Justin and I have been married for over a year now, and it has been a whirlwind of learning and adapting. If you weren’t already familiar with the military, becoming a spouse to a service member can turn your life around real quick! Of course every branch, every person, and every relationship is different, so this is based off of my own experiences. Plus, I’m still a new military spouse, so I’m still learning and adapting as I go.
1. Deployments are always hard even if you expected them.
This one was a tough one for me because when we were dating, his ship was out of service and under repair. So I was lucky and had gotten used to having him home all the time. Even though I knew that at some point I’d have to deal with dreaded deployments and underways, it still felt like a smack in the face. Heck it still feels that way every time. It never gets easier to say goodbye no matter how many times you do it. BUT, I would say that you become more resilient each time as you learn to rely on your strengths. More on that later.
2. Never write things down in pen.
I’ve always been a planner. My Type A personality is what got me through years and years of school. So it was a major adjustment for me to not be able to plan ANYTHING. Duty comes first, so I had to learn to be flexible in making plans and always ALWAYS purchase travel insurance!! You also have to become okay with decisions that don’t make sense, and just play it by ear. Things can change at anytime and it’ll be out of our control. In fact, we eloped because there was just no way to tell if he would be home or not on a certain date (plus, planning for it became way too much). And even when we planned a wedding celebration at a later date, we had to move the date last minute because he had to go underway. Our RSVP’d guest list shrunk from 70 to 30!
3. You will lose some friends. But the ones who matter will stay!
“Ugh I wish my husband would leave for a couple of weeks.” “Oh, that’s not bad my husband goes on business trips all the time.” “You knew what you signed up for”. No, honey, nooo. I’m sure people who have said these things to me didn’t have any ill intention, but these words can be extremely infuriating. When Justin leaves, he leaves and there’s no contact. Sometimes I’ll get an email every now and then ( it could be days after he had originally sent it because of the connection), and if we’re lucky he would be able to find service or WiFi when he’s in port. Communication is always unpredictable. I’ve learned to rely on those who don’t pretend they understand and welcome me with open arms when all I want to do is cry, eat ice cream, and watch Gossip Girl reruns. My best friends know the drill, and instead of making it sound not so bad they take my life as a military wife as it is, and are supportive through it all.
4. Your spouse’s work friends become part of your family.
And you will most likely call them by their last names. I’ve become quite close with his buddies from work, and some of them even have toothbrushes at our place. They spend most of their 12-hour work days together, and will become your family. Even if I don’t see his friends for quite some time, I’ll usually hear about them at home. I don’t think they’re surprised anymore if McGuire’s wife happens to know things about them when she wasn’t even there.
5. Sometimes your spouse won’t be emotionally available.
Although physical availability can be expected because of his service, emotional availability was something I didn’t even think about. Depending on what your spouse does in the military, they can be under a lot of pressure at work and will be drained at the end of the day. The hours are demanding, and the workload is rough so when they come home, they might not want to talk. It’s not you, and it’s not him. I find that it’s helpful to both zone out together and do something that doesn’t take mental energy like playing video games together or watching TV.
6. There are roles you might have to fill.
I have to drop off your uniform and get this thing stitched on? What? This one can be different for every relationship. Justin never really asks me to do anything that I wouldn’t want to do or if it’ll take away time from my own obligations. So you don’t really HAVE to, but our marriage is a partnership. There’s many things that your service member has to do that they might not have time or the ability for it all. From dropping off and picking up uniforms, getting dropped off for a deployment because they can’t park their car on base too long, running errands, or taking care of official business on base…their obligations, kind of become your obligations at times.
7. There’s a shit ton of rules.
I mean, we all kind of already know that the military has a ton of rules. But I didn’t really know til I found myself commenting on how he needs to get a haircut because his hair is getting too long or that he probably has to shave and steam his dress uniforms tonight to pass the inspection tomorrow. I already have a lot of anxiety as it is, and going on base still makes my heart race every time. Driving slow, having your ID ready, making sure they wave you in first, listening carefully in case it’s colors and you have to pull over.
8. Good healthcare? Yes. Annoying? Very much yes.
A lot of people talk about how great it is to have good healthcare and affordable prescription copays. Yes, we are lucky to have these things and navigating them is still a bitch. I’m actually on both ends of TriCare. Both as a provider and as a beneficiary. Long story short, there will be a lot of phone calls, paperwork, going in and out of your primary care provider’s office, and switching your pharmacy again and again. And don’t even get me started about what active duty military has to go through…
9. Your priorities will change.
All through my Bachelor’s and my Master’s I put building my career before anything else. Now, the military has to come first, and then the little time that I have with my spouse will take priority. Your friends will get mad at you that you never go out and your coworkers might not understand why you’re rushing out the door at the end of the day. Fortunately, we’re going to be stationed in San Diego for quite some time so I’m able to continue building my career here. But for a lot of military spouses, their education and their career will be put on pause while they relocate or care for their family while their spouse is away.
10. Lastly, you start to notice all the strength you didn’t know you even had.
When you’re no longer in control of where you might live, how long your spouse will be gone, or when plans will change, you will be pushed to your limits. And in that moment you will have to collect all the pieces of yourself and stick them back together in any way possible. That, is strength. You will start to access all the resources that have been there all along like your family and friends. You will also find new (or forgotten) passions, hobbies, and ways to take care of yourself. You become stronger in both mind and body.