What it’s Really Like to be a Military Spouse
Being a military spouse grants you a complimentary membership in a special club where you are either surrounded by others in this very particular tribe, or you are completely alone. Even within that club there are different types of military spouses.
More traditionally, the Active Duty lifestyle is where the service member works full time in their branch of duty, and the family lives on or near a military base. This lifestyle gives you many, shall we say fringe benefits, where the family can seek support and have access to businesses and resources specifically located to streamline military life. Living near other military spouses certainly helps as this unique tribe can support each other during difficult times. Then there’s the other side of military life, where the service member is in the Reserves or National Guard, typically leads a separate civilian life, and the family lives nowhere near a military installation.
I fall into the second group. My husband and I have a civilian life with civilian jobs in a large metropolitan area, but in addition to our civilian lives, my husband is also in the Army National Guard. That means that one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer, and any extra time when he is on orders, he serves in the armed forces. Typically, unless there is a deployment, the time he spends away from his family is not a burden on me. But recently we have experienced some changes that have amplified my feelings on the matter.
My husband is finishing up a military school since he is changing jobs, and has just been selected for a year-long mobilization, across the country. Since we have a regular civilian life, I have a full-time job, we have a house, and I cannot just uproot and go with him. Even though he is not deployed on an overseas mission, he is absent from our home life for an extended period.
Sometimes, it seems easier to introduce myself as a single mom, than to explain our situation. In reality, I am solo parenting for the foreseeable future. Outsiders either understand what it means to be a military spouse, or they have absolutely no clue. I have heard “I know what you mean, my husband is away on a business trip” so much, and I have to bite my tongue to keep myself from saying something nasty to these people. It is just unfair and, dare I say, ignorant to compare a short business trip to a semi-permanent separation. For Military Spouses Day, I wanted to share what it’s really like to be a military spouse.
The Cycle of Emotions of a Military Spouse
It is my opinion that military spouses go through a cycle of emotions similar to the process of grief. In a way, we are grieving for the absence of our partner during this time, as well as the lamenting the extra burden that we accept as responsibilities shift. In my mind, the military spouse cycle of emotions looks something like this.
Inciting Incident Stress
Some event is causing a significant change in your routine. You feel stunned, and anxiety levels are high. You try to remain positive, but that nagging fear is there.
Preparation and Planning Anxiety
You and your spouse try to talk through and plan out how the next set time frame is going to go. You discuss the shift in responsibilities and (hopefully) get on the same page about expectations and how certain situations should be addressed. You feel like you have this under control and can handle it. You are strong, right? You’ve done things like this before.
When your service member spouse leaves, suddenly you catch a cold or the flu, or hell – get pink eye, because all that stress and anxiety has weakened your immune system. You desperately wish your spouse didn’t have to leave, or that you could have a little more time, and could use the help right now. You already miss your spouse more than you expected to so soon, and that empty spot in your bed is making it difficult to sleep at night. You start to resent your spouse for making the decisions that led you to this point. You start to hate yourself for agreeing to this life.
The Self-Doubt Phase
All that planning doesn’t seem enough, and you start to doubt yourself and whether you can truly handle the extended separation. Can you realistically take care of the kid(s), the house, your job, and everything else pushed onto your plate? Why does Murphy’s Law strike just as your service member has left home? You tell yourself that solo parenting, managing the finances, and maintaining your dignity is simply impossible. If one more thing goes wrong at home, you think you might lose it.
The Relief that Comes with Time
After some time passes and you have managed to keep everyone alive, keep the house together, and haven’t lost your mind, you start to realize that you’ve got this. You just had to prove it to yourself.
You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. You’re quite remarkable. You knew this, but you let all that anxiety get the better of you. Well, now you can kick that fear to the curb because you know deep down that you can handle whatever life throws at you. You are a military spouse, and military spouses are built strong. You have a support network that is ready and willing to help out, and you just need to ask. You are a nurturing parent, solo or otherwise, and you and your child(ren) have grown very close during this time. You cherish that new special bond and love your child(ren) more than ever.
That is a typical military spouse cycle of emotions. It does cycle, and there may be infinite loops between some of these steps. The important thing is to recognize when we are struggling and to ask for help. If we remember to look around, we see our friends who want to help us, even if they do not fully understand and appreciate the life. Despite the anxiety, the self-doubt, and the added stress, we are strong and resilient. We carry the membership to this special club proudly and support our service member completely.
Do you have a military spouse in your life? What ways do you show your support and encouragement?
About the Author
I’m Julie, a new mom who works full time and blogs, all while wishing I had more time to read fun books. I write about being a first time working mom in order to help myself and other working moms in our journeys to find balance between family, responsibilities, and hobbies so we can thrive both at home and at work. I can be found blogging at Fab Working Mom Life and Chapter Break, and hanging out on social media: Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.