The military has its own specific set of rules that military service members must follow, including a very specific prohibition against adultery. Not only that, but “fraternization” between fellow military service members is also frowned upon.
Whenever anyone finds out that their partner is cheating, it’s devastating. It’s a huge betrayal of trust and confidence. It’s natural to feel untethered and to not be sure what action to take. It’s natural, too, to want to do something about it – whether your first instinct is to confront him (or her!), or to call his commanding officer.
I can see the appeal. Given that adultery is against military policy, if you call the CO, surely he’ll do something about it, right? Whether your hope is currently to save your marriage or just to ensure that he feels the fallout from all of this in as profound a way as possible, it seems like the first step towards getting what you want is involving his superiors. Right?
Well, in general, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s almost always a terrible idea to involve his commanding officer, and it could have dire consequences for you. Consequences that even litigation may not be able to rectify, especially if the court feels that your behavior was a contributing factor to creating the situation.
Why is contacting his commanding officer a bad idea?
Contacting his commanding officer is definitely a bad idea, at least at this stage. It’s almost always better to take other immediate steps (we’ll discuss those in a minute) rather than trying to get him in trouble with the military.
Talking to his commanding officer could have one of two possible effects, neither of which is actually desirable. What could happen?
1. He could be dishonorably discharged, demoted, or passed over for promotion.
This is what you want, right? Or at least, a slap on the wrist? So, why would that be a bad thing?
If he loses his job, he loses his ability to pay support – both child and spousal. Sure, it’s related to his infidelity, but it’s also relating to your tattling, so it’s probably unlikely that the judge would take too much sympathy on you. After all, if you had kept your mouth shut, your marriage might still be ending and your family still falling apart, but he’d have a job and an ability to pay support.
In many of these cases, it all comes down to support. And, all too often, wives are dependent on the support that their husbands can provide. If you are hoping for any child or spousal support, it’s best NOT to go to his commanding officer. If you do, it almost makes you part of the problem in the court’s eyes. Even if that doesn’t feel fair or accurate to you, the way the judge sees it, your involvement created this situation.
And, even if the judge were a very kind and forgiving sort and ordered him to pay some level of support, it’d likely be less because his pay would be less (or none) and, if he couldn’t pay it, you’d be in for a world of inconvenience as you tried, post-divorce, to enforce the court order. As my mom always says, “You can’t get blood from a rock!” So, if he can’t pay, you may have to try very hard to enforce the court order, with little or no success, and certainly a fair amount of expense on your part.
Not only that, but he could find that his future prospects are bleak, too. A discharge from the military is frowned upon, so he may find that, as he looks for other work, his options are significantly limited, too.
Look, it’s not fair. It sucks. It’s really, really awful. But if you’re dependent on support, you need him to work, and you should NOT call his CO.
2. The military will do nothing about it, because the military supports the service member over the spouse.
You may also find that, despite whatever policies and procedures exist regarding adultery and fraternization in the military, his commanding officer does nothing to help you. This, too, is quite common.
So, what difference does it make if he hasn’t lost his job? He can still pay support, so you may be good on that front.
The biggest problem is that your spouse will probably now be pretty furious. Imagine how you’d feel if he called your boss. You will probably have made settlement a virtual impossibility. Tensions will probably have escalated, and he may be refusing to do anything for you that he might otherwise have been willing to do.
And all that…for nothing! It doesn’t really serve a positive purpose, as far as you’re concerned, and could make life (and your future divorce or reconciliation) even more difficult. It could increase the amount of money you have to spend to get your divorce, and make the interactions while it’s going on even more intense and negative. It can harm your coparenting relationship, too. All in all, if the CO does nothing about it, the negative impact still outweighs any positive (is there any positive?) reasons for doing it.
What other immediate steps should I take?
It’s a big deal, and you’re hurting. You want to do something now. Talking to his CO is probably NOT the best way to move forward, though. So, what should you do?
1. Talk to an attorney.
Strategically, you’ll likely have better luck proving the adultery if you don’t start screaming about it or calling everyone he works with. If you tread carefully, you may be able to gather important evidence, or even negotiate with him when he’s feeling his worst about what he has done.
An attorney can help you capitalize on this time to ensure that you’re taking the right steps to take care of yourself and your children, no matter what happens to the state of your marriage.
2. Talk to a mental health professional or a marriage counselor.
Working through some of these issues is difficult, and can be time consuming. It’s a good idea to talk to someone who is in a position to help you recover. (His commanding officer is not that person!) Therapists deal with infidelity all the time, and they can help you see a way forward – whether you want to save your marriage or end it. Bonus? They can do so in a way that’s healthy and helps you as you recover.
3. Get tested.
I know. It’s an awful thing to say. But, from a sexual health standpoint, it’s so incredibly important. I’ve seen some nasty stuff come out of adulterous relationships, and it’s a good idea to get the information you need as soon as possible, before you risk spreading something you might have caught to someone else.
I’m sorry to even have to say it, but I think your peace of mind will be greater if you know that everything is okay down there.
4. Talk to your cleric or other trusted counselor.
Most churches have support for things like this. If you’re a religious person, you may find it deeply comforting to talk to someone of a similar religious background with respect to these issues. Whether you want to talk to a priest or pastor or can join a Bible study or other focus group related to this kind of issue, it may help you move towards healing.
Focus on putting your energy in a health place that will help you move forward. Talking to his commanding officer can’t really have the impact that you’re hoping it will, and, even if it does (like, if he gets fired), you could find that the consequences really outweigh the benefits. Always discuss any potential strategy with an attorney beforehand, too.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.