The hazard of being a third generation military spouse is the assumption I knew what I was getting into when I married my active duty husband.
For context, my dad retired when I was in high school and my life looked like most civilians: I graduated from high school, attended college, and began my adult life in the same state, all within the same 100 mile radius. Then, at the age of 29, I married into the Air Force and once again found myself sporting a military ID labeled with the dubious title of “military dependent.”
It’s understandable people assume I knew what I signed up for.
Yet I’ve learned most military spouses hear this too, regardless of whether they had family in the military, lived near a military installation, were in the military, too, or none of the above. But this seemingly innocuous assumption is just not true.
So I’d like to set the record straight: we didn’t know what we signed up for.
Since picking up that super cool military ID card, I’ve had more than one occasion to complain about life as a military spouse. Unfortunately, the casual response from family and friends is sometimes, “You knew what you were getting into, so why are you complaining?”
I may not flinch when you say it, but those words pack a punch, and inadvertently validate the quiet whisper in my head, “Suck it up buttercup, you signed up for this.”
So I stuff the emotions down deep. I tell myself how I feel doesn’t matter. I fake it, believing surely, if I do this long enough, well enough, I will make it.
I put on a mask and smile, accepting otherwise irrational narratives in my mind: “I chose this life, so why am I surprised? I knew what I was getting into, so this pain should hurt less. I chose this life, I deserve whatever hard thing comes my way.”
Friends, these dangerous narratives breed despair, destroy marriages, and end lives. If we want to build resilience, we need to change the narrative and silence the lies with truth.
The truth is that I didn’t know what I was getting into. (None of us did, even if we were there when they joined.) No matter what I expected, I couldn’t know:
- How hard it would be to drive away from the place I called home.
- How discouraging it would be to find a new job or have a career alongside his.
- How exhausting it would be to explain the nuances of my life as a military spouse – my marriage, my motherhood, my career – to my civilian family and friends.
- How scary it would be to make new friends as an adult, and how desperately I would need real, authentic friends because,
- The hardest part of life as a military spouse is sharing my husband.
Whether I recognized it or not, I signed up to share the love of my life with the uniform he puts on, the flag he salutes, and people he defends. His job is the lens for our life. It sets the rhythm of our days and the schedule of our months and years. Where he goes, I will go. What matters to him, matters to me.
When you move a lot, you quickly learn the difficulty of packing up your house is directly proportional to the amount of physical stuff you’re moving. I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to realize this is true emotionally as well.
Life as a military spouse is easier when we lighten the load. We owe it to ourselves and to each other (and to those watching us) to be honest about the emotional load we carry.
Yes, this life is hard.
Yes, this life hurts.
Yes, I sacrifice, too.
But for all that I’ve lost I’ve gained more:
- Confidence as I drove away from particularly difficult assignments: “I’m stronger than I realized and braver than I imagined.”
- Dreams unlocked by discovering how to build a life doing what I love no matter where our journey takes us.
- Joy and purpose by serving as a cheerleader and advocate for military spouses, and as a voice to help civilians better understand and support military families;
- Friends who co-parent my kids, pour coffee or wine at all hours, and offer the contents of their fridge to save me a commissary trip with kids in tow. Forged in tears and preserved by laughter, these are the friends who know my scars and love me anyway.
- And a marriage built on service and sacrifice, designed to weather even the harshest climates with laughter. It’s a partnership produced by faith, fueled by love, and motivated by hope. We believe in each other and the life we’re living.
So now whenever I find myself saying, “Suck it up buttercup,” I’m rewiring my brain to disrupt the narrative: “No, I didn’t sign up for this! BUT I CHOSE HIM. I choose him again today.”
Then I repeat the cheesy Valentine I wrote him a few years ago:
Friends, hear me on this: I didn’t show up thinking like this because my dad and granddad were in the Air Force! If anything, my familiarity with the military conditioned me to accept the status quo.
This shift in perspective just began a few years ago when I started honestly admitting to myself, and to my husband, some of the ridiculous stuff I’d been told, taught, or accepted since becoming a military spouse.
The thing is, I didn’t realize it was unreasonable at first. It seemed like a rite of passage – things you learn the hard way – but because I jumped in 13 years “late,” I was drinking by a fire hose, trying to earn my stripes as fast as possible.
But normalizing unhealthy thoughts or attitudes cements a cycle of defeat.
We need to break the cycle and quit stuffing emotional time bombs into our backpacks. Let’s rewrite the irrational narratives by speaking truth to ourselves and to each other.
It’s OK to name the heartbreaking parts of this life – it’s vital for our health. But lamenting has a purpose: to move our hearts from hurt to whole.
We need whole hearts for life as a military spouse. After all, we live on a mission, poised to go, as soon as they tell us where and when. Let’s be ready to thrive wherever this life takes us.
If you’re a military spouse, you and I both know we aren’t “Stepford Wives,” so please don’t continue to function on autopilot. Do the heart work. Find your best see-each-other’s-scars friends and give each other permission to be honest. Lament what’s lost, but resist the urge to pile on the negative. Point out the gains to each other. Sometimes we’re too close to our own lives to see the blessings, but our friends can help us. Be the kind of friend who celebrates the gains. Shout encouragement to those running alongside you. Welcome the newest members of our tribe with honesty; teach them to protect their hearts without losing heart; remind them the gains outweigh the losses. The journey may not look like we expect, but the twists and turns bring more laughter than tears, and dozens of stories to share.
If you’re not military, chances are you know a military spouse or you’ll meet one. This is a gentle request to set aside your assumptions. This is a peek behind the mask I sometimes wear without realizing it when we talk at the grocery store. This is what I need you to pray about when you talk to me at church. This is the sacred space I’m inviting you into when you graciously become my friend even though you know I’m moving soon. I didn’t know what I signed up for, I don’t always know what I’m doing, and I haven’t got a clue where we’re moving next summer. But this is my life and I love it. It’s hard sometimes, but mostly it’s good. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8