Military spouses face numerous challenges during their spouse’s military career. While each one they face helps them to build strength and resilience, it doesn’t negate the fact that these situations can have lasting impacts on military spouse mental health, well being, identity, and so much more.
This blog post discusses four of the most common challenges military spouse’s face and include commentary from seasoned spouses. The goal is to provide resources, empowerment, and offer encouragement from other spouses who have been there.
Permanent Change of Station (PCS)
“Active duty military personnel must move on average once every two to three years, meaning that military families move 2.4 times as often as civilian families. They are also more likely than civilian families to move long distances, across state lines, or to foreign countries.”
C.C.’s Challenge: In the last decade, I’ve been through six permanent change of station (PCS) moves. Every new house and community brought a unique set of challenges. From sizable homes to small apartments and large cities to remote and isolated installations, I realized that each move and new dwellings were stressful for the whole family.
In our many military moves, I purchased countless colored duct tape rolls, labels of all shapes, sizes, and colors, packages of ink to print on those labels, and every single permanent marker color you can imagine! None of these items provided a solution in keeping our Household Goods (HHGs) organized in the sea of brown boxes that were loaded in a truck and offloaded into our new residence.
As a mother of two young boys, wife to an active duty army soldier, and full-time working mom, I realized that staying organized was a top priority. I vowed to make my family’s experience with the military moving process less stressful. I found a few ways to be better organized, accountable, and in control of our situation. I want to share a few of those tips with you!
- Stay Positive. While it’s not possible to control what the Army asks my family to do next, I’ve learned that there is still power and peace in finding what I can control. It is vital to keep a positive outlook, stay flexible, and be open to change throughout the process. Make sure your children are prepared and involved in the process, understand what is happening, and know where your household goods are moving to next. Try to create long-lasting memories along the way and create opportunities to explore new places, sites, and a fresh start to your new lifestyle.
- Get organized. The Stressless PCS Kit gave our family more time, better organization, accountability, and more control. Color-coded labels, icons, and your notes paired with door hangers and a room chart will be used as a universal key. Working together, these items will assist all parties involved with the relocation of your HHGs. This can transcend language barriers and illegible writing on the outside of your moving boxes, creating clarity of what is actually in each box. Everyone, including my servicemember, was FINALLY on the same page when it came to loading and unloading our HHGs!
- Don’t wait until the last minute. Getting connected with your new community is imperative before your move. Do you have friends, colleagues, or acquaintances located at your new destination? If so, reach out and ask for advice or information on your new area. Have you researched the official Department of Defense Military Installations website to see what services are available to you and your family? Are there groups you can join on social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn? Conducting research takes time but will make your family’s move a little easier by setting you up for success!
“Military spouses experience higher levels of both unemployment and underemployment than their civilian counterparts. While fewer than 10 percent of civilian married women work in a job that is mismatched with their education level, nearly 40 percent of military wives do so.”
Shawna’s Challenge: I think that all military spouses face their own unique set of challenges. For me, my dance career was one of those challenges. Dance is my passion, and I knew I wanted to make it my career when I first saw the tour of the musical “Chicago.”
In the first year and a half of my dating relationship with my Army husband, we were only in the same place for six weeks! It was then that I realized that there are so many moving variables that sometimes it seems impossible to balance a career. But I told myself that I wasn’t going to let the obstacles of separation or moves stop me from dancing. Many times, it was emotionally draining to keep the faith. Would I get to perform in every new place we moved? I wasn’t sure, but I did learn one great lesson – perseverance. I learned to fight for the things I love. I worked hard for my career, and I worked hard at maintaining a healthy relationship with my husband.
The last fifteen years as a military spouse, I have performed at Busch Gardens, on Holland America Cruise Lines, and in musicals such as West Side Story, Chicago, Mary Poppins, Singin’ in the Rain, On the Town, Guys, and Dolls, All Shook Up, White Christmas, Seussical and The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. I am in no way saying that this is easy because it is not! When we first started dating, there was no Skype or FaceTime. We emailed each other every day to talk and also scheduled phone calls to each other while I was dancing and he was deployed.
I want to leave you with a few lessons I have learned as a military spouse with a career.
- Constant Communication. I think it is essential to consistently talk with your husband or wife and find the work/life balance that personally works for you and your family. There is no set recipe!
- A Career Might not be Your Life’s Purpose, and that is okay! Raising a family, learning a new skill or craft, volunteering in a field of your choice are all important examples of finding your life’s purpose. It’s okay if it doesn’t look like the typical career path of others. Loving your life together with your partner and family is what matters most!
- Perseverance. It’s going to get tough. There are going to be extended periods of separation. Trying to balance career goals and love is always a huge challenge, no matter your career. But if you love your job, it’s worth it.
“Many families have seen multiple deployments—three, four, even five or more family separations and reunifications.”
Melissa’s Challenge: The military lifestyle is a life like no other. Spouses are continually rolling with the punches. We deal with constant change, little control, and separations. Many times, to combat zones. 14 years ago, I had to learn that rolling with the punches was the only way to truly understand and enjoy life as an active duty Army spouse.
The Active Duty lifestyle wasn’t a life that I had ever planned for myself or a life that I had any understanding of before meeting my husband. I did not know all of those things that make military life difficult—mostly deployments. I gained experience with each new PCS, TDY, deployment, SFRG meeting, and hail and farewell. Experience with how military life evolves. I grew stronger in my independence, appreciation for my husband, and patience with unexpected situations.
I want to share my biggest piece of advice that I have learned along the way.
- Find excitement in the change. I’m a planner. I like to anticipate as much as I can, but between the moves across the country and world, the frequent separations, and the constant changes – nothing can be anticipated. This was hard for me at first. But with time, I learned to find excitement in all the change.
Starting A Family
“Military families are a diverse population whose needs vary over time and across demographic groups. No single story can encapsulate who military families are or what they need to flourish in military and civilian communities.”
My Challenge: Starting a family can be so hard! Especially for military couples working through infertility, a miscarriage, or stillbirth. I have seen so many military spouses smile as they juggle a career, move, or deployment while also putting the broken pieces of their hearts back together.
A year after my husband and I started trying to get pregnant, I was knee-deep in grief and depression. Not only was I still not pregnant, but I also suffered back-to-back miscarriages and was diagnosed with bladder cancer. The icing on the cake was the discovery of a rare genetic disorder and a blood clotting disorder. I couldn’t believe a former college athlete and marathon runner like myself could go from loving her body to hating her body so much.
Thankfully, my husband wasn’t deployed, we were not moving, and I had a job. We were also living in Washington D.C. at the time, so I had access to some of the best doctors and medical facilities the military has to offer. Slowly, I climbed out of my grief and depression (with help!) and took advantage of the resources available to me. Although that season of my life was challenging, I am grateful for all the lessons I learned. I genuinely believe all the struggles my husband and I faced trying to start a family made me a stronger woman.
If you have unexplained infertility or suffered a loss, I want to say I’m so sorry. I also want to share a few tips and resources with so you that helped me during the most challenging season of life:
- Take advantage of free resources. When I was diagnosed with Balanced Robertsonian Translocation, I was offered Genetic Counseling for free at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It helped my husband, and I understand our genetic testing options. Military One Source provides Specialty Consultation if you need help navigating the adoption process too. Whatever your unique situation is – you can reach out to your local OBGYN and ask for more information.
- If you’re facing infertility, take advantage of the discounts. There are certain military facilities that offer IVF treatments and discount programs for active-duty military.
- Find a support group. The best thing you can do is find another spouse who is going through a similar struggle. Don’t be afraid to plug in to a community that shares about grief (I highly recommend in-person). Make sure it’s a positive group! Social media groups or pages that only focus on the negative can weigh you down and be detrimental to your mental health.
- Journal your experience. I know it’s hard, but writing can allow you to express your feelings safely without judgment. I journaled throughout my entire experience – and now it’s a published book I can share with my double rainbow daughter when she is older.
Military life is not easy. When you add in some of the challenges mentioned above, it can tare down even the strongest military spouse. With support, resources, encouragement, and a positive outlook, you, too, can rise above the challenges faced during the military lifestyle.
Quotes are taken from The Demographics of Military Children and Families by Molly Clever and
David R. Segal
© Strength 4 Spouses LLC, 2021.
Traci McCombs is a military spouse and an Amazon best selling author who is married to an Army guy named Adam. Together, they have lived in Hawaii, Washington D.C., North Carolina, and Germany. Even though they move A LOT, she’s grateful that her amazing employer, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), gives her the flexibility to work as an analyst remotely.
Through her new book, My Miscarriage, and the resources found on her website, her prayer is that you will find peace and healing on your road to motherhood. Because you matter, your story matters, and your miscarriage matters.
Connect with Traci:
Link to order My Miscarriage