By Sunshine Burgess
“You knew what you were getting into.” Have you heard this yet? If not, you will very soon. It may even shock you because it may not be from some random person you meet, it will likely be from a close friend or family member, someone you thought loved you unconditionally and would always be there for you. It will cut like a knife. It is never easy to hear, even for us seasoned spouses, but especially hard for a new spouse just starting on their journey.
I will say, there is some truth. Your spouse was either active duty when you met or they joined after you were together (hopefully not making a unilateral decision about that). That means that you weren’t blindsided by becoming a military spouse and you likely did THINK that you knew what you were getting into, but what you will soon learn is that all the research you have done and probable scenarios that you have gone over in your head will never prepare you fully for the reality. There is no way to predict how you will grow over time and how you will react to changes in your life.
You may know that your career will be taking a backseat to the active duty member’s career. You understand that you will likely change jobs often and maybe have to expand your idea of jobs in general. You get that. That is pretty obvious. What you didn’t plan on was being sent to remote areas with limited employment opportunities and it taking sometimes 6 months to a year to even find an “OK” job. You may not have anticipated that even in a pro-military community that there would be biases against “transitional” spouses and being asked in every interview “how long will you be here” or not even getting interviewed because they recognize your address as “the base”. Even when you plan on all those things, you didn’t anticipate feeling like a lesser being, undervalued and like you are wasting your education. Those feelings are real and at some point, we have all felt them. You just didn’t know you were “getting into” feeling those feelings.
I would bet it all on the fact that you knew all about the possibility of deployments and TDYs. There is no way to not know that the active duty member would sometimes be gone for months, even a year. However, you didn’t know that it would happen within months of getting married and moving to a new location maybe thousands of miles from home and where you know no one. You didn’t think that it would happen while you were pregnant with your first child and not only would you be going through that alone, and he would be missing the birth. You didn’t know that Murphy’s Law of deployments is that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong while the member is gone. You will deal with broken appliances, car problems, sick kids, surgeries, family deaths…the list could go on forever. All these things test your strength beyond measure and they are not easy to plan for or know.
Maybe you thought about deployments, but did you think about overtime hours, shift work, inspections, training and weekend/holiday hours? Did you plan for the times where they are “home”, but not really home? Did you plan on the 3am wake-up calls because someone needed their help? How could you really plan for all that? There is no way to fully prepare yourself for how lonely you will feel on every holiday, birthday and anniversary that you spend alone. You can know it is going to happen. You can plan celebrations on different days. However, regardless of the planning, when you are spending yet another holiday alone or even with kids who want to know why Mommy/Daddy can’t be there, you will feel emotions that you can’t plan.
I could go on and on. The list of what you think you know is endless. After 16 years, I am still learning! The truth is, those who like to say “you knew what you were getting into” have no idea themselves what you got into. They only understand the surface issues. You need to create a village of people who truly understand what you are/will be going through and they are the installation family counselors, chaplains, and fellow spouses (don’t forget, the older “been there, done that” spouses). You need people to talk to when you are going through rough times. You need people who can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel; the ones who can hold your hand or wipe away your tears; the ones who will let you know that what you are feeling is normal and okay. You need to surround yourself with people who can show you how to make it to the other side and become more resilient, not tell you that you should have known.
Marriage itself is a journey, military or not. There is no way to know what the future holds and how you will react to different obstacles. Does anyone truly know what they are getting into in any marriage/relationship? You just have to work together to make it to the next fork in the road. You pray you don’t encounter too many bumps in the road and get the fewest rock chips in your windshield on the way. The journey is amazing; not easy, but amazing.