How many of you have gotten this question: “How on EARTH do you do it? How does your marriage/family survive with all of that (moving, separation, etc.)”?
Now, how many of you reply to this query with the answer, “I don’t know….we just DO”?
That is exactly how I have answered that question for the last 16 years. Recently though, I have come to realize that this answer just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. I have come to realize that I want to know more about what it is that we are doing right.
I remember reading somewhere once that “military life is an exaggerated version of civilian life.” That makes sense to me. Our highs can be really high and our lows can be really low. Typically time is of the essence so we rarely take the “tick-tock of the clock” for granted; cramming in as much togetherness as possible. It must have something to do with how we are forced to evolve into different environments, around different people and under different social norms.
This is where the light-bulb went off. The reason it would appear that we lead an exaggerated version of civilian life is because we DO! Everything moves much more quickly in this lifestyle! Whether it’s because of a sense of urgency beyond our control or because the intense way of life we lead; our lives tend to move and evolve a bit more quickly than most. Here are 5 theories on how the military family may evolve differently than our civilian counter-parts.
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Most of us experience adversity quite regularly. Many of us refer to this adversity as “Murphy’s Law”, i.e. anything that CAN go wrong, WILL go wrong. Examples of this phenomenon include: your car breaking down the day after your service member deploys; losing your Power-of-Attorney right before your military ID expires; your kids getting sick at the same time as you; your household goods shipment getting lost at sea; getting that awesome job a week before your service member receives orders…you get the gist.
However, maybe it is BECAUSE we experience Murphy on the regular that we seem to handle other crisis situations with a little more ease and logic. We now have this practiced ability to view challenges as opportunities. Once we experience Murphy in all his glory, we tend to sweat the small stuff a little less. Mainly, because we have bigger fish to fry.
Countless studies have been conducted related to military marriage. It’s not surprising since over half (56.1%) of active duty service members alone are married according to the Department of Defense Demographics Report. Shoot, 60% of the entire Army is married!
Most of us marry at a young age too. Almost 43% of us married before age 25. I married my own service member when we were both just 19! So how did we do it? How do so many of us manage to maintain our marriages when much of what we read these days pertains to divorce statistics and cheating and mass generalizations about our sub-culture?
My theory is that we evolve together. The most important element in a marriage is that you and your service member are a TEAM. It is you two against the world. From what I have witnessed over the last 16 years, if a couple tackles their challenges from a team approach, the potential to sustain a long marriage is increased. If you find that you and your service member attack your problems and issues instead of attacking each other, then you are well on your way.
This is a tricky one, but with the evolution of technology comes the evolution of communication. We have email, social media, Skype, FaceTime, text messaging, (and probably a hundred more apps that only my teenagers seem to understand).
Gone are the days where we don’t have the opportunity to speak to our service member for months at a time….or are they gone?
I was recently reminded that the above methods of communication are not one size fits all for each family just like there is no one size fits all type of separation. I facilitate a weekly deployment support group at our installation and when someone brought up FaceTime, another spouse rolled her eyes and snorted in derision. “What about boat deployments? What about when there is very limited connectivity and they only get to really ‘call’ when they are at port?”
Touché’. So I asked the group how they would stay connected to their service member if they were strictly limited to that dynamic. The response was ASTOUNDING. They got creative, thought outside of the box and gave me a run for my money as well! One of the women said that the key to staying connected wasn’t the method of communication used, but the content of the message. “It’s not how often or how frequent you ‘talk’ that matters. It’s the quality of communication between the two of you that makes the difference”.
If you have only 5 minutes to speak to your service member each week or month, you are forced to be more direct. Many of the spouses I have spoken to have stated that they actually communicate more openly and freely during deployments and other separations than they do while their service member is sitting right next to them.
Military spouses are frequently forced into roles that we may not be accustomed to. Our family of origin might have had distinct responsibilities that each member of the family performed based on each members age, gender or birth position in the family. You may have come from a home where your father’s role was to go to work and tend to the bills while mom cooked dinner and helped you with your math homework. You may have come from a home where your primary caregiver was a single mother who expected everyone to pull their own weight. Each family of origin is different and each role we experience in our marriage may be different because of that.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s 2015. There are plenty of stay-at-home dads and moms who suck at math homework (yea, THAT would be me).
However, military families have been doing this for much longer than society as a whole has come to accept it. It would appear that we are baptized by fire into virtually every role possible. Accountant, stay-at-home parent, car mechanic, chef, counselor, paralegal, PTO, student; the list is truly endless.
One of the spouses in the group I mentioned shared that she was so proud of herself because the AC went out in her vehicle and she fixed it all by herself. Big deal, right? YES! She stepped outside of her role and successfully completed a task that was typically performed by her service member. She now feels more confident to independently handle other challenges that Murphy might throw her way.
Our kids learn some pretty hefty life lessons at very early ages. They go through virtually everything we go through. Deployments, frequent moves, changing schools, changing family dynamics….it’s a whirlwind for them too! It just manifests itself differently in them. I have always said that we should all take notes from our military kids. When it comes to the evolution of our military families, they definitely take the lead!
By the time they complete the first two decades of their lives, they will have said “see-ya-later” to more significant places and people than most others do in a lifetime!
Our kids know what it feels like to be lonely and nervous on the first day of a new school. As crappy as it might sound, I’m glad they have had the chance to experience those feelings. Here’s why:
My teenage daughter was sitting in the lunch room at school one day. She’s sees this girl about her age standing in the door to the cafeteria and instantly recognizes the look on her face. The terror of the dreaded “seat choice”. My daughter remembered that it wasn’t that long ago that SHE had that very same look on her face and the very same feelings within her. My daughter is an extreme introvert by nature, but she stepped out of her comfort zone and asked the girl to come sit with her and her friends. If she had never had the opportunity to experience those feelings or that situation, she may never have been able to step out of her own comfort zone.
Our kids are smart and quick to the draw. They make friends more quickly than us and their ability to empathize is, in my opinion, second to none. They experience so much in such a short period of their lives that they mature into these very self-sufficient and (much to our chagrin), independent, young adults. Sure, they can at times live up to their famed ‘military brat’ title, but the changes and sacrifices and experiences that our kids face lead straight to resiliency.
What do you think?