This is the advice I wish I had been privy to. The dynamics of marriage don't suddenly change the day of retirement, rather, there is a period of anticipation that leads up to the finality of the transition. In much the same way that we address the stresses of pre-deployment, we should be discussing the stress that comes during pre-retirement.
It’s so complicated
Perhaps I should phrase this as what I didn't know about the medical retirement process, because that is the one we endured. It is humiliating. Soldiers who have been told their entire career to push through the pain are suddenly being treated with suspicion as if they are trying to milk the government for every penny they can when really, all they want, or mine wanted, was to stay in and serve.
I went to every appointment I was able to attend. This isn't realistic for all spouses, but in my unique line of work I was able to work my schedule around his. If you are able to, I highly recommend it. Things happen in those appointments where your soldier needs an advocate and a voice of encouragement that the temporary suck is worth the process.
The medical documents were an outright mess. According to the file, my husband had an abnormal pap-smear a few years back. Yes, a pap-smear. A mess!
They required hours of pouring over to make sure that they were correct and then hours more of appealing diagnoses that weren't correct. This is when you, the spouse, begin to discover your new role of caregiver. It's not an easy one and as a nurse recently told me it's important to remember this is a marathon and not a sprint. Pace yourself and stick with it.
Your soldier needs to know you're in this, too, and that you'll be standing at the other side, just like he/she needed to know when they stepped on the plane to deploy.
The information they give you at the transition readiness seminar isn’t always up to date
Take notes and do the research. Double check everything you are told. Document and start a file folder. Sound familiar? It should. It's the same advice we are given as we begin the pre-deployment process.
I went to the transition readiness seminar with my spouse to take notes. Part of the reason he was medically retired was due to memory loss related to a TBI. One of my new roles was to take notes and help him remember what was discussed.
Spouses are encouraged to attend these meetings, but as the only spouse in attendance I discovered some of the advice that given out was to our disadvantage. I listened as soldiers were told how to navigate around their benefits in order to payout the minimum amount to spouses if the marriage didn't work out.
What I wish we had been told was not how to screw our spouses, but rather how to love and support one another through one of the more difficult transitions of our lives.
It may not be the best time to buy a house
A lot of couples start dreaming about their retirement home. For some of them, like us, it's their first home purchase. Look, retirement is a big stressor all on its own. Buying a home might be a stressor you can put off but if not, here are a few tips from Forbes on how to buy a house while also avoiding a break up.
As a newly retired military family, if you are buying a house locate realtors and mortgage companies who have walked through the process with previous veterans from service to retirement. It's a complicated system finding financing while in transition, one that requires a few experts in your corner. Some friends have had success moving the family months prior to the actual retirement while others have had to live with family until all the needed paperwork to move forward is available.
For us, one word off on the VA paperwork nearly made us homeless. After driving for four days, we were two hours away before we got the call that we had a place to move into. If you are considering buying a house while transitioning out of the military read this first: 5 Home Purchase Considerations For Your Military Consideration.
Experience prepping for deployments can help you in prepping for retirement
We all go into our first deployment with an idea of what it will look like; retirement is similar. I pictured lunch dates, Pinterest DIY projects, and shared household responsibilities. Our careers were about to take off, my husband with his dream of culinary school and mine as a full-time writer. Reality has a way of knocking you down a few notches.
I want you to dream. You need to dream. A year and a half out we seem to finally be getting the hang of communicating how we each need help and tackling the household responsibilities in a way that works. But none of it looks quite like we pictured. As we adjust to the reality of our new normal, we are learning to communicate more openly, to listen more fully and to forgive the missteps along the way.
There are a lot of emotions that go into prepping for deployments and there are a lot of emotions that come with the transition from military to civilian life. Be ready to be honest with one another along the way. Hold each other up because the period of your life doesn't have to break you, it can be the moment that solidifies you as a couple.
Featured photo: Rear Adm. Victorino G. Mercado, hands his wife, Suzane, the national ensign he received during his retirement ceremony in front of USS Halsey (DDG 97).