When my husband joined the Marine Corps 18 years ago, I didn't know a thing about military culture. I cried when my husband didn't take a day off of work for my birthday, and pouted when he scolded me for walking across the grass on base. I had a lot of learning to do.
Over the years, through trial and error (lots and lots of error), I've learned how to adapt to this way of life. Through my experiences I've found the following 10 lessons helped me survive, and even thrive in our unique lifestyle.
1. Love doesn't come first in a military marriage. I wish it did. I wish I could promise each new military bride or groom that every anniversary, every Valentine's Day, every birthday and every single milestone in their lives will actually be spent together. Sadly, they won't. The reality is that training and missions are number one, whether we like it or not.
2. Your service member's rank doesn't define you. Don't be that person, please. No one likes the wife who status-shames other wives because her husband is a few ranks higher. All that matters is who you are and what you have to bring to the conversation. And cupcakes. We all like cupcakes.
3. The greater your expectations, the more disappointed you'll be. In the military, nothing goes quite like you expect it to. The quickest way to get upset is to have unreasonable expectations. Whether it's orders to move across country, or a promised three-day weekend for your service member, you will quickly learn that until it actually happens, it's not guaranteed. Don't set yourself up for disappointment. Relax and remember: "Qué será, será. Whatever will be, will be."
4. On-base life can be a dramatic comedy. Learn to watch from the sidelines instead of playing a starring role. We've all known those wives who create a circus-act wherever they go. While you may not know it now, how we behave can and will impact our service member's career. Your free-spirited vent can turn into your husband's visit to his commanding officer. Don't be a chismosa, either. Instead of creating the drama, pop some popcorn and let the professionals entertain you.
5. It's OK to be different. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all military spouse. We are all unique, all interesting, and all a little bit odd. Look at us. We married people who are gone half of the time and who run toward danger instead of from it. We have to be a certain kind of strange for that to work. So, fly your weirdo flag and be you. Don't worry about fitting in, you already do.
6. Don't keep up with the Ramirezes.
Maybe you don't have pretty curtains like Maria, or a cute coffee bar like Ana. Who cares? You will overspend, rack up debt, and still, someone will always have something cuter or cooler. Let go of the competition and start making your home what you want it to be within your budget. When your spouse retires from the military you can have money in your savings while the Ramirezes have credit card bills.
7. Change is your BFF. The longer you live this life, the more of a gypsy you will become. When you have to move every few years, and have little to no say in where you go, you get used to the spontaneity of military life. Change breeds new experiences, new skills and new strengths. It will eventually be something you crave. Embrace it.
8. Step outside your comfort zone. It can be unsettling to constantly have to readapt to your surroundings. Don't miss the opportunity to explore the world around you and meet new friends. Similarly, each duty station is an opportunity to learn about a new culture and do new, exciting things. Be a "yes" person to experiences and you'll be surprised at how quickly you love where you are, and who you've become.
9. It's a small military, after all. You will see the same faces again and again — and again. Be careful in your relationships and especially your arguments, since you may be living in a duplex next to that girl you cussed out in Spanish at your last duty station over something that really wasn't worth it when you end up next door neighbors.
10. Focus on your own dreams and goals. Your service member will most likely be gone a lot and that means one of two things: you can curl up in bed and watch TV, or you can set and achieve your own goals, independent of your marriage. Get an education, volunteer, start your career, or learn a hobby. Do things that make you love waking up and getting out of bed each day.