What’s it like being a military spouse? How do you handle the distance and separation? How do you deal with frequent moves? What’s it like having to do everything alone?
These are a few of the questions I’ve been asked over the years. Today I want to touch on some of these and give you my top three favorite tips for how to handle life as a military spouse.
To start I will say that it’s not a life everyone can handle, and it’s certainly something that takes a lot of getting used to. Although it falls in similar fashion to that of single parenting, there is a lot that plays into it that most people won’t understand if they don’t live it. For me, being a “military spouse” never came that easily. When I first met my husband he wasn’t planning on staying in the military, so I had no reason to believe that I would be one at all. Then he changed his mind, largely due to our growing family, and I quickly had to learn what it meant and how to deal. Back then there were a lot of things that I was told I had to do, by a number of people, in order to help my husband and not hinder his career.
Let me add a disclaimer here: I might be a minority with some of this information, and I’m not sure how many other spouses have been told the same.
After my husband reenlisted, I was told many times that I would have to look a certain way, act a certain way, maintain a certain personality around the commands, etc. All this so that I didn’t put a damper on my husband’s career in any way, shape, or form. I hated it. I didn’t want anything to do with the military and I sure as hell didn’t want to participate in anything command wise. I am absolutely terrible at having to be a certain way, especially if it goes against the nature of who I am. Nevertheless, I persisted and I tried my hardest to be the polite and quiet spoken woman who stood by her husband in his many endeavors. In all honesty, that is the exact opposite of who I am truly. If you know me personally, you’ll know that I am quite loud and sarcastic, I have many tattoos (back then I had piercings too), and I rarely dress in a “professional manner”. I had a hard time fitting in anywhere, and I didn’t have a ton of military spouse friends. For a good number of years I truly hated life in the military and I didn’t want to be part of it anymore.
Eventually, after realizing that despite what you hear about military wife groups there are still awesome people out there, I found my crowd of women and I made some lifelong friends. But I certainly didn’t do that by fitting into the carefully crafted mold that I was told to be part of. I did it by being who i am true to my core. When my husband made Chief I went through the same situation. Once again I was expected to be a certain “type” of wife and act a certain way, dress a certain way, etc. Notice a pattern here? Yeah, and the problem with that? I’d done that for years, sheltered the person that I was to fit a mold that I shouldn’t fit, and I hated every minute. For a while, I tried to suck it up when I went to command events, kept quiet and did my best to be unnoticed. Eventually though, I got tired of it and just checked out from all things military related. To this day I rarely participate in anything that involves my husband’s command/career, but if I do, I stay true to me and don’t change for anyone. Let’s be real here anyway, I’m not in the military. I don’t wear the rank and I don’t do the job. So, while I can respect making a presentable appearance and being respectable, that’s about it.
Let’s talk about the separation, because that’s actually where I tend to thrive. Most people think that’s the hardest part of being a military spouse, having to deal with deployment and them leaving. Now, don’t get me wrong, it sucks when your spouse has to leave for any length of time and you’re alone. But for me at least, and much to the dismay of many, I tend to thrive when my husband is gone. Maybe it’s because I’m forced to be independent and do everything, or it’s because I’ve learned many things about myself in having to be so strong for everyone else. The fact remains that those tend to be the easiest of moments for me, and maintaining a good support system is one of the key things to making it easier. That’s not to say that missing your spouse ever gets easier or that it doesn’t hurt/suck from time to time, but I just happen to be someone who thrives on it. Now, I’m lucky enough to have supportive friends around and though my family is far away they are always around to listen and be supportive also.
If the past twelve years have taught me anything it’s that I am capable of doing a lot more than I ever gave myself credit for, and there are a few things that I stick by to help when I need it.
1. Forget all the stereotypes and find your own place
There are a lot of things people will say about what you should look like, act like, dress like, etc. There are also a number of “military spouse” stereotypes that people will try to lump you in to. Forget it all. To be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be respectful to other spouses, at command functions, or to your spouses coworkers. Nor am I implying that if you attend a command function you should feel free to look less than presentable. What I am saying, is to be true to who you are and don’t let anyone tell you that you have to fit some typical mold. This will enable you to be more comfortable and relaxed, plus it might help you find a place to fit in and enjoy the experiences.
2. Always have something for yourself, that you can focus on
For the longest time I didn’t have a job and I focused on raising our kids. Now, I don’t find any issues with this and I think it’s wonderful if you’re able to stay home with your kids and raise them. Aside from that though, I’ve found it’s always best to find something that is exclusively for you. I am not “Mazanka’s wife” and I’m far more than a “military spouse”, which is how I had been defined for years. Having an identity that is yours alone is key to keeping things separate and ensuring that you don’t get lost in the shuffle. This is also the biggest tip for separations and deployments, because having something for yourself will help the time go by and make it easier on you.
3. Never be afraid to ask for help if needed
This one is the biggest, and was the hardest to get used to for me. I do things on my own, without a doubt, as much as I can. Sometimes though, you need help, and you need someone to rely on. Learn that as early as possible and never be afraid to reach out if you need to. Trust me when I say that having at least a couple of people you can truly rely on is the best thing you could have.
It’s not an easy life to be part of, that’s for certain, but it’s enabled me to experience things I had never imagined and meet some amazing people.
Do you have experience as a military spouse or know one? What are some things you’d advise the newer spouses of? Let me know in the comments!