Every marriage has its share of challenges, especially once the children arrive and the family unit grows. But military couples have unique, career-specific challenges to face: that of frequent moves, the deployment of the active duty partner, having to constantly adjust and set up routines in new places (often entirely new cultures if the change of station is overseas) all while handling the traditional family responsibilities.
We talked to a group of military spouses who shared some of the pros and cons of being married to a member of the armed services.
1. You are going to move around
Cathy, married to a member of the U.S. Air Force, explains: “Our family gets moved an average of every 18-36 months. That means that the longest we’ve ever lived in one place is three years. On one hand, that’s great because I love experiencing new environments (I was a military brat, myself) but as our family grew larger, it just means more logistics to manage when it is time to pack up and transfer. But you just do it, because you really don’t have much of a choice.”
2. You’ll get to be an expert at making new friends
Brianna tells us that she relies on the other family units to build her new network of friends as soon as her family is transferred to a new army base. “Being in the military, there’s sort of a built-in “Welcome Wagon”. The other military spouses all come to your house with food, flowers, cold drinks as soon as you move in. Conversation is easy because we all have one thing in common: we are married to service members. So you really don’t have to do a lot of work to make new friendships each time you move. That’s a nice thing. You get instantly plugged into the circle and have people to support you when you need, for instance, someone to watch your kids because you have to go to the doctor or just need some time to yourself.”
3. Shifting is hard on the children
“I’m fine with the constant moving around,” Jill tells us, “but I know that my kids have a tough time leaving their friends and having to make new ones every couple of years.” Indeed, this is hard for some children. They must get used to themselves with a group of strangers and the usual cliques in high school every time the family gets transferred. Some children do this with ease, others have a much more difficult time. And the effects of this ever-changing environment—some military children can attend up to 16 different schools from first grade through high school– can be felt long into adulthood.
4. Finding meaningful work in terms of career is difficult for the military spouse
“If you are being uprooted every couple of years, forget about building a career in your area of expertise”, says Susan, married to a Colonel. “I was a high-level manager in an IT firm before I married Louis,” she continues. “But once we got married and began changing military bases every two years, I knew no firm would want to employ me at that level. Who wants to invest in training a manager when they know they won’t be around for the long-term?” Susan retrained as a teacher so she could continue working, and she now finds work teaching the children of military families in the on-base Department of Defense schools. “At least I’m contributing to the family income, “ she says, “And I feel good about what I’m doing for my community.”
5. Divorce rates are high among military couples
The active duty spouse can be expected to be away from home more often than at home. This is the norm for any married enlisted man, NCO, Warrant Officer, or Officer serving in a combat unit. “When you marry a soldier, you marry the Army”, the saying goes. Although military spouses understand this when they marry their loved one, the reality can often be a shock, and these families see a divorce rate of 30%.
6. The stress of a military spouse is different from those of a civilian
Marital problems related to deployment and military service can include struggles related to service-caused PTSD, depression or anxiety, caregiving challenges if their service member returns injured, feelings of isolation and resentment towards their spouse, infidelity related to the long separations, and the roller coaster of emotions related to deployments.
7. You’ve got good mental health resources at your fingertips
“The military understands the unique set of stressors that face these families”, Brian tells us. “Most bases have a full support staff of marriage counselors and therapists that can help us work through depression, feelings of loneliness. There’s absolutely no stigma attached to using these experts. The military wants us to feel happy and healthy and does what it can to make sure we stay that way.”
8. Being a military wife doesn’t have to be difficult
Brenda tells us her secret to staying balanced: “As a military wife of 18+ years, I can tell you that it’s hard, but not impossible. It really boils down to having faith in God, each other, and your marriage. You have to trust each other, communicate well, and not put yourselves in situations that cause temptations to arise. Staying busy, having a purpose and focus, and staying connected to your support systems are all ways to manage. Truly, my love for my husband grew stronger each time he deployed! We tried very hard to communicate on a daily basis, whether it was text, emails, social media, or video chat. We kept each other strong and God kept us strong, too!”