What Price War Marriages?

Marriages in wartime are as varied as those in peacetime. Many marriages made since Pearl Harbor have sound foundations and would succeed under almost any circumstances. Other marriages, less solidly based, are dangerously shaken by the strain and stress of the war period. Some might have succeeded in peacetimes, but can’t weather the storm of war. There are also marriages contracted in wartime between persons whose lack of adaptability would doom them to failure even under the best circumstances. Even those who look at the world through the rose-colored spectacles of love know that war marriages are liable to special dangers and difficulties.

Much depends upon circumstances. For some couples, family life in wartime is not greatly different from family life in normal times. Careful plans are made for a home. The honeymoon is not a prelude to separation. Pay checks make it possible to buy furniture. Romance mellows into contentment and a baby is born.

But for others the honeymoon may be a prelude to heartache and tragedy. There are only a few brief hours of happiness together before the end of a furlough. Later the two, separated by five thousand miles of ocean, suffer doubts, loneliness, misunderstanding. Letters aren’t enough or don’t come when they are most needed. Much later there may be a reunion of two different persons—older and changed—who aren’t able to regain happiness and make a success of their marriage.

For many couples military service or war work makes some separation inevitable. A couple living apart may fail to establish the normal bonds of life together. Or they may discover, when the separation is over, that their idealizations of each other while apart bear slight resemblance to reality. They find themselves strangers to each other. They fail to make the adjustments and concessions and sacrifices necessary to successful marriage either in war or peacetimes.

The separation of marriage partners violates hopes and expectations that have been built up over the years. Many of the million or more Army wives wage a grim fight against separation. Some sense the coming of personality changes in their husbands as a result of Army life. Many try either to combat these changes or to keep in tune with them by following from camp to camp throughout the length and breadth of the country. In doing so they accept the inconveniences of wartime travel and add to the load on transportation. Sometimes officers are generous in permitting soldiers evening leave to go to some rooming house or hotel which to a wartime family is a temporary home. Frequently wives accept unsuitable employment for the sake of being near their husbands. On the West Coast there are areas where, despite high wartime wage standards, the competition of Army wives for jobs has reduced wages to low levels.

In this war, as in other wars, the increase in marriages has been accompanied by a sharply rising birth rate. Nine months after the adoption of the Selective Service Act, the birth rate in the United States jumped 11 percent above its level of the preceding month. (Its increase a year earlier was only 2 percent.) In 1942 not far from three million children were born in the United States-nearly three hundred thousand more than in 1941. In general, wartimes are not good times for babies. Yet babies are born-in trailer camps, in slums of war-production areas,. and to wives who are following their soldier husbands as long as possible. Thousands of women want babies to help them bear the absence of their husbands. The optimism produced by seemingly favorable economic conditions plays a part both in attitudes toward getting married and in having children. For some, childbearing, like marriage, seems a wartime service.

The problems of war marriages are more complex when there are children. Many a husband must forego the joys of helping to bring up his own baby. Often an Army wife with children cannot afford to keep a separate home. She is therefore obliged to live with her own parents or with those of her absent husband. In-laws do not have a perfect reputation for furthering marital harmony.

An Army wife living with her own parents frequently faces the old battle against parental domination. To be put back into the role of a child may seem particularly irksome after marriage, which traditionally means freedom from parental controls. It isn’t always easy to follow a consistent program of child training under the eyes of the child’s grandparents. Whether the Army wife lives as daughter or as paying guest under the family roof, friction of interests and attitudes is hard to avoid. Even when she finds it pleasant to live with her parents, the return to her former place of dependency may check the development of her maturity. And it  may strengthen loyalties which later will clash with the expectations of her husband as to his place in the scheme of things.

Consciously or unconsciously, women deprived of their husbands look for balances or compensations. A child may consequently receive an overdose of affection and underdose of discipline. One can only speculate as to what the effect would be if an entire generation of children were reared exclusively by women. Successful marriage and the rearing of children is a joint not a divided responsibility.