Military marriage is a challenge, but what marriage isn’t? The military introduces its own wrinkles into a marriage with crazy work schedules, deployments, moves, and an abundance of income (just kidding). Despite all of its challenges, it can provide an incredibly meaningful and comforting environment for two people to enjoy each other.
“Do you want to travel the world?” This phrase is tossed around all the time by recruiters, but it really is part of the experience. Unfortunately, you don’t know how that will play out in your circumstances. A deployment, an unaccompanied tour (meaning only the soldier goes), in Korea, or a couple years living anywhere from Alaska to Alabama. In most cases you won’t get to be the one determining your next landing spot, but sometimes you do. Have a conversation with your spouse about the possibilities and see if through reenlistment you might be able to make it happen. There are bases all over the world you might be able to experience together. If you end up at a destination that’s not quite what you were hoping for, find ways to make the best of it, it won’t be forever.
Sure it’s easy for me to say “make the best of it” but that’s easier said than done, right? It all depends on your outlook. Having to move away from what you have is a part of military marriage that isn’t always fun. I always looked at it as a way to build something new with someone I loved. We had the choice to live on base or off, or in the country or in a city. There was the opportunity to set the table for all different types of living experiences. We had a chance to try out new routines and see what would work for us. Some places that we thoroughly expected to be a letdown turned out to be the places we hated leaving the most.
There’s no easy way to make the best of a deployment, but it can be done. Learn a language, turn into a gym rat, learn an instrument, or take college classes. If you have a lot of time you’re not sharing with someone (and your deployment schedule allows the time) that time can be used to do something else. Trust me; if you just use the time to worry about what they’re doing, it’s going to be exhausting and unproductive. In some cases you can even do things together even when separated. Here’s what I mean; on one of my deployments, I used Rosetta Stone to learn Greek (my wife’s family spoke Greek). On my calls home, we would talk about different words and would work on my ability to hold dialogue. Maybe you can learn a language together, take a class together, or do the same Crossfit workouts on the same days then talk about your collective awesomeness after. Whether it’s working out, language, or some other interest, find something to stay connected with your spouse that can keep your bond strong and possibly use it for future deployments or training missions.
Deployments and extended TDYs are difficult for both spouses, whether you are the one going away or the one staying home. But, in a military marriage, they are unavoidable. Current technology certainly makes it easier to communicate by telephone, messaging, emails and video chat. It is a very good thing that was not necessarily available to previous generations of service members. But each person is still likely to be experiencing and managing the separation in ways that are hard for the other to comprehend. So try to go the extra mile in being communicative and understanding of each other’s struggles. For the military member, there may be details of your situation that cannot be shared; but those left at home are often also withholding details of family drama in order to not worry their loved one. Being deployed may leave you feeling frustrated by being unable to care for your family in the way that you want, but know that it is also hard for a spouse to take over full responsibility for the family (albeit temporary) and then have to relinquish that power once their spouse returns. If you are returning from an extended TDY or deployment, be careful not to be too critical of how the household was managed in your absence; it was likely a much more difficult task than you can imagine. If you are the one welcoming home a spouse after a long separation, be patient and understanding of their efforts to find their place back in the family dynamics.
Military Marriage will be a challenge. Having to manage a personal relationship along with all the challenges that come from the military isn’t easy. But having that person to grow and see the world with, is an incredible experience that has created some of the strongest relationships I know. If you make the most of it and find ways to enjoy it, you’ll save yourself the pain of looking back and wishing you had done more.