It takes a lot of teamwork to make a successful relationship endure. It also takes some individual sacrifices. Servicemen and women deal with this obstacle consistently. A Columbia College faculty member recently studied that phenomenon by studying service men and their wives to find out how families cope with the absence of a parental figure.
In an effort to bring a better understanding of the effects and difficulties of having a spouse that is not physically present, and how it affects familial relationships, Dr. Ahoo Tabatabai interviewed several individuals and is currently compiling their stories to find some sense of commonality.
“I’ve always been interested in the stories people use to communicate with each other and how those stories serve as a means to connect with others,” Tabatabai said.
Dr. Tabatabai, an assistant professor of sociology in the department of psychology and sociology, interviewed 10 women from all walks of life. All participants had one thing in common: each family had a member that was in the armed forces.
“I was asking women who they were in the context of being married to someone in the military.” Tabatabai said.
Through storytelling and communication both parties can maintain a balance of equality, even if they’re hundreds of miles apart. In the absence of their husbands, wives take on the role and perform duties that were once the responsibility of the husband.
“Today there is a strong emphasis on presenting the relationship as an equal partnership, whereas 50 or 60 years ago it might not have been important to make the statement about the equality of the relationship,” Tabatabai said.
With both parents present the roles that each individual plays are mostly understood by both individuals. Tasks and chores are divided up and each woman and man provide an equal amount of support and by working together as a team the two are able to work as a team to raise the children. The main question that Tabatabai put forth was: how do the families maintain that teamwork when your teammate isn’t with you?
“It’s about togetherness. While the couple may not be together physically, they’re still a team. It’s something that remains very important to them,” Tabatabai said.
With Facebook, Skype, picture phones, email and twitter, it is relatively easy to keep in touch with anyone you want, but there’s a lot to be said about being physically available.
“With the fathers not physically present, spouses often create narratives as a way to remain equal partners.”
Many military branches have given attention to the stress that is put on soldiers and their families while they are on duty. The returning father also encounters an imbalance. The family paradigm may have to shift once more to incorporate the husband back into the team.
Dr. Tabatabai looks to continue her research and hopes to present her research at some upcoming sociology conferences. She is working to have her findings published. Her research was made possible in part to a grant approved by Columbia College, which allowed her the opportunity to investigate further.
“The college has been very supportive of the project and promotes faculty research, Tabatabai said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to do this.”