Marriage is challenging. Maintaining a happy marriage when one or both spouses are active duty military brings with it a myriad of additional considerations.
There may be times you may feel like you don’t have control over your own life decisions. And there will be times when the servicemembers mission comes before your time with him or her, or with your children. Add in the unique challenges that face parents in this environment, and the list of “what ifs” starts to become daunting.
In any relationship, loving someone means you’re willing to work, to support your partner through the ups and downs of everyday life, and are ready to tackle unforeseen circumstances together. In the military, you have the added complication of loving someone who gets called away with little or no warning, trains on the holidays, and whom you may go months without seeing in person.
Is it worth it? Definitely. Fortunately, there are things you can do to be proactive in protecting your marriage.
Be Honest with Each Other
There are so many ups and downs in the lifetime of a military career. Each of those transitions presents its own cycle of excitement, fear, doubt, happiness, hope, and frustration.
It’s important to know that it’s okay—and totally normal—to run the full gamut of emotions when you or your spouse is facing a deployment, extended training or schooling, job-related separations, and duty station changes.
You’ll need to be open-minded and willing to talk together (that means equal parts talking and listening) about all of those feelings and emotions, including the ones that aren’t so nice.
At the same time, it’s important to commit to maintaining open communication with each other and creating a “safe zone” where each of you can openly talk about your feelings about these transitions.
You’ll both need to agree to not judge the other’s feelings, or consider them irrational. In any relationship—whether it’s a military one or a civilian one—you must listen and understand that each other’s feelings are valid.
When you have an open discussion like this, nothing will ever be the same—and that’s a good thing. When you understand each other on a much deeper level, you’ll be opening up new areas in your relationship. This can be a little scary, but also a little exciting.
Understand and Accept Service-Related Limitations
Your goal is be to be partners in this journey. Partners express concerns and help each other find solutions. Keep that in mind when you’re on the military life roller coaster with your spouse.
At the same time, you need to understand and accept that as important as communication is, there may be some things that your military spouse may not be able to discuss with you, such as specifics about missions, personnel, equipment, and so on.
Seek Help Before There’s a Major Issue
Sometimes, those little annoyances that come from being married, combined with the stress of a military lifestyle can take a toll on a marriage before you even realize that there’s an issue.
If you find yourself feeling stressed out more than usual, or you notice that those little fights are happening more often, don’t wait for a minor issue to turn into a big blowout. Every couple has areas that they want to improve upon in their relationship. Take the initiative and use some of the resources available to you to mend the fences.
Among those resources are the military marriage enrichment programs that are available through the National Military Family Association. Even if things are sunshine and rainbows for you and your spouse right now, a little refresher goes a long way.
Make the Most of Your Unique Circumstances
What an adventure you have before you!
Each new change of duty station brings a new opportunity for you, your spouse, and your children to explore and get to know each other in a new light.
If you’re not sure where to start at a new duty station, get know your resources on-post. For example, the Army has a Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (FMWR) program for military families. The other branches have similar programs designed to give you ideas to make the most of your new duty stations as a family. In the Navy, it’s called the Fleet & Family Support Program; In the Marine Corps, it’s the Marine and Family Programs; in the Air Force, it’s the Airman & Family Readiness Centers; and in the Coast Guard, it’s the Work-Life Program.
Even a deployment can be turned into an opportunity. When you or your spouse deploys, focus on personal development. Take online courses, pick up a part-time job, find a new hobby, or reach a fitness goal. By taking the time to focus on your individual needs and to discuss your goals, you’ll be using a difficult situation to build your marriage. When you get home, celebrate how far you both have come despite your separation!
The Military Is Not an Excuse
In any relationship, there are an unlimited number of variables that can cause it to break down. As tough as things get, resist the temptation to use the military as an excuse. Keeping a marriage afloat is undoubtedly harder when one or both spouses are in the military than when both are civilians. The sooner you come to terms with that fact, the better. One idea that’s consistent across all branches of the service is to never give up. You need to make that part of your mindset as well. Yes, there will be times when things get to you—sometimes things that are directly related to the military—but never let them bring down your relationship. Love is anything but easy, but it’s more than amazing when you work towards it.
Your Marriage is Part of Your Legacy
Remember, a military career is meant to be temporary, whether you’re married to a “lifer” or not. Your family legacy is meant to last for generations to come. It’s worth the time investment to protect your marriage from the changes and challenges associated with life in the military.
A little preparation, and there’s a good chance that you’ll find your marriage stronger for it on retirement day.