I have been around the military pretty much my whole life. The men in my family have served in almost every branch (only one missing is Navy). Heck, if it was not for the military, I would not be alive nor would I be living in Europe with a family of my own and a husband who serves. With my years of service along with the years of being a military spouse I have seen and heard A LOT. However, nothing prepared me to be a military spouse. It’s a whole new ballgame that even after 6 years I am still learning and adjusting. There are 10 things that I have learned as a military spouse that I want to share with you, to help you prepare yourself or even to let you know that I GET IT…you aren’t alone!
1. The military comes first.
Don’t take this one wrong but no matter what, if the military needs your spouse then the military gets him (or her). While the military is more family friendly these days, your spouse signed the dotted line and if the military calls then they have to go. The mission comes before birthdays, anniversaries, sicknesses…anything. It may seem harsh but when you think about the bigger picture, the military can’t accommodate each and every person. They have a mission and your spouse plays a vital role in that mission (whether they believe they do or not). This has been a tough pill for me to swallow. We have two children who are very much daddy’s girls. They don’t want to go to bed unless daddy is home to put them to bed and honestly I want him home. I don’t want to be the only one taking care of our kids from sun up until bedtime. I want to share in the responsibilities. There have been many times we have had heart to heart discussions about him leaving work at a halfway decent time and coming home. With that though, I have learned that if he does come home at a “normal” time (no earlier than 6 pm for sure) then I should expect him to be up later than me doing work. It’s a compromise that I take because at least he is home and is able to spend a little time with the kids and I before diving back into his work. Now, you may not experience the late work days until your spouse reaches higher rank but if they plan on making the military their career then they should be doing more than the minimum, meaning working later than normal or even doing volunteer stuff on the weekends. It comes with the territory and it honesty doesn’t lessen as they make rank!
2. I have learned to love each duty station.
My husband was already in the military when we got married. I had just gotten out of the Army a few months prior but he was already settled and owned a house at his duty station. It was not hard for me to fall in love with our first duty station as a couple. I had free reign to decorate the house, I got a job as a paralegal on the same base as him, we explored everything the area had to offer and it was where both of our daughters were born. To this day, I love that place and often times wish we could go back. We grew as a couple, as parents and as individuals there. When we received orders to come to Belgium we were so excited. Our goal was to get anywhere over in Europe so that we could travel and ultimately give our children an experience that very few kids get. We were very shocked once we arrived here though. This duty station is like none other (well there are a few similar ones) and to be honest, I was scared out of my mind. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and neither did my husband. However, like the strong couple that we are, we decided to make the best out of it. We put our positive pants on and decided this was going to be a good duty station. You know what…it really is! It took us about a year to adjust and start to feel comfortable here but now I miss it when I’m not here. I was in the states for a Beachbody Coaching Conference last year for a week and I missed being here so much. Then again this past October we were in the states for just over a week and even my husband said he was ready to be back HOME. Each duty station is what you make of it. There will be good and bad at each place. You have to learn to focus on the GOOD things and let the bad ones roll off your back because you won’t be there that long. Sometimes a four year assignment seems like forever but really it FLIES by! While we haven’t been able to travel like we wanted due to his work schedule, we now have kids that are fluent in Dutch and have really experienced some great things. If you go into the new duty station understanding that it’s not permanent and within a few years you will move on then you can really enjoy it.
3. The key spouse network is vital.
This isn’t an absolute for all duty stations or squadron but it certainly holds true for those of us stationed overseas. I didn’t have any experience with the key spouse program at our last duty station but the program is an absolute necessity here. Our local Key Spouse network (which I am a part of) has a Spouse Sponsorship Program which is really key to integrating into this life. We also plan monthly spouse dinners to ensure everyone has an opportunity to not only get out of the house but to have some interaction with each other. No one knows more about what you are going through than those who are stationed with you! The key spouses are trained on a wide variety of issues and while they aren’t there to give you counseling, they can either point you in the right direction or just be that go to person to express your concerns to…to be a listening ear and maybe even help new programs to be created that could resolve certain issues. For instance, the Spouse Sponsorship Program was not in place when we arrived in country. The amount of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed was something that we did not want others to experience. Now with this program, those incoming spouses do not have to feel that. We provide a trained spouse sponsor to answer questions, help walk them through what needs to be done when they arrive PLUS we make sure to help get them around once in country (before their vehicle arrives). The Key Spouse Program has a bad reputation in many places but I know what a good one can be like and you have the opportunity to help change it for the better!
4. My actions affect my spouse.
So many times I hear spouses say that what they do should not be of any importance to the military but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Your actions as a spouse can negatively reflect upon the service member. For instance, racking up a lot of credit card debt can cause the service member to lose or be denied a security clearance. That’s something that could be required for their job! If you break the law or just make questionable judgements then again your spouse could lose their security clearance. Whether you agree with it or not, your actions can also hinder your spouses career progression along with duty assignments. While it’s not supposed to be considered during these things, supervision is as human as you and I and they remember these things. There are so many things that you could do as a spouse that can reflect negatively upon the military member but there are also things you can do to reflect positively upon him (or her). Volunteering to organize things within the squadron/unit/flight, become a key spouse, avoid the gossip trains or just being a supportive and positive spouse. I will say this again, YOUR ACTIONS can and WILL reflect either positively or negatively upon the service member!
5. Being a Veteran doesn’t make being a military spouse easier.
I spent eight years in the Army. I KNOW what the military is all about and I know that my husband has no control over most things BUT that doesn’t make him coming home crazy late or the middle of the night recalls any easier. I totally get what is going on, I mean I have been there myself, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling frustrated or upset. I think sometimes being a Veteran is more of a hindrance than a benefit. For instance, when my husband has to pull certain duties and I know that he’s just sitting there for hours on end, it kind of gets to me because I am at home with two kids under the age of 5 running around like crazies. I mean I don’t blame him but I can say I get a tiny bit jealous LOL. I guess what I am trying to say is that understanding what and why my spouse is doing something (since I have been there) doesn’t make it easy for me to accept the missed bedtimes and all the other things we experience.
6. My career comes last.
This is no fault of my husbands but it’s 100% true. The military moves us every few years which makes finding an actual career rather difficult. If you are lucky enough to find a career that you absolutely love then you have to be prepared to quit and restart at the next duty station. Then there are times like I’m experiencing right now where we are stationed in a different country and we aren’t allowed to work. There are a few positions on base or at the American school that spouses can work but the ratio of positions to spouses is really low. You basically have to be prepared to put your career on hold until your spouse retires. Unless you have a career that can pick up and move every couple of years. I think that’s why I love Beachbody Coaching and this blog so much! 🙂
7. I have set my mind on retirement at 30 years, not 20 years.
Yes, technically my spouse can retire when he hits 20 years which is only 5 years away but this is his life. He really does see making the highest rank he can and that means more years serving. What matters most though is that once he gets to 20 years, he can retire at any time and still receive a monthly check and we still have medical; however, he really does enjoy his job. The only way I know best to plan for our future is to plan on my husband being in the military until he hits 30 years. That allows me to be surprised if it’s before that yet not disappointed if it’s not at 20 years. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t plan for our retirement. Just the other day we were discussing what we wanted in housing, where we live and what life might look like after the military. Planning is perfectly normal, I just don’t plan on having to execute that plan until he reaches 30 years. I’m telling you, it makes it a lot easier on all of us.
8. I had to find an outlet for myself.
If you can’t really have a career (you can have a job but a full on career is hard to do) then as a military spouse you have to find another outlet for yourself. For me, it’s been writing. I honestly love having this blog! Now not every person is a writer or a fitness person so you have to find what works for you. I’ve always loved reading as well so I schedule in my time to read every day. That may not seem like great outlets but it puts a smile on my face and that’s what is needed. If you can find some sort of hobby that makes you feel happy, bonus points if you can make money from it, then DO IT!
9. Thank goodness I am an independent person!
Have you read the previous 8 items? I mean could you imagine being a person that’s not independent and dealing with all of that? I honestly believe that if you weren’t independent when you married a military member then you quickly learn to be. You spend years away from your family and most of your friends. You are raising kids and responsible for running the whole household because your husband (or wife) has too much going on. You are the chauffeur to sports, the homework guru, the appointment maker, the chef, the housekeeper….seriously you are everything. If you aren’t independent then you have to learn to be really quick. Luckily, I have always been a pretty independent person so it wasn’t a huge transition for me.
10. The amount of pride I have for my husband it insane!
Above all, I have never felt so proud of someone in my life. There are only a certain number of people that can say their spouse serves their country. That they lay their life on the line to protect everything and everyone that’s great about the United States. The amount of pride I feel to be his wife is beyond words! There is nothing I want more than to be his wife, military and all.
BONUS lesson learned….Mr. Clean’s Magic Erasers are a MUST have! When you are renting a home and you have two kids (or even just one big kid…a husband) those things are lifesavers. I have taken every mark you can imagine off of the walls, toys and even furniture. Do yourself a favor and keep a stock of them handy!
Being a military spouse is hard but it’s also one of the greatest adventures of my life. You become part of a whole new family and it really is a family. These are the people that understand your high points and your low points unlike anyone else. While you have your family, if they aren’t military then they really do not grasp this lifestyle. These are the people that will be there by your side…so enjoy it and relish in the extended family that you will grow. <3