Recently, I had a conversation with my husband about a piece I was working on for Military Spouse Magazine. I was stuck on how to convey a certain lesson that I had learned throughout my years as a military spouse and wanted an opinion of some language I’d used, when he disappeared off into the family room, computer in hand. When he returned, he shared this piece with me–not advice on how to best word my sentence structure, but rather-lessons HE HAD learned while being married to a military spouse.
It struck me; we often converse in our own military spouse community on how we have grown, adapted, forged through difficult situations at the behest of our spouse’s career. We share advice, try to build one another up, and occasionally laugh about some of the less desirable aspects of our military life. Yet, it isn’t as common that we get an ‘outside look in’ at our community from those that we are most intimately involved-our service members, our spouses.
Today, I share with you a piece that my husband Matt wrote—lessons that he’s learned from us and the experiences he wants to share with some of the younger, new military spouses. -Kate Dolack
Article by Captain Matthew Klobucher, USMCR
There are many preconceptions and opinions about military marriage. If you are newly married to a service member, or about to become so, it is easy to either a) be swept away with the romance and believe you can accomplish anything, b) be scared about the sacrifices that come with a military lifestyle, or c) both. I’d like to offer some reflections on military marriage that I’ve learned from the experiences of my fellow service members, but mostly from my amazing wife.
1) Marriage: Your marriage can be all your own, despite the presence of the military.
Any person who enters a marriage has his or her own expectations. Inevitably, conflicts arise as the spouses grow to know and love each other better, and make space for the other’s wants and needs. A military marriage carries unique challenges in this because the service member must be so personally invested in his or her unit. My wife, I know, initially felt like she had to accommodate my entire unit into our marriage as well.
I deployed shortly after marriage, and she felt lonely, marginalized, and frustrated at my single-minded focus on getting deployed and my new duties. She wondered who I was, this new man who was seemingly uninterested in her the way I had been during our courtship and engagement. Later, when I returned and we moved across country to a new station, the same feelings persisted as I dedicated myself to my new assignment. We argued often and spent much of our little time together angry at one another. But I learned to make the marriage a priority, and she learned the passion I had for the service, and because of her strength in refusing to play ‘second fiddle’ I grew to learn how to manage my military obligations in order to put her first.
There is no doubt that the military demands huge time and emotional sacrifices from service members, and by extension their spouses. It may feel like there’s no room for the marriage, but I promise there is. Understanding and consideration for the other are essential–not just from the spouse, but perhaps especially for the service member. Don’t be afraid to let him or her know that.
2) Personal Life: The military can be compatible with your personal aspirations.
Many military spouses are excited for their service member’s career, and hope for a part in the pride that comes with serving the nation. Others love their service member deeply, but worry that they will have to give up their own life, dreams, and aspirations in obedience to military orders.
Either perspective, or both, is perfectly fine (and totally understandable).
My wife was proud and in love, as well as an accomplished professional with a career future and a solid group of friends in her home city. She was nervous that she’d be relegated to stereotypical spouses clubs and a life of dependency.
It’s important I share two things I’ve learned: First, while you may have to move from place to place with your service member, he or she does have a limited say in where that is. They shouldn’t choose solely based on their preferences or their ambition–as with all things in marriage, career moves and physical moves must be joint decisions. If you wish to pursue schooling, or continue in a career, or want to be close to your family, your service member should support that. After all, you will be the one left behind on deployments. Second, you did not swear an oath to the military. There can be a lot of pressure to join support groups, clubs, or even attend unit family events, but you don’t need to do any of this.
You certainly may, and such groups and events can be both fun and rewarding. I know many spouse’s clubs that have provided needed services for struggling spouses or the unit. But whether your service member thinks you have to participate, or is afraid of the consequences if you don’t (or if you do), he or she is wrong and should support you if you don’t want to be a part of it.
The military is full of wonderful, supportive spouses–but there are also spouses who seek to hold their service member’s rank over others, or sponge off the military, or play the perpetual martyr.
You don’t have to form relationships with the people you don’t like, and you certainly aren’t doomed to become them. And don’t be afraid of the rumors you hear–spouse communities are sometimes as gossipy as high school. Ultimately, whether you choose to be involved in the military spouse community or not, you can find friends and support there.
3) Family: A service member may be less available for parenting, but that doesn’t excuse them from the responsibility.
Children always make marriage more complicated, and certainly not in a bad way. But if you are expecting, have children, or are planning on starting a family, the practical difficulties of doing so among deployments, deployment workups (which consume the majority of a service member’s time), and moving to a new station every three years can seem insurmountable, even if the prospect of a family is exciting to you.
My wife and I got pregnant immediately after moving to a new station, and as luck would have it the baby was scheduled to arrive scarce weeks before I was to be assigned to an extremely time-consuming job, which would require me to spend weeks at a time away from home. It was scary for us, because I hardly made it to the pregnancy appointments due to work, and our child was colicky. My poor wife faced a very difficult situation: a child who wouldn’t sleep and constantly cried, a husband who was rarely home and often gone for the week, and no family nearby. Just another military pregnancy horror story.
But again, our love made it work. I will owe her forever for her struggles and successes of that time, but I eventually learned that I couldn’t use work as an excuse against taking responsibility for our daughter or otherwise helping out my wife. Sometimes it meant coming home at lunch (that happened only two or three times), or getting up throughout the night so she could get sleep. But we made it work, together, and inadvertently discovered the joy of parenting.
My wife also made good friends with other military spouses who had faced similar situations. It wasn’t easy, for sure, but it was an amazing experience that called forth all our love for each other, and for our daughter. Without speaking for my wife, I think we are hoping for the chance to do it again.
4) The Uncertainty: As long as you make decisions together, truly considering both spouses’ needs and interests, you can handle anything.
The advice I’ve given so far is very general. Most spouses are concerned with the immediate future. Where are we going? What services (housing, medical care, support groups) are available? How can we plan our future, or how can I plan my job or education, with so much uncertainty?
Simply put, I’ve learned it requires flexibility. Service members are usually resigned to such things–“the military will send me where it wants.” That’s certainly true, but the military, especially now, tries to make special accommodation for families, and your service member should try his or her hardest to consider you and stand up for your aspirations–college, career, or kids. I recommend you figure out together what’s important to each of you, and come up with a series of plans–A, B, and so on down the alphabet–for what comes next.
My wife and I sifted through many potential duty assignments looking for locations compatible with her job, and free from deployments for a while (a reasonable request). What we chose took me off my prescribed career path a bit, but didn’t kill my ambitions. Our decision to face together the challenges ahead–settling in a new location, taking on new jobs, and living far from our families–sustained and grew our marriage.
There’s no ‘perfect’ solution–every turn will require love, understanding, and sacrifice from both spouses. But that’s true of any marriage, military or civilian. My wife and I discovered what all successful couples seem to know: marriage means doing things together. I tell you from experience that despite the challenges of the military, and partly because of them, my marriage is the most fun and rewarding and wonderful thing I have. It has made both of us immeasurably better people, for which I thank her most of all.
There is a great adventure awaiting you in a military marriage–I promise.