The ups and downs of military marriages

The ups and downs of military marriages

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Marriage is difficult, even under normal circumstances. Time and life test the bonds of even the strongest couples. Trying to keep a marriage afloat while subjecting it to the demands of the military is a whole different ball game. For many, it can strengthen your relationship. For others, it can become the proverbial straw that breaks it. After subjecting my own marriage to the military life for almost 20 years, here are a few lessons I (and other married military spouses) have learned along the way.

There will be a third party involved. Imagine a Debbie Downer chaperoning your dates, throwing wrenches into thought-out plans and telling you where you can and can’t go. This person shows up at inopportune moments and your spouse has no choice but to listen. The military can often act as that moody chaperone and it can be hard to accept. Over the years, I’ve learned to take most of it with a grain of salt and just roll with it. If an unexpected TDY means your spouse can’t make a vacation, grab a friend or treat yourself and go anyway.

Trust is key. In every relationship, trusting your partner is imperative. Your spouse works with a diverse group of people and feeling jealous or untrusting doesn’t help anyone — it can compound the situation and make it harder all around. Active-duty spouse M.D. says, “We’re not all out here trying to steal husbands. I got such shade from spouses who thought of me as competition. . .to have the women you’re hoping to be friends with not trust you makes it lonelier. These women had nothing to worry about.”

Talk it out. Communicating with your spouse is critical, especially when there’s a time crunch or time zone differences to worry about. When there’s an impending inspection, personnel crises or mission-related issues, it’s easy to feel lonely or that you don’t want to burden them with your feelings. But keeping those emotions bottled up just builds pressure until it eventually explodes. “Be honest with yourself and your spouse when you are having a hard time,” says Jill N. You may find your partner is feeling the same. By communicating, you can work through it together.

There are things love can’t cure or fix. In the romanticized version of life, your true love fixes everything and you ride off into the sunset with a happy ending. In reality, you will find there are times when everything you do seems to ricochet and hits back. “You may not be everything to your military servicemember at all times, no matter how hard you try,” says Sharon W. “It’s important to be there, constant and unconditional, but therapy and support groups are needed as well.” Acknowledging and helping your spouse find assistance when they need it can strengthen your bond and deepen your understanding of one another.

Your flexibility and creativity will know no bounds. When the military comes barging in the middle of your relationship, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can think outside the box and get creative. Although you may not be able celebrate relationship milestones on the actual day, you can still get festive when you do have time. Our anniversary is five days after Christmas and the day before our son’s birthday (admittedly, not the best planning on our part). Rather than smush everything in that one week, we usually do something for our anniversary during the summer. Moving things around and shaking things up can be more fun and honestly, a little more freeing.

It’s okay to not have all the details. Although it’s tempting to try and coerce every detail out of your spouse, there are some things they cannot discuss — especially when it comes to missions and operational security (OPSEC). There may also be times when you ask a question and the answer is one you may not want to hear. “Learn to accept not having all the information. I have learned to not ask questions and just receive the information I should have when I need it,” says Sharon W.

This is just a chapter in your life. Some days when the military life feels all-encompassing, it can be hard to remember it isn’t forever. There will come a time when your spouse will leave the military, either by separating or retiring. Staying connected with each other outside of the realm of the military can help this transition flow more smoothly. This is just a chapter in the bigger book of your life.

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