Things I wish I’d known 10 Years Ago (About Military Life)

So I have now been a “military spouse” for over a decade and there are some things I wish I’d known when this whole thing started that would make life a little easier. In case you might be a new military spouse, here are some things that I learned the hard way. As always, your mileage may vary.

It Can Wait
You’re going to spend a lot of time thinking that if you don’t do that thing Right Now then it will never happen. Whatever that thing is, it can wait. This is doubly true for Big Life Decisions. I see a lot of people getting married Right Now, Really Quickly Before Deployment! for instance, and that just isn’t always necessary. If you are panicking because you aren’t sure how you’ll LIVE for six to twelve months without a ring on your hand… maybe think twice. The ring isn’t the thing that will make it stick.

Don’t Wait on Everything
I promise this isn’t counter-intuitive. That first one is about big decisions (like getting married just because of a deployment!), but there are other things where the timing is never going to be perfect because, y’know, NAVY, so you may as well just go for it and then make things work around, y’know, NAVY. This could include college or grad school, picking up a new hobby, travel, anything really. If you try to time everything around deployments and PCSing, you’ll never find a window of opportunity. Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it. (Example: schools are more and more online– so just pick a program and get started!)

Volunteering to count humpback whales in 2011

Have Your Own Hobbies
This may seem self-explanatory, but you really need to go in with the assumption that you’ll be spending at least some time on your own. Whether it’s a once-a-month duty night where you’re fending for yourself come dinner time or a year of an IA, there will probably come a time in your relationship where you’ll be on your own. If you don’t have your own Thing to do, this can get a little overwhelming. Personally, I look forward to random duty nights as my chance to watch what I want on TV without having to discuss it and ordering a pizza with the toppings I like.

End of deployments are often in the local papers!

Keep the Clippings
Was your military service member in the base newspaper? Was the deployment covered by local press? If you can get a physical copy, keep it! And get multiples. This is the type of thing that will be interesting to look at twenty years from now. It’s also the kind of thing that extended family will find interesting.

Invest in Communication
The hardest thing about any relationship, military or otherwise, is communication. Investing in communication ability can make all the difference in the world. This can look different for different people, but for us it means we’ve got iPads so we can FaceTime (when that’s available where he is) and (granted, this is a little old, but the overall idea still applies) getting smart phones so you never miss an email. Early on, I felt chained to my computer in case I might hear from him while he was underway, but getting a smart phone made a 1000% improvement in my quality of life. Take the email with you.

Morning in the Philippines, 2013

Travel, Travel, Travel
Deployments are the perfect time to travel! What’s so awesome about traveling alone? Everything costs half as much! Only one set of airfare, only one thing to pay for per meal, only one ticket to buy for that tour! Team up with a friend or go and visit family or whatever you need to do, but take advantage of a much more flexible schedule. Note: if you have kids or other family members, your mileage may, again, vary, but this still applies– having something AWESOME and EXCITING to look forward to DURING deployments, it can make the time go by faster, and keep the experience from being a negative. Turn it into something positive!

Good friends make all the difference

Choose Your Friends Wisely
This goes back to the What I Should Have Learned in Kindergarten, but the best way to get through deployments is by having a solid group of friends that you can trust. These might or might not be fellow military spouses. Proximity doesn’t always breed the best friendships. I don’t mean this to sound negative, but if you are looking for friendships, the best place to find them is in spaces where you have things in common, like volunteer jobs, hobbies, church, etc. This also goes back to the thing about having your own hobbies. It’s important.

Friendships can last despite the miles between you.

You Are Not Alone
Even if your fellow military spouses aren’t going to be your best friends, they know better than anyone what you’re going through, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them. There are spaces online to meet people, clubs and events, all kinds of ways to get connected, and there is value to just being able to be like “UGH THAT STUPID BOAT IS GONE AGAIN” and have someone nod and pour you another glass of wine without you having to explain more.

That being said, some of my closest friends over the years have come from the military community. We usually have something else in common than “Well, here we are at this military function together,” and having them to vent/drink wine with has made a huge difference. One of my favorite traditions at a particular base was a weekly dinner party with rotating hosts. We never had much of a plan beyond “show up at this time and I’ll feed you, and bring wine” (yes, I know, it’s a recurring theme, but trust me on this one) but those dinners were invaluable.

Plan fun things for when your service member is home, too!

This, Too, Shall Pass
It feels like it’s taking forever. The ship/squadron/platoon/plane/whatever has been gone for weeks or months and time is dragging by and you’re stuck in a rut because it feels like you’re back to being single, and work is boring, and you just can’t watch any more Supernatural on TV no matter how cute those Winchester brothers are, but you know what? Time is still passing. You’re getting there. Set small interval goals to look forward to (see the previous Travel!) and it will help break up the marathon into easier-to-run sprints. You can do this.

Got any other tips for military spouse survival? Leave them below! 

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