Most spouses don’t really think twice before marrying into the military. Why would they? They love their husband, and if they want a life with him, then they’ll have to deal with the military too. Unfortunately, marriage doesn’t come with a manual, and marriage in the military is even more complicated than in the civilian world. Many wives, fresh out of their parents’ house and into married life, are blindsided by the amount of stress and responsibility that comes with marrying a service member. We all think we know what to expect, but reality has a way of giving us a wake-up call. And while civilian divorce rates have been dropping, divorce rates in the military have been climbing.
So what is it that spouses need to know to prepare themselves before they marry a military man? What are the tips that spouses could use to help adjust more easily to this hectic lifestyle? For each person, it will probably vary. But if I had to choose what spouses need to know about military life, it would be these ten things.
10. Let Go of Romantic Fantasies
A lot about being married to a man in the military seems romantic. And that perception is often fueled by Nicholas Sparks books and Hollywood movies, eager to paint a picture of a romantic hero, writing love letters to the woman he’s fighting for, while she waits patiently at home — usually dressed perfectly, with impeccable makeup and hair, staring longingly out over a beach or something similarly sappy. Our war hero comes home, the lovers reunite, and their lives go back on as normal.
Reality isn’t quite so romantic. Most wives I know don’t get love letters, as it’s hard to find the time to sit down and write a ten page letter pouring out your feelings when you’re in the middle of fighting a war. If you do get a love letter, it’s a momentary high amid months and months of lows. It doesn’t make up for the constant missing him and the time apart. And while there are certainly times when your every thought is consumed by the deployment, for the most part, life goes on as usual when they’re gone. The world doesn’t stop just because your husband leaves. Children still need to be fed, bills still need to be paid, and the house still needs to be cleaned. You go on as you always did, and just miss him along the way.
And when they come home? That’s a temporary relief. In today’s military, you don’t come home from war and then rebuild your life, never to leave again. No, in about a year or so, you’ll be waving goodbye to your husband as he leaves on a bus again, off to the Middle East once more.
Bottom line: real life will never live up to the romantic fantasies. There are countless romantic moments – such as that first kiss at homecoming after a deployment – but they don’t make up your entire marriage. Romanticizing your role as a military spouse will do nothing but give you crushed expectations.
9. Gossip Isn’t Just Harmful
Gossip and rumors come with the territory of being a military wife, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. From the mundane (one wife badmouthing another wife) to the dangerous (violating OPSEC), it unfortunately runs rampant, most likely due to the young age of many military wives.
One of the first things a wife needs to learn is not to gossip. Don’t talk about other wives, because they need your support just as much as you need theirs. The gossiping that goes on between wives can spread real enmity and discord in the unit, and rarely does it stay between the wives. Husbands inevitably get dragged into it, and then they’re caught in awkward situations when they have to go back to work. It’s even worse when they’re deployed, because the last thing they need to be worried about is that their wife can’t play nicely. If there’s constantly drama, badmouthing, and backstabbing going on back home, it will cause them more headaches, and during deployment, they need to be focused on one thing only, and that’s their mission.
The really harmful gossip comes from spreading rumors about the deployment, and violating OPSEC. Both happen with alarming frequency. There was the recent case, of course, of a wife whose husband’s death was leaked onto Facebook, causing the wife to be notified via text message from another spouse. There’s also the issue of releasing what may seem like harmless information online. Our enemies have computers, too, and when a wife posts that she only has “68 days left until my husband comes home!” on Facebook, she’s basically painting a target onto his unit’s back. Add in the rumor-spreading — the deployment’s been cut short, it’s being extended, they aren’t really at this base, they’re at this base — and you’re giving the command a mess to clean up that shouldn’t even exist.
The lesson: learn to keep your mouth shut, both about other wives and about the unit.
8. Learn to Retrain Your Brain
Fact: your husband will come home and talk to you like a Marine (or whichever branch is applicable). And while you may be able to eventually break him of that habit, one thing won’t change, and that is the constant use of military verbiage. It becomes necessary to teach yourself the ins and outs of the military, because no one is going to sit down and explain to you what all of the acronyms mean, or that your husband’s social security number will become your golden ticket to… well, everything. You will have to be the one to take the initiative to learn these things, whether it is on your own or by going to a class on base (such as LINKS).
And your husband won’t think to be patient while you learn, either. When you’re staring at him like he’s speaking a foreign language, sure, he’ll stop and explain. But there will be days when he comes home and, say, tells you he has to go to IPAC tomorrow because his BAH isn’t right on his LES. The military has acronyms for everything, and they don’t always make sense. You’re going to have to be the one to familiarize yourself with them, because they don’t give you a guidebook on it when you say “I do”.
The military is an entirely different world from the civilian world, and it will be a culture shock. It’s up to you to make sure you learn how to navigate smoothly.
7. Take Advantage of Resources
I am no expert on the resources available to us on base. But I do know what a lot of them are, and it floors me that more people don’t take advantage of them. You name it, and they’ve got something for you to help.
Not good with money? You can take a budgeting class. Having a baby? There are baby bootcamps, Lamaze classes, and baby budgeting classes, all waiting for you to sign up. Want to get your kid into some kind of activities? Community centers on base offer so many different activities it’ll make your head spin, from play dates to cheerleading and karate to mommy-and-me yoga. And then there’s also countless sports programs, too.
And it doesn’t end there. One thing I never understood is why spouses waste their money paying to go to a gym off base – there are free gyms on base, and many of them offer the same types of classes that those gyms you’re paying to use do, like yoga, spinning, and Zumba. Want to work on your marriage? There are numerous retreats and workshops set up to help strengthen your bond.
The bottom line is, make sure you educate yourself on what is available on base, and take advantage of it. Many of them are provided at no cost to you, and can really help enrich your time in the military.
6. Respect the Uniform
How many wives know that there are rules that a service member has to follow when they are in uniform? For example, you are supposed to walk on your husband’s left side when he’s in uniform, in case he has to salute. Public displays of affection are not allowed. They can’t walk and talk on the cell phone at the same time.
What wives can take from this is, your husband’s uniform isn’t just what he has to wear to work. When he puts on that uniform, everything changes, and you have to be the one to respect that. Part of that means presenting yourself well. If you are dressed like a slob while he’s in uniform, it reflects poorly on him. If you’re swearing like a drunken idiot, it makes him look bad. Everything about you now is a reflection upon him, at least when it comes to on-base activities, and when you’re with him in uniform, that’s doubly true. So carry yourself well, just like he has to do.
But there are other ways to disrespect the uniform. One thing that drives me up the wall is seeing wives take naked pictures in their husbands’ uniforms, usually the dress blues, and posting them on Facebook for the world to see. Ladies, something you need to realize: our men earned the right to wear that uniform. And men before them fought and died in them. They do not exist for you to look sexy in, or for you to show off your boobs in some perverted display of military “pride”. Taking near-pornographic pictures in your husband’s uniform and posting them for the world to see doesn’t show that you’re a proud wife, it shows that you’re a skank who has no problem disrespecting a uniform which stands for so much more then “look at my boobs!”.
5. Accept That You Will Always Come Second
This is the second deployment that I have been pregnant for. The first time, my husband barely made it home in time. His command knew that his wife was pregnant and due right around homecoming, but that didn’t matter much. They weren’t going to arrange his flight schedule around my pregnancy. He was home in time, luckily, but he also came very close to missing it. This pregnancy? He won’t be home for the birth.
Birthdays, anniversaries, you name it, the military doesn’t care. He will love you more than anything else in the world, but it doesn’t change the fact that you now come second to everything. If you make plans, half the time they’ll need to be broken. He will work late, miss your birthday, and have to cancel anniversary dinners. You’ll celebrate Thanksgiving in October and Christmas when he gets home in July. Unless you are on your deathbed, the military will not care. It will not matter how long you might have been planning that anniversary dinner, if they want him to work late, he’s going to have to work late. Your hurt feelings don’t matter. So it’s better to just accept it from the beginning. Marry a man in the military, and until he gets out, you’ll inevitably come second.
4. Prepare for Worst Case Scenarios
Most spouses never want to think about the possibility of something bad happening to their husbands. Who would? Unfortunately, in the military, preparing for the possibility is a must.
Before a deployment, there is always the inevitable brief to go over the worst case scenario discussion. Everyone hates it, but it’s something that has to be mentioned. And if you’re smart, you’ll take the time to consider it on your own as well. Most of us will get our husbands back, safe and whole. But it isn’t a guarantee. Some husbands will come home wounded. Others won’t come home at all. The thoughts fills each of us with dread, but it is something you must prepare yourself for, and make plans in case it does happen.
Serving in the military isn’t like working in most civilian professions. It is legitimately dangerous, and you need to come to terms with that.
3. Homecoming Isn’t All Kisses and Excitement
Homecoming. We all look forward to it for months on end during a deployment. And when that days comes, it is one of the happiest days of your life. That rush when you see them for the first time, the flood of emotions after that first kiss… it is truly indescribable until you’ve experienced it.
But what about after all of that?
Eventually, you have to go home. And you’ve got to get to know each other all over again. For some people, it might be a rough adjustment — which is normal. For others, your relationship might pick right back up where it left off. But either way, there’s a lot you have to deal with when they come home. Both of you have gotten used to doing everything on your own. Suddenly, you’ve got to share everything again. You can’t do everything your own way anymore.
And what about the relationship? The reunion may be harder for some than for others, but either way, things very well could be different. All that time apart, it changes you — both of you. You’ve got to take the time to learn about each other again, to get acclimated again. During a deployment, it’s easy to build your husband up in your mind. You remember everything wonderful and good about him, and everything bad becomes nonexistent. Then he comes home, and you remember that he leaves his open spit bottles everywhere. He tracks mud in on the carpets from his boots. He leaves his clothes everywhere. He snores. He hogs the bed. You have to start getting used to things around the house not being done only your way.
The point is, while those first few days are like being in a romantic heaven, shortly afterwards reality sets in. And it isn’t always easy or perfect. That doesn’t mean it’s bad — but it does mean that it’s a good idea to have realistic expectations of what it will be like when your husband finally comes home.
2. Lonely Does Not Have To Mean Miserable
Deployments are hard. They are very, very hard. The feeling of loneliness never really goes away. You’ll miss him every day and every night. You’ll live for the phone calls and the e-mails and, if you’re lucky, the Skype dates. Getting a letter from him will make your day. Going a month without a phone call will make you afraid. There are times the fear will be so real that you can’t breathe; that you’ll feel so alone that there’s nothing you can do but cry.
But here’s the thing: you don’t have to be miserable the entire time. We all have those days, when we’re in a bad place, and nothing can cheer us up, nothing can make us feel better. It’s OK to give in to those days when you have them. But it’s even more important not to wallow in them.
If you let yourself be miserable the entire time he’s gone, then it will only go by that much slower, and be that much harder for you. You have to learn to live your life for you, too, and not just for your husband. Being depressed and lonely and sad isn’t healthy, and it doesn’t help you cope. Make friends, find a hobby, keep busy. If you succumb to all of the negatives, then you’re just making it harder on yourself. You don’t have to make yourself a martyr during the deployment. If you let yourself go on with your life, and still be happy and busy and as normal as possible, the time will not only go by faster, but it will be easier, too.
1. Learn To Be Independent
You cannot survive as a military wife if you can’t learn to be independent. It’s that simple — and for some people, that hard. The simple reality of this lifestyle is that you have got to learn to be self-reliant, and usually very quickly. You’ll have to learn to do everything yourself, from paying the bills and cleaning the house to mowing the yard and fixing the car. When something goes wrong, you’ve got to be the one to fix it.
Deployments, training, field ops, duty… there are countless reasons why your husband will be taken away from you. Many times, it will be with very little notice. (I had roughly 24 hours before my husband left for predeployment training last year.) This forces you to be able to think on your feet, to adjust to changes very quickly, and to be able to stay semper gumby: a phrase I absolutely detest, but sums up the necessary attitude a spouse must have at all times. Plans will change, things will go wrong, and you’ll spend a lot of time alone. You have to be able to be independent enough to handle anything that comes your way, no matter how big or small, and to handle it all alone.
Independence is the number one thing a military wife needs, because without it, she doesn’t stand a chance.
Photo courtesy Leslie Cowger