Disclaimer: This blog post is not inclusive to ALL military members or spouses. This is just a sample of people who I reached out to. I tried to be as varied as possible. Please do not comment if it is not constructive or relevant to the topic. Any “bashing” comments will not be approved.
I have always had an interest in the difference in experiences of military spouses, which I’ll be honest, is mostly females (shout out to military husbands, though!). I have been a part of the military life for 10 years now, and I have met many people with their own stories, and I’ve decided to give some of those people a voice. This write-up will focus on the strengths and struggles of the military life, and if it sounds like I’m turning this into an “us vs. them” situation, I’m not. This lifestyle just happens to be sort of unique in what we’re faced with, and I don’t think it gets the conversation it deserves. We’re not better than anyone else, we just have different circumstances and situations than others may face, and are put in a large community with a career that has over 92,000 serving members.
Here are some, what I feel, are unique challenges we face as military spouses or a military family. Not to say they are only exclusive TO the military, they might just be more prominent within it, or occur more often. I know there are other jobs that have these challenges, but these are my experiences and opinions. I am not ignorant to the fact other jobs require relocations, or time away from family.
- Postings every few years or not being posted because both are equally frustrating
- Unknown length of time away from spouse or family
- Lack of support within the community or judgement from other spouses
- Spouse being on call 24/7 and deployable at any time with little notice
- The danger aspect of what they do and fear of receiving “that call”
- Rebuilding your life often and lack of control over your future or career path
- Lack of understanding from people outside the military about the challenges
I reached out with questions to spouses, and received several responses. Those people will remain completely anonymous, but their answers are very important, and paints a very accurate picture of how different our experiences can be, even though we’re all under the same umbrella of “military spouse” or “military family”. I asked for honest answers, regardless of how they think they will be perceived. These answers come from spouses from all over Canada, and vary greatly from person to person depending on the element their spouse is, if they are a serving member as well, and the amount of time spent within this lifestyle. This does not represent the opinions of every military spouse. Three questions were asked. 1. What is the most rewarding part of being a military spouse? 2. What is the most challenging part of being a military spouse? 3. What advice would you give to other military spouses? I felt these questions were the most important, because everyone has an answer. Some answers were shortened for space.
These are the responses I received from the other spouses:
“Good benefits, decent amount of holidays and job security”
“Watching my husband be successful. I know it sounds very 50s-like but his pride for his Country gives me pride as well. But for myself personally, being able to travel to new posts and see parts of the world I never thought I would be is pretty rewarding for me”
“Being able to say your husband is really your hero. I tell people all the time that he is basically super man and I believe it. I don’t think I could look at anyone in a different career with the same type of admiration”
“Knowing that we have both made a conscious decision to be there for each other through the fun adventures and the difficult times. I know that, in theory, all couples make that promise when they get married, however I think a lot of the time they do so never believing those difficult times will actually come. As a military couple, we went into our relationship with the knowledge and expectation that there will be things thrown at us throughout our lives that will be difficult, and we decided that we wanted to get married and support each other through those times. I think that knowing we’ve both put serious thought and consideration into the fact that we may not always be in the same house/time zone/country or that we might have to move somewhere that we know no one and only have each other to start out makes our relationship that much stronger and reassuring.”
“I find the most rewarding part of being a military spouse is how spontaneous my life is. You can be one side of the country for a year, then you blink and you’re moving again. Some people find this tiring or don’t want to move but I look forward to where we might be next. Possibly even a posting overseas!”
“My husband looks damn hot in camo? I’ve met some amazing ladies that are making this so much more bearable. This life enabled me to learn a lot about myself: 1) the we can accomplish anything as a team. 2) that I can be very pessimistic. 3) that I cannot wait for the day he wears his army greens for the last time (haha)”
“Ok. Honestly. There is not much about the military life that’s rewarding. It’s probably the fact that I’m able to do it all on my own if I have to and I’m proud of myself for kicking ass when he’s away”
“I have pride in my country and it bleeds through to everything I do in life. I come from a long line of servicemen and women, from all elements of the CAF and I am married to the only Airman both of our families have had. I’m a proud military wife, even though at times I may express negativity openly about life as a spouse. The rewards are plentiful enough to outweigh the frustrations that are part of military life. I know the word is heard on the daily but I am a strong believer in resiliency. It’s a word that I think you need to write on a Post It note, on your bathroom mirror, text to yourself. Being resilient is one of the greatest rewards of being a military spouse. It helps us build relationships, overcome doubts and fears, pushes us to keep our head above water. It is a strong and powerful word and its meaning, if you can hold it and turn it around, look at it from all sides and understand it, can show you just how rewarding being a spouse can be.”
“Watching your partner fulfill their goals and dreams, and knowing the support you’re providing is integral to that process. Also, watching yourself learn and grow, and realizing you’re stronger and more independent than you ever realized”
“Logistically, is having a partner with a stable income, who is able to financially support our adventures and home. And I mean that in the least gold digging way possible, I promise. If I dig a little bit deeper, I am so thankful for the opportunity to move across the country with my husband. The move was hard, but it taught us how to truly be partners and build a life together, basically from scratch. I’m so proud of that”
“It is not often you decide to uproot and move to numerous locations. Because the military requires you to move from time to time, you get the opportunity to experience so many different places where you wouldn’t otherwise. The military also provides such a unit for you- you know wherever you go, you will have friends who have so many similarities as you do. With the military, your common ground is already established so friendships can flourish from there! I also love that my husband is part of something bigger in life. Sure, it may not always be lovely and I am not trying to be naive, but there is so much life experience and sacrifice that goes with the military. It really is so special”
“I would say most rewarding is the possibility of change (via posting etc) and the support amongst the other spouses, and lasting friendships”
“Having to get used to them not always being there, either for courses, parades, mess dinners, or deployment”
“Knowing some days I come second to the military. It can be a struggle to understand their day-to-day life and sometimes I can’t relate to what is happening. And of course the acronyms”
“Your life is constantly in limbo. You go in knowing that this house isn’t going to be your forever house, these friends or neighbours aren’t always going to be there, this job isn’t going to be your job for your whole career. So even when you get posted, buy the house, get the job, you know that eventually your turn is going to come up again and it’ll change. All of that doesn’t even begin to take into account the fact that even once the military has given notice of something, it’s never written in stone until it’s actually happening so planning for those things is extremely difficult. You have to be able to think on your feet and roll with the punches, and if you’re a super planner, like I am, that can be a hard pill to swallow sometimes and leads to a lot of frustration and anxiety!”
“I think that the most challenging part is giving up control. I LOVE control, I thrive in situations where I can control every single little thing. Therefore, relinquishing my control to the CAF is very exhausting and anxiety-causing. I am VERY career-driven. I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, I have a job I love – with my spouse in the military, my career can and most probably will get slapped in the face. Some will say “oh you can definitely always find work if you really want to”. Well that is all fine and dandy, but I don’t want a job, I want a career, I want to feel fulfilled and successful. For now, our situation is perfect, but who knows what the future holds. Moving – I love the little town we live in next to our family and support system. I see NO upside to moving around. I don’t even want to try to make a posting good lol. Being away from my husband – additionally, NOT knowing when the NEXT time that I will be away from my husband is.”
“It’s hard to choose one challenging thing because of the obvious which is your spouses safety. No matter how hard you know they train and how hard you know their fellow soldiers train. They have a dangerous job. That will never leave your mind when they travel overseas. Some troops are injured on everyday training excesses, so it isn’t something you get used to. The personal thing that is challenging about being a military spouse is your career. A lot of the time your career takes a hit because employers interview you and realize you will probably be moving in a few years so they don’t want to invest time in you. This is something you may have to accept depending on what you do for a living”
“Not knowing when, where, or for how long. Everything is so up in the air, sometimes he’s home at 2pm and sometimes he’s not home til 7pm or at all.”
“Feeling as though you are not heard. When faced with separations, training courses, moves, employment and welcoming new family members, many spouses do not feel valued in their position. For me personally, it can feel as though I am invisible not only to the military but to all around me. I struggle when I hear the words “family first” within the military lifestyle. I feel as though it has no weight behind it”
“We haven’t been through a move yet so I can’t speak to that, but for me the most challenging part has been accepting the fact that we don’t have complete control over things. For example, once my husband is completed his trades course in three monthswe just do not know where we will get posted. Learning to be OK with outcomes you can’t control has been a big challenge for me. Also, learning to live with less communication. Going from seeing each other every single day, to seeing him every few weeks and communicating through texts and FaceTime can be tough”
“The most challenging part, is of course, being so far away from family. My heart aches to think about nieces and nephews growing up without my involvement. I worry about my parents growing older, and I hate missing out on every day events back home. Sister night out? Nope, can’t be there. Friends getting together? Nope, can’t go. It’s the little moments back home that I really truly miss”
“My answer to this question will not be similar to others but I think at this point, there isn’t anything that I have perceived as significantly challenging. We have no kids, so the idea of moving around sounds fine to me. My career is one that if I could’t find a job, I would volunteer in my field so that side of me should be fine too. Perhaps when my hubby gets sent away on his first deployment.. (so maybe you can touch base with me after that!)”
“The military “interfering” in our relationship. You have to label your relationship early and decide how committed you are (will you get married, move to follow, etc) long before traditional civilian relationships. Even now a lot of our life decisions- babies, home buying, big purchases, are determined by the military (are we moving/posted in the near future, deploying, away on course).”
“Most challenging can be the change haha, sometimes the need for independence”
“Make sure you are ok coming 2nd. The military will come before you every time”
“Be adventurous and that most of us are all here just waiting for someone to reach out for support. We are all going through similar experiences so we might as well bond over it. And to be adaptable, I’ve had difficulty with this but am getting better”
“Always remember that your spouse is your partner, not the enemy. As frustrating as it can be when those down times hit, they’re going through it as much as you are. When they come home and tell you the plan changed (again), and you want to yell at them to figure it out or make up their mind already, keep in mind they’re just the messenger and likely are feeling as frustrated as you are. Remember that you’re a team, and you both need each other’s support in order to make it work”
“My advice to other military spouses is do not be so hard on yourself!! It is okay to feel overwhelmed, it is okay to feel clingy sometimes, it is okay to question yourself and feel sad. Be strong, make friends, take advantage of the new community and make every experience worthwhile! Trust me when I say other spouses feel the same, and you will make some amazing friendships along the way!”
“If you’re in this life – it’s too late. If your spouse is thinking of joining and you LOVE your career – DON’T DO IT”
“A number of years ago when I was struggling at a new location I had a fellow spouse give me a piece of advice that I hold onto and bring with me everywhere. She told me, though in different words, to find my tribe. Those words seem to be a common theme lately but when you think about it, it’s a perfect line of wisdom. Finding people who have similar interests, hobbies, and goals can be the deciding difference in how you react to each thing thrown at you. Reach out to local interest groups, your MFRC, get a gym membership at your local base. Go to coffee shops, live music, festivals and seek out those around you that you gravitate to. It may not happen immediately, it may even take weeks or months to find new people that add to your happiness. Don’t give up trying to find your tribe, as they will be your support system.”
“There are spouses with way more experience than me, but to new military spouses I would say this: it is OK to freak out! It’s OK to feel lonely, to cry, to totally lose it because you’re husband is gone away to basic training and one of your water pipes in the basement has burst and it’s shooting water all over the place (true story) and you have no idea what to do. Be kind on yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling down, it’s all part of the process and you’ll make it through eventually”
“My advice to other military spouses was once given to me. And I hated it at the time! But seriously, reach out to your military community. If you’re moving to a new town check out your MFRC, join a gym, and reach out to others in a similar situation. It’s surprisingly easy to make friends as an adult after some connections are made. So get your butt out there, girl!”
“It is tough to do but you have to find the beauty in these kinds of things. I am not saying the military is easy at all but what I am saying is that it comes with so much life experience (some great, some not so great) that so many other people never experience. The military forces you outside of your comfort zone and to experience things you wouldn’t have otherwise”
“Get out and try to participate in the community to create lasting friendships. Try not to resist the change; and go with the flow.. of you make a plan expect the military to mess with it in one way or another. A little independence goes a long way; you never know when your spouse could be deployed or away on course and it’s important to learn to rely on yourself”
“Find your person and devote 120% to them. They give so much every day that you have to be their constant and the person they can rely on. It’s a little complicated as a service member myself- we spend a lot of time griping and sometimes wishing we had “normal jobs” but we are totally committed to each other first and our careers second, and with that comes understanding that sometimes the military needs to take precedent”
If you’ve made it this far, I think it’s important to understand that not everyone has the same opinion or feelings towards the military, the lifestyle, or the baggage it brings. I think the overarching consensus is that it’s hard to accept, as a spouse, that your career and life comes second. I’ve had to adapt to a career I can take with me anywhere, I’m just lucky enough to also love my job and that it is available anywhere I go. For others, this is a huge hurdle, leading to frustrations, lost opportunities, and sometimes just abandoning ship. This life is not always the easiest, and it really depends on the trade and element. Some jobs require more time away than others, some mean more dangerous situations, and some are not a whole lot different from what they would be doing in the “civilian” side.
I hope that by writing this, you have either learned something new about the life military spouses are exposed to, whether they have children, or like me, just annoying cats and a needy dog. It’s not always a simple life, and it’s definitely NOT for everyone. Challenges like these can put an enormous strain on relationships, which is evident by the divorce rate in military marriage. If you’re already a military spouse, I hope you found something comforting, and that you know there is a community of people to rely on.
I deeply appreciate all of the responses I received, and I hope I did you all justice in representing all of your opinions and views on this topic, and if I didn’t, please reach out. This post is not meant to bash the military, but to open up the conversation, and to give an honest look at what we accept going into this life. I hope if you have read an opinion (because that’s what these are) that you disagree with and feel angered, that before commenting, you stop and think about this. Not everyone has the same experience, and you do not know the circumstances of any of these situations.
Thank you for reading! I’ve learned a lot from just asking these three questions, and I’m honoured that these spouses felt confident enough to share with me this part of their journey.