I was a deer in headlights. In spite of my napkin and pen session with my future husband, I still had a lot to learn about military life when we got married. And I realize every day that I still have a lot to learn. But, after listening to the advice of many spouses that had far more experience than I did, I was able to reduce my “wish I’d knowns” down to five.
Be rank neutral
Don’t underestimate your value
Find your tribe
Ask for help
Invest in your marriage
Be Rank Neutral
The first one goes without saying, but I’m always surprised at the number of people that still ask about my husband’s rank or job long before they ask my first name. Or those who will say, “you know, Susan, the 1SGs wife”. Sometimes those pieces of information are helpful for context. Sometimes, knowing where someone is in their Army journey helps you know what you may have in common.
Two field grade spouses often have similar stores to share about the misery of time as a Major, in the same way, that two First Sergeant’s wives may have able to lean on each other for support over how often the phone rings in The. Middle. Of. Everything.
Outside of that, it just doesn’t matter, so do your best to be rank neutral. And even better, be pay grade neutral.
Our Soldiers are all more than their pay grades. Take the time to learn their jobs rather than pay grade, and when a reference is necessary, consider referring to a Soldier’s rank not pay grade.
Here, I share a story that helped drive this advice home.
Don’t Underestimate Your Value
Anytime we enter something new it’s normal to remain on the outside, looking in, sizing it up. Army life is no different. In my experience, often spouses will opt to not be involved with unit functions or volunteer because they don’t feel qualified.
Particularly among new spouses, they feel they don’t know enough to have an impact. Stop! Seriously, just stop. We all have gifts and talents. Don’t underestimate your value to those around you.
As budgets force units to rely more heavily on volunteers, just about every talent can be put to work.
Love animals? Find out how to help with animals whose owners deploy unexpectedly. Love kids? Find out how to become an Emergency Placement Guardian for a military child in need. Love to craft? Find out how you can help with the next unit function.
Try not to assume that because you haven’t been around the military block your time, talents, and vision aren’t valued. You may be in a position to do amazing things for the unit and its families, all while being an example to other new spouses.
Find Your Tribe
Finding a tribe or a circle of friends, as a new spouse, can be daunting. Often, your circle centers around your Soldier. His colleagues and their wives. Be leery about limiting yourself to those individuals. While it’s an easy and perfect place to start, it is important to have your own friends and to find people both outside your Soldier’s circle and even outside the unit he/she is in. A neighbor, a friend at the gym, and a new mom at church.
Gaining support to help you during some of the hard days that inevitably come takes some effort. But, once you find your tribe, that circle of support is beyond value on days when your Soldier is away and the fridge died, a tire blew, and your toddler won’t nap, all before noon.
Finding a tribe and asking for help go hand in hand. Until they don’t. Perhaps as a young military spouse, you won’t fall victim to this but for those who have been around the military block, it’s common. So, if nothing else, just be aware and be on the lookout. Ask for help. Duh, right? And yet I can say, I fail at this far more than I succeed.
Ask for Help
As your time in the military community increases often your willingness to ask for help decreases. Perhaps because we feel like we should have it all together, perhaps because we want to show the “young ones” that it’s possible, perhaps because we are too proud. Whatever the reason, we do it.
We filter our needs based on what we perceive others in the same situation would need. I have a freezer full of food, why would I accept a meal from someone else while my daughter is in the hospital? Oh, right, because I’m human. It’s not about the food. It’s not about the hug. It’s about being there. And in many ways, letting others help us is as much about them as it is about us. They want to. It’s who they are. It brings them joy. Let them. Ask for help and let others help you, no matter where you are in your journey.
Invest In Your Marriage
Check! But really, it’s easier said than done, right? The kids, the Army, schedules, phones that never stop, Snapchat, Instagram, dinner, laundry, bedtime. There are a thousand ways to be partially engaged in your marriage.
Your marriage will be there long after your Soldier’s time in the Army ends. Resist the temptation to put your marriage on hold while being married to the Army. Resist the urge to check out when things get tough hoping after this next training exercise things will get better. Resist the urge to put everything before the two of you. Maybe that means not getting together with friends so that you can have time together. Whatever it means to you, carve out time to focus on your family. Focus on investing time in each other.
It isn’t always easy, but it’s rarely a waste of time. Sometimes you don’t realize the impact of the investment for months or years later, but those days will come. So, invest well, and invest often.
So five things, simple and yet difficult. But as a new spouse, if you can master these, you’re off to a great start.
Tell Us! What aspect of military life was most daunting to you in the beginning?
Jennifer is a military spouse of 12 years, 6 moves, and 4 duty stations. She’s also a business owner and lover of travel, Italian wine, German Christmas markets, fireworks, story-worthy socks, cream cheese icing, lilies, and morning snuggles with her kiddos.
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