Five years ago, while stationed in North Carolina, we had orders to Iwakuni, Japan.
Spoiler alert: We never went.
Mentally, we prepared for months.
When I was pregnant with our first child, I anxiously explored options for how we would handle the Iwakuni move with a newborn.
Would I stay back and meet my husband later?
Would I travel with a brand new baby?
Would I need a family member to come along to help?
You see, I never had to continue imagining how that would go because – shocker – the plans changed.
Husband: We can’t go to Iwakuni because the school I need to attend first won’t allow me to go unless I get my shoulder surgery.
Me: For the past five years you’ve been deploying with a bad shoulder and that was fine, but now that you need to sit at a desk and do paperwork, the bad shoulder needs to be fixed?
This is the point where I quit asking questions and just accept things as they are. Not everything in military life makes sense.
These are the blind spots — the things that tend to surprise even the most prepared military families, and after asking hundreds of spouses about their experiences, here are the most common blind spots they shared:
1. Losing control of…well…pretty much everything.
You want to decide important things in your life? Well…that now depends on many other factors.
You were prepared to lose a bit of control, but you had no idea how much it would actually be. Plans are always in pencil now and you try to not to get people’s hopes up about them since they’re always subject to change.
2. You learn a second language called acronyms.
Let’s just call everything a FUBAR from now on, shall we?
Yes, we shall.
If we are all being honest, the majority of the time we have NO IDEA what service members are talking about. But we sure do great job of pretending!
3. The pre-deployment and reintegration process is often harder than the deployment.
In your head you think pre-deployment is filled with relaxing, fun and quality time together. Instead, it’s gear vomit all over the house, anxious anticipation and emotional disconnect.
Then there is all the the reunion videos floating around internet that leads you to believe homecoming is all the feels. But sometimes it’s a lot more like a bumbling first date than a seamless reunion. Bring on the awkward hugs and welcome home signs.
- 21 best deployment quotes for military spouses and significant others.
- 13 amazing pre-deployment gift ideas when you don’t know what to say.
- What military families wish you knew about homecoming.
4. Having a career becomes so much harder than you imagined.
Having a career in the midst of military life is sort of like a hamster wheel, and it goes something like this…
- Get a job.
- Quit six months later to move.
- Take nine months to find a new job.
- Start that job and work towards promotion. Right before you receive your promotion, you must quit your job and move overseas.
- Repeat for the next 10 years.
- Hiring our heroes for military spouses.
- Career military spouses Facebook group
- Military spouse networking Facebook group
5. You fall hard and fast in your friendships.
It IS nice it is to be surrounded by people in the same situation, and comforting to feel an instant connection with other military families when you put yourself out there.
Military spouse friendships affect you in such a unique way, I wrote about it A LOT. Here are just a few of the posts:
- Why long-distance friendships are actually the best thing ever.
- 15 hilarious GIFs that explain the stages of military spouse friendship.
- 9 ways military spouse friendships are exactly like dating.
- To my military spouse friends…you’ll never know.
6. The DRAMA.
It was bound to happen, right?
When you put a bunch of young adults in high intensity situations and serve up a platter of life’s greatest stressors, it seems inevitable that immature actions will occur.
Here’s the good news:
You can always control YOU.
You have a choice with whom you spend your time and surround yourself with. There are some obligatory social functions, but I’m a firm believer that you can remove yourself from 98% of the drama.
7. No plan is set in stone, not even your wedding or summer vacation.
You can count on plans changing. Anything else is up in the air.
This quote from Soldiers Wife, Crazy Life sums it up perfectly:
- How to plan a military wedding when the date keeps changing.
- 5 military wedding traditions that will make your ceremony unforgettable
8. Even when they’re not deployed, they’re still gone.
You never realize that in the months preceding a deployment they are gone on and off for months for training. Soon after they come home, they will start traveling to schools and trainings. It’s a constant cycle of separation even when service members aren’t deployed.
9. If you have kids, they are resilient but sensitive too.
Our kids did not sign up for this, and we love to beat our chests about resiliency, but the truth is that it’s hard on them. They are young people facing big life stressors, and even in the most supportive and stable homes, it’s still an emotional whirlwind.
10. If you don’t have kids, it can be especially lonely.
The support services are heavily geared towards parents. It’s can be a very lonely and unwelcoming experience. In my experience, spouses groups are often comprised of women with children who have struggled to create a career.
While I do believe the dynamics are beginning to shift and change around installations, the truth is male military spouses and military spouses without children can feel excluded and isolated.
11. The amount of paperwork that will get completely messed up.
Everyone has some story about this.
My personal favorite is about the Marine spouse who was in DEERS as her husband’s first, second and third wife (all of them were her).
Another interesting one happened when a friend was going overseas and the MD checked that she was “EMFP” when in fact she was not.
It’s astonishing how much paperwork it takes to correct paperwork. Because you cannot just erase and call it good. No. You need another 20 papers to prove that it was an error.
You think of this as an adventure of sorts.
Are you having fun yet?
12. Outsiders never seem to truly “get it.”
Unless you’re living this lifestyle, it’s hard to understand it.
Sometimes a well-intentioned loved one shares something like, “Don’t worry, from statistical standpoint, there’s a very high chance he’ll return home.”
Or they share the beloved — “This too shall pass.”
Yeah, just maybe like a kidney stone.
13. You’re stronger than you realized was possible.
This quote from the most recent issue of Legacy Magazine really hits home…
“We like to joke that the Marine Corp owns my husband’s body, and it’s mostly true. Part of his obligation is to personally take all of the risks our nation requires of him. Being a Marine has been the honor of his life — he would have it no other way. It’s something that is difficult for me as a service member spouse to fully understand. But because I love him, I continue to support him, even if it costs us everything.”