Marrying someone in the military comes with a lot of "stuff." Some of that stuff is so beautiful - like watching your service member put on their uniform and promising to protect this country – that it takes your breath away. Being married to a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Guardsman or Coastie is something that will absolutely enrich your life beyond your wildest dreams. But attached to the beautiful things are some harder parts of the military spouse life.
Walking through the journey of a military spouse comes with challenges. You will be faced with increased responsibilities and continual life changes. From learning the military lingo, acronyms, the ins and outs of Tricare, or managing an overseas PCS, the "opportunities" to learn are endless. But out of all the things to understand and navigate in military life, the most important thing to learn is how to not lose something really, really, important: yourself.
Much of this loss of identity comes initially due to the level of pride felt for your husband or wife's service to the county. It is a life-changing and awe-inspiring thing to be a part of. Being involved as a military advocate or volunteering your time is an honorable thing, as long as you are doing it for the right reasons. It isn't altogether uncommon for military spouses to completely lose their voice and sense of self. They get stuck behind their service member's uniform. The key thing to remember is that you aren't the one wearing it. They are.
Many military spouses stop going to school, working, or striving toward whatever their dreams were before they said: "I do." Pair that with deployments and the stress of managing life alone can lead to depression, isolation, and unhappiness. A 2019 study found that 7% of female military spouses meet the criteria for depression, as compared to only 3% of females in the general population. That same study also showed higher rates of addiction to alcohol and binge drinking for military spouses.
For many military spouses, it is hard to recognize who they were before they married their service member. It's much easier to press pause on your own life and wait for the mission to be complete. But when you do this, you miss so many of life's opportunities in the process. With this loss of identity comes resentment, which can lead to divorce. The divorced military spouse has a new set of challenges, typically with children to support, no education, and a sparse resume. Now, these spouses have lost something they gave absolutely everything to: their military spouse title. Don't let this be you.
Your service member will be working toward continual advancement in rank during their military career. You should also be living a life of purpose, intentionality, and advancing in your own growth right along with them. You only get one life, go live it!
Here are 6 ways for military spouses to keep their own identities:
1. Have the goal conversation before you get married
Be raw and honest with your service member. Lay out your goals for your future and plan for them together. All of them. It is advisable that you write them down and post them somewhere visible – this will be an accountability reminder for both of you.
2. Prepare to get creative
The military is going to change the path to your goals. Probably more than once, and yeah, it really sucks. Embrace the suck and have a plan b, c, and d. Your goals are worth it. You are worth it.
3. Don’t ever stop learning
This is the number one mistake military spouses make. If you are in school when you meet your service member, don't you dare stop going. Also, see above.
4. Swallow your pride and use the resources
As a military spouse, you will have so much support; say yes to all of the things.
- Military spouse scholarships are everywhere to help you pay for schooling. Don't be too proud to apply.
- Career counseling and resume building assistance will be available to you. Go make your appointment.
Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talk during the kickoff of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.
Network with other military spouses who are in your wheelhouse. They get it and will help you navigate your journey more successfully. This is one of the military life's most beautiful blessings; that instant connection with the military community. Life is better with MilSpouse besties.
6. Want to be a stay at home parent or military spouse? Do it right.
If being in this role makes your heart sing – go for it! Do what sets your soul on fire; do not settle or give up your own personal dreams for your future. If being a stay at home parent or spouse is your jam, go all in. Make sure you own that choice, and you are making yourself happy. No one, not even your uniformed service member, can do that for you.
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