About Submarines, Family and Marriages

I recently discussed a shipmate's divorce, and found out we have alot in common. The more I thought about it, the more I remembered other shipmates who went through similarly bad times. I think there is something bad about Deploying and what it does to a relationship.

Most of the time, our TUNNY web page is optimistic about the benefits of Navy service. Maybe this is one part of our lives that doesn't benefit.

I hope you'll read the page, and compare your experience to mine. Maybe we can find out what the problem is: Is it military service introducing stress? Or maybe I am just a jerk.

Part One - My Example

Part Two - About Our Community

Part Three - Why bring this up

Part Four - Meet Wife "X"

Part Five - Wife "X", "Navy Wife – The Toughest Job in the Navy"

Part Six - Wife "X", "What I learned from the Navy and How it may have contributed to my Divorce"

Part Seven - Kids

Part One - My Example

While working onboard TUNNY, I developed personality characteristics that were new to me. When I was underway, I longed to be home and eat real food and sit around the house with my family. But when I was actually home, I said very little, and didn't enjoy much conversation. Let's see if you relate to any of these examples:

Does this sound familiar?

Is this accurate? Does it sound familiar?
View Results

It seems the introspective, secretive, defensive personal shell I needed on TUNNY came home with me. It was impossible to "leave the boat at the pier" and become human again. I had to set priorities - in order to stay out of trouble with my Chief, I sliced away time and attention from the little details in life. I focused on the big, unyielding requirement to be in uniform, rested, fed, alert and willing to work hard. No sick days, no calling in to work, no compromise. I became disinterested in civilian concerns, stop participating in the little things like happy conversation and feelings.

My wife changed too. She became independent, and when I would return home, we fought for control of the family schedule, priorities, just anywhere that a decision was made without consulting the other for "permission".

I understood order and organization from the boat, and found fault in many of her routines and everyday choices. We didn't have any common goals. She had her job, kids to tend and her routine, and I wasn't a part of those. My only routine was getting to muster on time, and laying clothes all over the living room before an underway, washing and packing uniforms for my seabag. I was consumed by the demands of TUNNY, and dropped out of her routine.

I wanted to be home, I wanted food and loving, but opened the door with a set of demands for food and attention that was just selfish. I think young submarine couples grow up, and adapt to new, independent roles; Now Daddy is tired and doesn't care about the little things, and Mommy has to run the show subject to his criticism. I think wives learn to look elsewhere for happiness. That means jobs, kids, whatever they can access.

Part Two - About Our Community

When people discuss "submarine marriages", they're always embarrassed to say what they have seen and suspect... Submarines kill marriages. It seems rude to be critical of the family, when we all repeat the Navy mantra that, "a family is what keeps a sailor going". Of course, there are those submarine marriages that last forever, but we all agree that these are the exceptions. While the national divorce rate for civilians is just over 50 percent, I'll bet the submarine community is closer to 80 percent. And I'm not just talking about active duty. I am including anyone who wears dolphins and dies NOT married to the original woman. In my case, our marriage failed when we grew apart (during the Navy) and then found that we preferred our independent lives to cooperative roles. We stuck together for several years after I left the Navy... but it was unpleasant. And it's because of who we were, how we changed, like I described above. We learned to be fiercely independent, and we didn't want to change back.

I find that many submarine marriages hold together while the husband is in the Navy. The problems are worse when he is a civilian, and home all the time.

Part Three - Why bring this up

I am not trying to convince you to "get a divorce" or "stay married". I have discussed marriage and submarines with young men who are considering Navy service. The Navy encourages marriage (free medical care, base housing. pay allowances to support dependents). Sailors want to come home to an apartment with a woman in it, instead of a barracks room, in a building full of guys they may/may not know and may/ may not like. So, it's very tempting to get married, and it's very tempting to want to live in a lifestyle far removed from the boat.

What is the objective of this discussion? Maybe we can:

  1. Put a mirror in front of some submarine sailors to show what jerks we have become, and encourage you to recognize the pattern of self pity when you're with your family.
  2. Warn prospective recruits that Deployments kill marriages, and your recruiter won't warn you about this. He's all Family-Friendly-Benefits.
  3. Allow an open discusion about Submarine marriages, since there is no before and after study that you can read anywhere else.

Part Four - Meet Wife "X"

A web page visitor (TUNNY spouse) wrote in. Her story (like mine) is a mixture of respect for the submarine service, and sadness for it's cost. Sometimes it seems like multiple personalities... She tries to enjoy her marriage and be proud of her contribution and her husband's accomplishments, and then reflects on how it is hurting them.

Part Five - Wife "X", "Navy Wife – The Toughest Job in the Navy"

The saying goes, “Navy Wife, It’s the Toughest Job in the Navy”. And in a way, it is. The following is a bit of my experience as a Navy Wife.

I was a Navy wife for a little over 10 years. By the time I “joined” the Navy, my husband was already a Chief. And, I had never been a military dependent before as I was growing up. This was going to be a whole new experience for me.

I learned quickly that you can’t be completely dependent on your spouse for everything. After a few West Pacs, a couple of East Pacs, countless weekly ops, a two year overhaul, having to move myself and my kids from one duty station to another with him doing fast cruises and then coming with the boat back to homeport, and shore duty which included doing inspections at other bases, I figured out that “military dependent” was not an accurate description. You have to be independent, willing to take on responsibilities that are normally “assigned” to your spouse, and be flexible. Shore duty or sea duty, expect the unexpected.

I learned how to mow a yard, take care of a car, stay within a budget (even to the point that I was able to put away a nice amount each pay period), gave birth to my first child one month into a West Pac, take care of the kids, take care of the house, and still include him on all that through letters, audio recordings, family grams, and pictures. I became independent, able to handle most things, and knew who to contact if I needed help.

Sea duty was not easy. Extended deployments would test my skills and my patience. The first week of deployment, I would miss him terribly. I would feel lost, especially in the evenings when he would normally be home. But then, I would get into my routine, which was easier during the day. I still had bills to pay, a house to take care of, and then kids to keep my days occupied. Evenings would still be a bit difficult. But then, I got a hobby. My hobby of choice was cross stitching, it kept my hands and my mind busy. And every night, before I went to bed, I would write to him, tell him how my day went, what went on, keep him informed of things the kids did, what was going on in the family on the mainland, etc. It kept him connected in a way with home, and it kept me connected with him.

I also got involved with the other wives. There were Tupperware parties, cross stitching parties, halfway night dinners, wives club meetings, visiting, going to the beach together, swapping babysitting, etc. All that became part of my routine. It was easy to want to isolate myself when he first left, but I realized that I had a great “support group” with the other wives. When he first reported to the Tunny, it was my first experience with sea duty. And many of the other wives had been there and done that before. They knew exactly what I was going through, knew the feelings and the doubts and the fears. And were the greatest resource I had to help me deal with it all. I later used that to help me with being Ombudsman for the boat.

At the end of the deployment, waiting at the pier for the boat to come in, there are so many things going through your mind. You wonder if he’s going to like the new outfit, will he be happy with what you have planned for the welcome home dinner, is he as happy to be home as you are to have him home. I felt a little nervous when the boat returned from long deployments, but not so nervous when they returned from weekly ops. (I was told by my father-in-law, a retired sub chief himself, that each return from a long deployment was like a honeymoon.) And I would feel like a nervous bride on those occasions.

But after the extended deployment, and having had all those responsibilities for so long, it was hard to give those responsibilities up. (Well, except for mowing the yard. I really didn’t mind giving that one up.) And it wasn’t easy for him to come home to a very independent wife. It would take a while and some adjustments on everyone’s part to get back into the routine. And after each deployment, the routine was different. With new additions to the family, changes in rank, and moves to different duty stations and different assignments, things were constantly changing. That’s where I learned I had to be very flexible.

The “bennies” were nice though. I had someone to pack my things when it was time to move, and unload those same things when we got to the new place. (I unpacked it though, so it could be put away as it was unpacked. I didn’t want things just lying around waiting to get put away.) I had the commissary and exchange to do my shopping in, which depending on where you are stationed can save you a lot of money. There was the medical and dental taken care of, or of minimal cost to us. There was also the close knit Navy community. Among the wives, it didn’t matter if you were skimmer or bubblehead; you were all in the same boat. And you became friends quickly. You made friends, and you lost friends due to changes in orders, or retirement. I am happy to say though, that I am still in contact with some of the friends I made during my time as a Navy wife.

Being a Navy wife isn’t all peaches and cream. You have to make the best out of what you are given. It definitely was an adventure for me, and there are times now that I miss Navy life. Because of the Navy, I got to live in Hawaii, upstate New York, and on Puget Sound in Washington State. I have lived in base housing, and lived out on the community. I have spent many nights alone. I have moved, twice without him there, so I learned how to find a house, both on base and off base. And I learned how to organize a new household. And I have become a stronger person because of it all.

As a Navy wife, you never know what’s going to be thrown at you next. Change in shift, change in departure date or arrival date, unexpected trip for inspection, all that and more, makes you have to be flexible. All of that has helped me now, has given me the strength and a background, to be able to deal with things that life throws at me. Being a Navy wife isn’t always easy, but it definitely has its rewards. It wasn’t always fun, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything else. For me, and many like me, it was the toughest job in the Navy.

Part Six - Wife "X", "What I learned from the Navy and How it may have contributed to my Divorce"

I have been asked to relate what I learned from the Navy, and how it may have contributed to my divorce. What you are going to read now, is based solely on my opinion and my experiences. It’s true that many marriages do not survive Navy life, or the transition into civilian life. So, I’m going to relate now, my own opinions.

I was a Navy wife for just over 10 years. When I became a Navy wife, my husband had already served 10 years. The Navy had been his life for a long time. He was a sub sailor and his dad had been a sub sailor. Navy was what he knew. As for me, it was a whole new experience. I was not raised in a military family. I had no clue what was in store for me. I was going to have to do some major adjusting, but I was willing to do just that.

What I learned from the Navy was independence, flexibility, and acceptance. Since he was a sub sailor, there were East Pacs, West Pacs, and countless weekly ops. He was gone more than he was home. So, I had to take care of things. I paid the bills, took care of the house, yard, car and kids. Contact with him was limited at that time. I couldn’t send an email to him and get a quicker response about things. Instead, I had family grams limited to 50 words, and letters which he wouldn’t get until he pulled into port. So, I learned to make decisions like going ahead with a repair to the car, do I get the T.V. fixed again, or do I just buy a new one, how much over can I pay on a bill or do I just make the minimum payment. Those were things that usually he would decide on, but since there was such limited contact, I had to make those decisions without his input. It was necessary, and I didn’t mind doing it either.

I gave birth to our first child one month into a West Pac. I learned to be both Mommy and Daddy. That is also when I learned that there are other things that come up and will change your routine or schedule. So, flexibility and acceptance really came into play then.

At pre-deployment seminars, we were told that he would begin to distance himself before deployments so it wouldn’t be so difficult for him to leave. But what the family would want was more closeness since he would be gone for such a long period of time. We were told to expect the distance and not feel shunned. I learned to accept that too.

What was difficult to deal with though, was when he returned home. For all this time, I was responsible, I was independent, and my schedule was mine and the kids. When he got home, he came home to a more independent wife, a different routine, a different schedule, and after the birth of our first child, someone who dictated a lot more of that schedule, especially where my time was concerned.

He figured on coming home, and just taking over his duties, just like what he did before he left. It was difficult for me to give up everything I had been doing, and it was difficult for him to find independence and reluctance on my part to go back to total dependence. And the hardest part for him to accept was that my schedule no longer revolved around his. There was more than one occasion that I was not home when he called to be picked up. I had errands to run, but had a cranky child on my hands, so it put me “behind schedule”. Although I was home in plenty of time for his normal time to leave, he decided to take off right after liberty came down, and I wasn’t home. That problem got solved with the purchase of a bicycle. We lived close enough to base that he could ride a bike in to work.

But for him, routine was routine. You very seldom strayed from the schedule. That was the way on the boat, and that’s how it should have been at home. I had to stay flexible but it was difficult for him to accept.

Then it was time to take the boat for overhaul. Before getting to PSNS for the overhaul, I had to move myself and my child from Hawaii to Washington State. He was bringing the boat over for the change of homeport, and I went over earlier. I had to find a house, and hopefully sign the lease and be ready to move in by the time the boat got to Bangor SUBBASE. I did it. And I was proud that I did it. I got help from the advance crew, found out where I needed to go, who I had to talk to. And was lucky enough to have a former neighbor who lived in the area willing to take me and my child in and help with the process also. I had to find other resources to help; I couldn’t rely on his help as he wasn’t there.

Overhaul meant long and odd hours and an exhausted husband when he got home. So, to take some of the burden off him, I was trying to keep things still running smoothly. I didn’t want to bother him with “small things”. I took care of the kids and things around the house, and found a way to keep busy by becoming Ombudsman. Thing is, he was home almost every night, and I wanted him more involved with home things. Overhaul took a lot out of him, and it put a big strain on our marriage. I didn’t want to burden him, but I also wanted help with things, like the kids. I needed to be supportive of him, but I also wanted support from him, He was around more, I thought I could get that. I became pregnant with our second child. If ever I needed support and help, now was the time. It wasn’t always there. There were a few occasions that as soon as he walked in the door, I walked out, needing some breathing space, needing a break. I was Ombudsman, pregnant and had a 2 year old and I was stressed. I don’t think he ever really understood why I would sometimes meet him at the door, leaving as he came in. The stresses I had weren’t like the stresses he had with overhaul.

I became more and more independent. I didn’t rely on him for help and support because he was exhausted from overhaul. I learned to find other resources. I talked to other wives; I was Ombudsman so I had training and other people I could talk to about things. My husband and I began drifting apart.

After overhaul, back to Hawaii we went. I spent 5 weeks alone on island, before the boat came there. By now, I’m an old pro at accepting changes and having to take the bull by the horns and get things done without his assistance. I had to pack us out in Washington, get the kids and I checked into the motel, pick up the car that had been shipped, go to housing to find a place to live, and then get all moved in when our household goods shipment arrived. I had a little help, in that our youngest child’s godparents were on island and helped when and where they could.

(I also found out that I could stand up to the packers. When they brought our household goods, it was on a Saturday. They weren’t real happy that they had to work, but I was really pleased that I was finally getting OUR stuff. They were in a hurry, and wanted to get it unloaded and be done for the day. I ended up having to put my foot down. My kitchen table had been disassembled for shipment, and so had the baby crib. They hadn’t put it together and were saying good bye. I told them that they needed to put the table together, and the crib. They didn’t want to hang around that long. I then told them that they did it, or I would have them staying to unpack every box they had just unloaded. They looked at their foreman and asked if I could really do that. He told them yes, it had been packed for me, I could ask for it to be unpacked. They put the table together, but had no clue how to do the crib. I borrowed their tools and put it together myself. )

Then the boat gets there. Again, he wants to take over everything, and for the past 5 weeks, I was doing it all. I stood up to the movers, got almost everything unpacked and put away, and the kids and I had gotten into a routine. He was on shore duty now, would still be gone at times, but home a lot more often.

Shore duty was not the same as sea duty. The wives were not as close and involved with each other. I needed something to help occupy my time, so I found a job. I didn’t work a lot of hours, but I needed to do something to get me out of the house. I went through a lot of guilt over going to work; I had a small child at home, and one beginning school. I wanted to be home with my small one, but I needed something to occupy my time. So, I went to work. I was happier, and was beginning to find a new identity, other than Mom and wife. We began drifting farther apart then. I had my job outside the home, and he was becoming more involved with other things outside the home too.

Retirement was closing in on us. At a time when we should have been getting closer to each other, he was talking to co-workers about what kind of house he wanted, what all was involved with buying a home, where to move to and planning his retirement ceremony. Very little of those discussions included me.

I was getting more acclimated to civilian life, working outside of the Navy. And I think he was getting scared. The life he knew for more than half his life was about to end. But he didn’t talk to me about it. Was it because there was so much at work he couldn’t talk to me about, but he could talk to his shipmates about? He couldn’t talk about most of the stuff he did on board the boat, and probably the same was true for shore duty.

Once he retired and entered the civilian world, we still did not really talk. I think it was because of all the things he couldn’t talk to me about during his time in service, that it just bled over into civilian life. Plus, all those things I had taken care of during sea duty and shore duty, paying bills, taking care of the house, etc, he took over and didn’t even discuss with me anymore.

I spent the first year of his retirement as an at home Mommy. I had one child in school, one child not yet there. I also spent the first year feeling isolated. The civilian community was not like the Navy community. In the Navy, you moved in and before your household goods shipment arrived, people were at your door welcoming you, bringing food, asking if there was anything they could do to help. It wasn’t that way in the civilian community. So, it was harder to make friends. He got a job fairly quickly, and I was proud of him for that. But I had no one to talk to during the day, and when he got home from work; I wanted to talk to him about things. He was tired and needing to adjust to civilian life. I didn’t have the things that helped keep me busy before, so I turned to him. It was a role he didn’t have to play before, and didn’t know how to do it.

After a year, my youngest was in school, and I joined the work force. It was a part time job, so I could still be home with the kids when they got home from school. I wanted to be included in things like the bills, etc., but it was not part of my responsibility anymore. I couldn’t understand why though, after I had done it for so long before.

During his time in the Navy, my support was integral to his advancement. He made E-9. When we married, he was an E-7. I felt slighted when I wasn’t invited to his frockings, even though I was told I held an important role in his achieving those goals. That he didn’t insist that I be included or even tell me before hand it was happening and giving me a reason as to why I couldn’t be there, made me feel as if I wasn’t so important to those achievements. I felt as if even though I was told from my husband all the way up the chain of command that my role was important, and even with letters of appreciation, it was really the service member’s achievements, and I wasn’t that important to that process. I was the wife, I stayed in the shadows. But once we got to civilian life, I felt I didn’t have to remain in those shadows anymore. That was another transition that was too difficult to make.

After 10 years of Navy life, and 7 years of civilian life together, the marriage wasn’t surviving. I had become independent in a lot of things, and wanted to be included in everything else. But I guess after so much time of him not being able to include me because of security reasons, it was easier to keep it that way. I wanted civilian life to be different than Navy life. We really couldn’t be partners in the Navy, with the separations and classified information. We never learned to be partners after the Navy. Our marriage didn’t survive the transition.

Don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy my time as a Navy wife, for the most part. The Navy made me more independent, more flexible and stronger as a person. And I think that it may have contributed in some ways in the break up of our marriage later, because I wanted to remain independent like I had been, but he wanted more dependence since he was now home all the time. I had learned to find my own resources, to be more flexible and independent, to not have to rely on him for support and help, and to be my own person and make important decisions. All of that has helped me, especially in the past 3 years of separation and divorce. In that way, the Navy taught me a lot. It might not have intended for things to go the way they did, but it has proved to be a help.

Fair winds and smooth waters it wasn’t always. But I learned to navigate the rough seas. The outcome is different for everyone, but it does help, whether you are bailing the life boat or just jumping ship. Please understand this is only my opinion, based on my experiences. For each person, it is and will be different. Best wishes to you all. Navy – It really is an adventure, for service members, spouse and family.

Part Seven - Kids

More coming - check back here later / I have to scan some stuff.

Thanks,

-Tom

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