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Making Marriage Work in a Military Family

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Finding yourself isn’t just for teenagers and young twentysomethings anymore. As a military spouse, a majority of your day-to-day life is often spent catering to the needs of your soldier: planning or attending events, preparing meals, doing laundry or playing the role of two parents while he or she works long hours. Putting it on paper like that makes it look like a 1950s version of marriage; and for many couples, it is that way. And prior to falling in love with and marrying a soldier, no Tinker Bell type fairy or Jiminy Cricket comes to your ear to ask you if you can really handle military life—the deployments, the paperwork, the uncertainty, the PCSs, the time away from family.

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Unless you were the child of a military family, becoming part of the chaotic, sometimes confusing lifestyle can be overwhelming. Many spouses, myself included, go through bouts of confusion, high stress and sometimes—extreme annoyance or frustration with the military’s method of managing different situations. Spending days on the phone to get one piece of paper sorted out? Totally normal. It is easy to lose your sense of self and quickly become "just another Army/Navy/Air Force/Marine wife" and start blending into the background, often leading to depression, substance abuse and an increasing divorce rate.

Don’t do it. Don’t let it happen.

While knowing yourself and having a strong sense of your identity as an individual won't make the hard parts of military life disappear, it will make them easier to navigate. If you don’t know who you are when your spouse is in garrison, what will you do once he is deployed, in training or otherwise unavailable? While lounging around and eating bonbons is fine some of the time, there are often kids to care for and lives to lead. Not everyone will want to dive into a career, but finding interests outside of your marriage and seeking strength from other experiences will help give spouses a sense of self beyond the roles of wife and mother.

Life as a military spouse is more about creating the life you dream of than waiting for it to fall in your lap.

Some spouses have launched successful businesses, built careers in areas that are not office-specific, like journalism, sales, consulting, design and other service professions. Others still launch and manage small product businesses through Etsy and other craft sites. Blogging has created a whole new industry for home-based writers to communicate with businesses, keep in touch with family, share experiences and chronicle inspiration.

If a career path isn’t a good fit, a simple inventory of interests can help find activities and passions as well. Take art classes, volunteer on post, or with organizations in your local community or even go back to school. Many military spouses—particularly of enlisted soldiers—have not attended or finished college; and there are so many different opportunities for military families to complete courses online or in increments at posts’ education centers. Even quality graduate degrees are getting easier to find and complete online, or while stationed near universities. There are great resources in the education center and across the Internet for those looking to take advantage. There are even tuition incentives for military spouses like the use of GI bills, special scholarships and discounted fees.

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Life as a military spouse is more about creating the life you dream of than waiting for it to fall in your lap. There are so many different resources at military installations that almost any aspiration is possible. Getting started is the hardest part, so talk to friends and don’t hesitate to reach out to other military spouses to learn about their experiences. Even across service branches (and occasionally ranks) spouses can provide a great deal of insight into creating or leveraging interests into careers, long-term projects or even just a fun experience.

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