The title of “Military Spouse” is a descriptor that those married to service members wear proudly — and with good reason. There is a sense of pride in being married to someone who has dedicated their life and career to defending our great nation.
Military life affects the entire family to varying degrees and finding others who can relate to what you are going through is important. So, it makes sense to identify as a “Military Spouse” and be an active part of that community.
But is there a downside?
My husband recently retired from the military after 20 years in the Marine Corps. We were ready for this transition. We knew exactly where we wanted to retire, we had friends and family in the area, and, having already lived in the location in the past, we had a few roots already planted.
I was a very active part of the military-spouse community and, over time, I became very well-versed in making friends and adapting to living in certain areas for only a few years at a time. Even today, we still find ourselves gravitating towards military families when it comes to social gatherings.
But 18 months into this “retirement” phase of our lives together, I am feeling a little bit lost.
It’s not that I’m getting the itch to move — I have jokingly told my husband that I just want to be buried in the backyard because I am not moving again. But I do feel a loss of identity when it comes to friendships.
Making friends with folks who have lived in one area their entire lives is a bit challenging. It’s not because they’re not open to being friends with a newcomer, it’s because I find myself so far out of my comfort zone. The zone where, no matter what, another military spouse and I instantly had at least one thing in common upon first meeting. So I struggle to create long-lasting, meaningful friendships (that are so valuable to my mental health) in a community of people who have been around each other their entire adult lives.
Was there something I wish I had done differently while my husband was on active duty? I’m not sure. I don’t regret the many incredible, life-long friends I made, even if they are spread out across the world. I don’t regret being active in the military-spouse community because I learned so much and grew as a person.
But I do wish that I had spent more time making connections with those outside of the community. I had “civilian family” friends, sure, but it feels like a life skill I could have spent more time honing.
Just like active duty service, transition out of military service impacts the entire family. There are many aspects of the transition to be considered, but one that I really wish I had realized was being careful of putting so much stock in my identity as a military spouse, especially when it comes to the friends I made.
I don’t wish that I had spent less time with military friends, I don’t wish that I had shied away from participating in the community, but I do wish I had spent more time thinking of life after my husband’s military service in regards to my own identity.