Dating in the Military: Rules and Challenges

Like civilians, service members want to find love and nurture successful relationships. However, given the nature of their jobs, military members face unique challenges regarding their love life. Are certain relationships prohibited when you’re committed to rendering military service?

This article will explore how service members can take care of their love lives while fulfilling their duties in the military.

a female holding an american soldier's arm

Are Military Members Allowed To Date?

Yes, military members are allowed to date civilians or within the Armed Forces. However, service members are discouraged from developing interpersonal relationships that may compromise their work, particularly between officers and subordinates.

What to Expect From Dating Someone in the Military?

Dating in the military is not a walk in the park. It’s common for a military member to move once at least every two years because of deployment orders. Even if an enlisted member has just started their journey of military service, they must devote much of their time to rigorous training schedules.

Enlisted members are expected to behave as exemplary members of society, the epitome of discipline and good behavior. These expectations extend to how they navigate their personal relationships. When military members date, they must ensure they don’t violate any law-mandated rules.

When you date someone in the military, you will have to navigate their demanding work schedule. Plus, your partner might move often because of their line of work.

Communication can also be challenging when you’re dating service members. If someone from the Air Force is stationed somewhere with poor reception, they might be unable to talk to their partners regularly. This setup can be complicated as communication is the foundation of all solid relationships.

There might also be instances where the enlisted member is not present during essential dates, like holidays or birthdays. Their duty always come first. Service members are not free to take a leave from work whenever they want.

What Relationships Are Allowed in the Military?

As mentioned, enlisted members are allowed to date. However, there are cases in which they’re prohibited from pursuing certain relationships. Here are relationship setups within the Armed Forces that the military allows:

  • Marriage between an officer and enlisted service member if they got married before entering into service
  • One party is a government or civilian employee, while the other is military personnel
  • Ongoing relationships based on civilian jobs
  • Two enlisted members share the same rank

What is Fraternization?

The Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) defines fraternization as a relationship that compromises the military’s chain of command. Fraternization may be a catalyst for favoritism and impartiality in duty or may undermine duty.

Usually, this type of relationship is an unprofessional relationship between an officer and enlisted personnel. However, there may be cases wherein fraternization goes beyond rank as well. Fraternization isn’t limited to romantic relationships.

Rules exist within the military to avoid fraternization because the military wants to prevent inappropriate relations between higher-ranking personnel and their subordinates. At the end of the day, these goals are intended to maintain order and discipline within the organization.

As mentioned, fraternization isn’t limited to romantic relationships. Here are instances wherein interpersonal relationships are considered fraternization:

  • Borrowing money or gambling together
  • Going on dates
  • Having ongoing business relationships
  • Sharing living quarters aside from those necessary to conduct military operations
  • Showing favoritism

When is Fraternization Not Allowed?

Fraternization has been prohibited in the military since 1984. Initially, each branch had a designated set of rules on fraternization. However, the UCMJ set a uniform standard for all branches in 1999. Since then, Article 134 has been updated several times to reflect the better definition of acceptable and unacceptable relationships.

Fraternization is considered illegal within the military only when a person’s behavior has compromised the unit’s chain of command. Charges can only be brought against people involved in military relationships if the following happens:

  • One party involved was a commissioned or warrant officer.
  • That person was aware the person they fraternized with was an enlisted member.
  • That person mingled in terms of military equality with at least one specific enlisted member in a particular manner.
  • The fraternization violated the custom of the accused’s service that officers shall not fraternize with enlisted members regarding military equality.
  • The accused’s conduct was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces.

What are the maximum penalties for fraternization?

The punishment for fraternization would depend on a case-by-case basis. The consequences would depend on the incident’s severity and how the relationship impacted order, discipline, and the chain of command. Not all cases of fraternization would warrant a court martial.

For minor offenses, the involved service members may be given the following penalties or punishments:

  • Counseling
  • Order to cease
  • Reassignment for one or both service members involved
  • Written or verbal reprimand

The accused service member may be given a non-judicial punishment (NJP), also called Article 15, for more severe cases. This isn’t considered an official trial. This is more of an inquiry into the facts, giving the accused the right to a hearing. An Article 15 punishment may include the following:

  • A 30-day suspension from duty
  • A 50% decrease in pay for two months
  • Confinement in quarters for 30 days
  • Extra duties or additional limits at the commanding officer’s discretion

There may be incidents wherein a fraternization charge may result in a court-martial. The maximum punishments may include dismissal, forfeiture of pay, and confinement for two years.

Defending Against Fraternization Charges

When one or two enlisted members are accused of fraternization, it doesn’t automatically mean those people would have to accept the punishments without a fight. These service members may use these as defenses:

  • False accusation
  • Proof of legal marriage before enlisting
  • Proof that the relationship didn’t compromise the chain of command, discipline, authority, good order, or morale
  • Proof that the fraternization was under the auspices of an official duty

Are Military Members Allowed to Get Married to Each Other?

Service members are allowed to marry each other. However, they’re still held accountable if improper fraternization leads to the marriage. The marriage of two service members of various ranks could be considered fraternization if the marriage compromises their duties.

Moreover, it’s acceptable for two members of the same rank to get married and for one to receive a promotion. In this case, the married couple shouldn’t be put in a direct line of command to avoid compromising their duties.

Best Practices For Dating in the Military

If you’re on active duty, you are subject to follow the rules of the military. However, there are ways to navigate romantic relationships without violating the law. Here are some tips active duty service members can consider:

  • Avoid public displays of affection. Keep things professional, especially when you’re on duty.
  • Don’t date anyone in the same unit, even if permitted. If the relationship goes sour, you can’t just quit and go elsewhere to avoid the drama.
  • Consider waiting. Dating in the military can be messy. It might be better to wait until you’re discharged before pursuing the relationship.
military couple


Dating in the military can be challenging, but you can pursue a beautiful relationship if you follow the rules.


Are military members allowed to date?

Yes, as long as their relationship doesn’t count as fraternization, military members are allowed to date. Article 134 dictates the rules of fraternization.

Can your girlfriend live with you in the military?

No, your girlfriend can’t live with you in the military. Only a military spouse is allowed to live in the base. You’ll have to live separately if you’re only dating.

Can I date someone in my unit army? 

Yes, you can date anyone in your unit as long as the relationship doesn’t affect your chain of command.

Is it hard to date while in the military?

Yes, dating in the military has its unique challenges such as long periods of separation and communication barriers.

Is dating in the military worth it?

Yes, if the union is genuine, it’s worth pursuing.

How does dating someone in the military work?

Other than the regulations in place, it’s the same as civilian relationships.

Attorney Roy Kaufmann serves as the Director of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service, located in Washington, D.C. As a recognized authority on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Mr. Kaufmann has published hundreds of articles and hosted many webinars. His teachings help law firms and businesses to remain compliant with the SCRA rules and regulations so as to avoid costly fines.