I’ve been told that I am a bit of a control freak… maybe a micromanager…or perhaps an obsessive organizer. Personally, I like to think of myself as a serial planner.
But regardless of what you call it, I will agree that I do indeed like the ability to control my circumstances. If I was a dog, I think I’d be a herding dog, steering and bossing all those sheep around.
Whether it’s driving a conversation, planning every vacation detail, making social plans or creating detailed checklists, I’ve always been most comfortable in the driver’s seat of situations. So, you can imagine that life as a military spouse has its challenges for someone that tries to control even the smallest aspects of their future.
I mean, why would anyone possibly want to know where they’re going to be living in 9/6/3 months? Or find out when their spouse is actually coming or going for deployment? It’s not like military families want to make plans to go on vacation, or find a place to live in their new duty station, or make any type of social or work commitments. Don’t be silly! Note: if you don’t always pick up on sarcasm, THAT was sarcasm.
My first control wake-up call came almost immediately after my now-husband joined the military when I was trying to plan our wedding. I was eager to set a date and send out the invitations as our wedding date was only two months away:
“Will we be able to get married on March 4? Are we good to go?” – chagrined and naïve Bride on January 15
“I’m not sure. They still haven’t given me my orders so I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to get home for leave or not,” – Groom, calling from the public phone at Officer Candidate School
“AAAHKK!! Expletive! @$%!#!” – Bride
“What was that?” – Groom
“That was me pulling my hair out!” – Bride
And thus began my control push-pull relationship with the military. (For the record, we did get married on March 4 and everything worked out just as planned.)
While I’m very much a work in progress, I think surrendering some control has actually precipitated positive personal change in me. There are definitely days where I wish I could hunt down our detailer or CO and give him a stern talking to. However, for the most part, I have grown more comfortable with taking a few deep breathes and repeating my military-spouse mantra – “Control the controllable.”
Control the controllable
There are countless aspects of military life that we have very little control over. At the end of the day, business/mission need comes before personal preference, which means that military members and their spouses will inevitably live through circumstances they can’t control or don’t prefer. For a control freak, when you can’t control the big things, you look for whichever small aspects of the situation you can control.
I can feel in control by feeling prepared. We can’t control when it’s going to rain, but we can be prepared with an umbrella when it does. Similarly, we’ve all experienced the waiting months before orders, not knowing where we’ll make our next home. When that situation has me frustrated, I start preparing for the move so that when a decision is made, I can quickly spring into action. For example, making a checklist of the different bills and memberships I will have to cancel in my current home, and starting some light decluttering and organizing to make the packing less chaotic. I can’t control that we don’t get orders until a month before our move, but I can control my level of preparation for the process.
Similarly, you may have deployment looming in the near future, and your inner control freak is troubled by the fact that you don’t have a firm date on when your spouse is leaving. Again, being prepared can help you feel more in control of the situation. USAA has wonderful PCS and Deployment guides available to both members and non-members that outline activities that can keep you feeling in control.
Manage your outlook.
I can feel in control by managing my outlook. During our first PCS process, I was totally obsessed with finding out where we’d be moving. I asked my husband constantly, and complained about not knowing to anyone that would listen. But guess what? That actually made the situation worse! The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became. So, while it is natural and normal to have some light complaining here and there, managing my outlook and shifting my focus diminished my anxiety about lacking control.
Encourage your spouse to manage the communication.
Lastly, I can feel more in control by encouraging and supporting my husband to communicate effectively at work to potentially help steer his circumstances. The detailer has the fate of a lot of people on his plate, so my spouse can either sit back and wait for him or her to reach out about his next orders, or he can proactively look at the billet list and make his desires known early on.
I am not saying our spouses should berate their detailers with a million emails and phone calls, or demand their preferences in an entitled manner. On the contrary, they should confidently and respectfully make their preferences known, and follow up periodically on progress in a humble manner. While we aren’t the decision makers in the process, feeling like your spouse is doing what they can to advocate for your family’s desires can help you feel more in control.
Identify what brings you peace
While I try to control what I can, there are just too many aspects of military life that we can’t control. We can’t control if there is a major world event that draws our spouses into combat, we can’t control the major legislative decisions that have major monetary and lifestyle impacts on military families, and the list goes on.
Thus, I’ve had to identify the things that bring me peace of mind and help me manage the anxiety resulting from a lack of control. Maybe for you it’s a hobby, yoga, exercising, spending time with friends, or it’s your faith. I personally have grown stronger in my faith since we joined the military. The military lifestyle has helped me surrender control not only to the military, but to God’s overall plan for my life.
Whatever “it” is that brings you peace, I encourage you to pursue it regularly to help mitigate the inevitable frustrations that might arise in this uncontrollable military life!
Everything will all work out
Second to my mantra of “control the controllable” is my periodic personal reminder that “everything will all work out.” I reflect on times where I have unnecessarily driven myself crazy with worry and anxiety about the military-life scenarios I’ve discussed here. However, all that worry did nothing to control our situation, and had a negative impact on my relationships and even my health.
As mentioned, I struggle with anxiety and control issues everyday – and I know how frustrating it is when people say, “just don’t worry about it” and “it will all be OK.” Thus, it’s ironic that I am trying to instill in you that very concept… so just view these recommendations as one crazy control-freak’s strategy for making life in the military the fun adventure it can really be.