulations regarding marriage and family life, therefore current problematisations of marriage breakdown fail to reveal the difficulties experienced by families in navigating post-divorce family life. Non-intact families are rendered operationally ineffective, hence there are a number of consequences experienced by service families, and women and children in particular, that represent a far-reaching problem of marriage breakdown in the UK Armed Forces.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Lynda Nicholson

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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