I have been married to my husband for over three years now, and while I am still new to the military lifestyle, I have experienced quite a bit of the army madness. Between PCSing three times, being separated for a nine month deployment, three different month long field exercises, two extended overseas missions, and more 24 hour staff duties and out of town trainings and late nights and weekends than I can count, I have learned a few things.
1. It could always be better, but it could also be way worse.
The army takes away your control, and dictates absolutely everything. Where you live, and when, and for how long. The kind of house you can live in, where your kids go to school, who your doctor is, when and where you can take vacations, even if and when you can see your spouse. And as long as someone else is calling the shots and determining all the key factors of your life, you will never be fully happy with the outcome. On the flip side, it’s never as bad as it could be. No matter how bad your situation is right now, there are a million ways it could be worse. Just trust me on that. So try to be content with your situation and place more emphasis on the positives than on the negatives. Because it may not be the greatest situation, but it’s definitely not the worst.
- Tip: Make a list of all the things you like about your life and anything you are grateful for. Doesn’t matter how big or small it is, list it and keep it close.
2. Nothing is definite, so you need to manage your expectations.
Your spouse (and your whole family by default) is completely at the mercy of Uncle Sam. And Uncle Sam doesn’t care about birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, or dinner dates. Uncle Sam doesn’t even care about vacations, weddings, births, or funerals. Nothing is off limits for the military, and there will eventually come a time where the army just messes everything up. Whether it is rescheduling dinner because your spouse had to work late, having to cancel your big expensive vacation because of a last minute deployment push, or your spouse missing the birth of your first child because of a training exercise. Something will happen, big or small, and you need to manage your expectations for everything, every single time, for the sake of your sanity. And please, for the love of all that is good, don’t take it out on your spouse when things go wrong. They don’t have any more control over it than you do.
- Tip: Switch your vocabulary from concrete statements such as “when we do X” to tentative statements such as “if we are able to do X.”
3. Nothing is permanent, so enjoy it while you can.
The military lifestyle ends up bringing about a vicious little cycle of missing where you were, hating where you are, and wanting to be in the next place. And this cycle is true for just about everyone, regardless of where they have been or are or will soon be. The best advice I could ever give is to just remember that this is only temporary, and for better or for worse it will be over before you know it. So don’t spend your whole time at a particular duty station focusing on where you were or will be next. Focus on where you are and make the best of wherever that may be. Don’t wait until two weeks before the movers come to start exploring and making memories. Make yourself at home from day number one. I promise you will have a lot fewer regrets if you put yourself out there right away and make the most of your new home.
- Tip: Make a “bucket list” of local places you want to visit, and activities you want to participate in. Set deadlines (weekly or monthly) to achieve those goals.
4. Continue to pursue your own passions, even when it’s easier not to.
I will be the first to admit that the military lifestyle makes it challenging to have an identity other than “army wife.” Careers, education, hobbies, and friendships all get much more challenging when you move more often than an escaped convict on the run. But just because it is challenging doesn’t mean it is impossible. You just have to manage your expectations and be flexible. You have to be willing to look for opportunities and not expect them to be handed to you on a silver platter. You have to be willing to be patient, work your way up, and take detours to achieve your dreams. You have to be willing to meet a lot of people and eliminate a lot of crazies before you find your “tribe.” But I guarantee the extra effort is worth it in order to maintain your individual identity and to achieve a high quality of life.
- Tip: Take advantage of the benefits that are available to you as a military spouse. There are a lot of resources out there to help you with your career, education, and relationships.
5. Focus on your marriage, it’s the reason you are dealing with all this anyway.
Marriage is hard, and while I will never ever say “military marriage is harder than other marriages!” I would be lying if I said it isn’t without its own unique challenges and stresses. Being apart from your spouse for months and sometimes even years at a time, relocating your life at a moments notice, and being without a support network for most of your life are all things that can wear down a marriage quickly. There is a reason the divorce rate for the military is so high. It can be ridiculously difficult, and it is so much easier to dwell on the major catastrophes than on all the awesome parts of your marriage. Be aware of this, and invest in your marriage. Focus on the positives, and remember you married your spouse for who they are as a person, not for their job.
- Tip: Go to marital counseling regularly. It’s obviously better to get an oil change regularly rather than waiting for the engine to completely break down. Same with your marriage. You might not feel like you need counseling right now, but it’s always good to have some preventative maintenance done.
I hope that somebody somewhere finds this at least just a little bit helpful. If you have any questions about resources and benefits available to you, or if you just want to shoot the breeze (or vent) about your army experience, I would love to hear from you!