Dual Military Marriages: Can They Work?

Overcoming the Challenges When Mom and Dad Both Serve

When most people think of a “typical” military marriage, they envision one spouse in the military (active duty, Reserve, or Guard) and the other a civilian. In most cases, the family, including the kids and the dog, will accompany the servicemember on non-combat-related PCS moves. But time apart, ranging from just a few days to many months, is guaranteed. Coping with those separations—before, during, and after—is challenging under the best of circumstances. But for the more than 20,000 dual...MORE military couples (where both spouses are in the service), the challenges are even bigger.

What if you and your spouse are in different branches of the service? What if one of you is in a unit that deploys more often than the others? What happens if you’re both deployed at the same time—to different locations or for different periods of time? Whose career comes first? And then there’s the biggest question of all: Can a dual marriage work? In a word, yes. In a few more words, Yes—but you’ve got to prepare.

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    Understand That You Will Be Separated

    A nurse arm-in-arm with a serviceman
    Getty Images/Hulton Archive

    Dual-service families are subject to the same relocations and deployments as servicemembers who are married to a civilian. There’s a possibility that you could be stationed together during some deployments, but the odds are a lot better that you and your spouse’s deployments won’t happen at the same time. As a result, you’re going to spend more time apart than regular married couples in the armed forces. 

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    Apply for a Joint Spouse Assignment

    Each branch of the service has a Joint Spouse program, and for you to have even a glimmer of a chance of being assigned anywhere near each other, you’ll both need to apply for it. Under those programs, the military will try to accommodate you (which they do, on average, about 80% of the time), but no one’s going to make any promises—and you should be suspicious if they did. Keep in mind that the military's definition of accommodate may be different than yours. What they mean is that they’ll try to assign you within a hundred miles or so of each other. 

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    Complete a Family Care Plan

    A Family Care Plan (FCP) is a document that lays out how you’d like your child(ren) and other family members who might not be able to provide for themselves to be looked after if you and your spouse are deployed at the same time. The two of you should have an FCP in place at all times, and you should review it at least once a year to make sure it’s up to date. FCPs are mandatory, and while they may differ slightly from branch to branch, they all require you to name: 

    • A short-term guardian. Someone living nearby who has agreed to accept your kids 24/7 if you get deployed with no notice.
    • A long-term guardian. Someone—not necessarily living nearby—who will take care of your children during long deployments. This may or may not be the same person as the short-term guardian.
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    Get Comfortable Asking for Help

    Military servicemembers are trained to be self-sufficient, so asking for help is sometimes tough (especially if you’re a Marine). But you’d better get used to it. If both you and your spouse are deployed at the same time, somebody (or somebodies) will need to care for your kids and make sure your bills get paid, the lawn gets watered and mowed, and that you have a home to come back to after the deployment. 

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  • 05 of 06

    Learn to Adapt to Changing Roles

    If you’re a believer in traditional mom-does-x-dad-does-y spousal roles, you’ve got a problem. Your dual military marriage will simply not survive if the two of you aren’t fully committed to switching roles and responsibilities as needed. You both need to be prepared to handle everything that goes into keeping your household running smoothly. Whether that’s preparing meals, doing laundry, grocery shopping, balancing the checkbook, getting the kids to soccer practice, or ensuring that the family car is maintained.

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    Have a Communication Plan

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    It’s important that you and your spouse discuss how you’re going to stay in touch with each other and the folks back home during dual deployments. Skype, social media, phone calls, and texts are possibilities. But depending on where you are and what your assignments are, they may or may not be available. The most important thing is to be conservative. Saying you’re going to call every day is a promise you won’t be able to keep. As a result, you’ll disappoint, or unnecessarily worry, the people waiting for your call.

Bottom line, dual military marriages can and do work. But it takes a lot of planning, flexibility, and mutual support, just like any other challenging military assignment.