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Are Marriage Support Programs Working?

The marriage intervention programs across the military may just be working – or so the results from a 2010 downrange troop mental health survey of Soldiers and Marines released today may indicate.

The study shows a dramatic decrease in both concerns about divorce and infidelity among Marines and a marked, though not as great, decrease among Soldiers.

While the DoD officials who conducted the study (available here)  told me they are hesitant to “ascribe that finding to any particular factors,” they said relationship intervention programs, such as the Army’s Strong Bonds and the Navy and Marine Corps’ FOCUS, could be responsible.

That the reported plans for divorce and concerns over infidelity have gone down is not necessarily a huge surprise given DoD’s report late last year on the 2010 military divorce statistics. That release showed that the overall divorce rate across the services has stayed the same over the last two years – the first time it’s done anything but go up since 2005.

Both Marines and Soldiers reported far fewer worries about infidelity now than in 2007. Then 41.4 percent of Marines said were concerned about infidelity, compared to a mere 9.5 percent last year. Among Soldiers the number went down more than 10 points from 45.5 percent to 32.6 percent.

The percentage of Marines surveyed for this study that said they are planning to get divorced dropped more than 10 points from 17.7 percent in 2007 to 7 percent in 2010. Soldiers did not report a significant change.

More Marines also reported in 2010 that they have “good marriages” than did in 2007 – up almost ten points from 69.9 percent in 2007 to 77.7 percent in 2010. Soldiers reported almost no change between 2007 and 2010 with both years at about 68 percent.

Given the huge dollar amounts devoted to marriage support programs by the Army — $100 million in 2011 for the Strong Bonds program alone – we can only hope that they are making a difference. The Navy and Marine Corps’ FOCUS program is set to receive a much smaller, but still significant, sum of $8 million over the course of the year. And while these numbers are but drops in the bucket compared to the overall defense budget of $530.8 billion, they are a big deal for individual relationship support initiatives. It’s encouraging to see that the feedback from downrange reflects the possibility that the funding is being well spent.

About Amy Bushatz

Amy is the managing editor of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is an Associate Editor. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on NPR and in the New York Times. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.