The men and women of the U.S. military serve in dangerous environments around the world. They sacrifice creature comforts, familiarity of home, and sometimes much more. However, the lives of military spouses can be just as tough. This brief guide will offer basic guidance on what to expect when marrying a member of the military.
As of 2014, there were about one million Americans serving in the Armed Forces. By their eighth year of service, about three quarters of them will be married. Those spouses are there for the ride and, for all practical purposes, are enlisted as well. While there are many places to find information about life as a military spouse, it’s important to know what to look for.
Here are three things to be aware of:
The first challenge is maintaining a career. The wife or husband of a service member will move far more often than a civilian spouse. A recent White House report said that 15% of military spouses moved across state lines from 2007-2014. Only 1% of civilian spouses shared that migration pattern. It can be very difficult to move up the company ladder when that ladder keeps getting yanked out from under you. Spouse employment is a huge issue for military families and Time Magazine highlighted it here.
The second challenge is what often comes with marriage: children. It’s always a big decision, but this is one that should be carefully considered when the family is employed by the military. The Washington Post reported that the stress adults feel from military life is frequently mimicked by their kids. While this happens in civilian families, the effect can be magnified by the strain caused by a service member who’s returning home from military service and who has sustained mental or physical trauma. The frequency of moves making it hard to sustain meaningful friendships and keep up with school work, especially if the move is in the middle of a semester.
The third thing to be aware of is life while the service member is deployed. Frequent and extended separations put couples to the test. The U.S. Census Bureau’s categorization of military members by is revealing. While America’s participation in violent foreign affairs changes like the tide, the reality is that many spouses will eventually watch their wife or husband head overseas to fight. There are many challenges for the military spouse left behind during a deployment. Consider this quote from the wife of a service member, in a study done by the RAND Corporation:
“We can’t really depend on him as far as picking the kids up, making dinner, and things of that nature. So basically, I feel like I’ve been a single parent even though I’m married. And I think that’s one of the biggest downfalls of being a military spouse….You’re the sole provider of everything.”
It’s not the intention of this article to scare away anyone thinking of marrying a military member. There are definitely ups to help level out the downs. A few benefits are the excellent medical coverage and job security, the enjoyment of seeing new places and sharing in the pride that an overwhelming number of American troops feel.
Armed with this knowledge, the military family will be prepared for challenges and better able to focus on the positives.