How Is Your Relationship? Defense Department Asks Military Couples to Weigh In

A soldier holds his wife's hand.
A soldier holds his wife's hand during a farewell ceremony at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., April 19, 2012. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Timothy Koster)

Hundreds of thousands of military couples were asked by the Defense Department this week to weigh in on the quality and challenges they face in their relationships -- and what the military could be doing better to help.

A randomized survey, which includes some difficult questions about abuse, was sent out to 300,000 troops and 100,000 military spouses asking them to spend about 25 minutes describing their relationships. The questions used in the confidential survey, conducted by the nonprofit Rand Corp., were not publicly released by the department. Results will be collected over the next month.

The effort, called the 2023 Survey on the Strengths and Challenges of Military Relationships, was ordered by Congress in a recent annual authorization bill to check in on the health of couples. It appears to be a companion to the biennial survey of spouses, which was last released in February and found sinking satisfaction rates.

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"The survey results will have a direct impact on training and policies that affect service members, spouses, intimate partners, and families," Patricia Montes Barron, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, said in a press release. "I know time is often in short supply, but I ask everyone who receives the survey to share their perspective and help us improve our support for families and the military community."

Rand said there were gaps in what family-related topics the department has collected data on, and the new survey will attempt to fill those in to improve services.

It did note "risks" to participating, including questions that could cause discomfort or even distress.

"The survey describes serious forms of abuse, and some people might find these descriptions upsetting," Rand said in a post about the survey on its website. "These descriptions are included to make sure the survey can accurately measure when these serious forms of abuse have occurred and to show people who have experienced abuse that these events are included and taken seriously."

The military has grappled with sexual assault, harassment and domestic abuse for years, releasing regular reports pointing to a continued climb in the prevalence of the assaults and harassment despite efforts to reduce abuse across the Defense Department.

There were also 400,000 instances of domestic abuse in the military from 2015-2019 and 74% involved physical abuse, according to a recent Pentagon report mandated by law. However, as of 2021, the military still had not collected comprehensive data on allegations of domestic abuse, the Government Accountability Office found.

The responses to the new survey will be confidential and individual responses will not be linked to names or identities, Rand said.

"Only members of the Rand study team will have access to your individual responses, and we will take great care to protect your privacy," the nonprofit organization said. "For example, we will only report the survey results for groups that are large enough to avoid disclosing what certain service members or spouses said on the survey."

The spouse data released in February was based on 2021 surveys, and it found satisfaction with military life at the lowest point in nearly a decade -- dropping below 50% for the first time since 2012.

Only 49% of spouses said they were content, a drop of 15 percentage points from 2012, and those who said they favored their loved ones remaining in the services dropped to 54%, down from 68%.

The National Military Family Association blames high rates of spouse unemployment, inflation and a loss of a sense of purpose following wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

-- Travis Tritten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

Related: Spouse Satisfaction with Military Life at a New Low, DoD Survey Finds

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