There are three terms usually used to describe the military spouse who has been living the military life for a while: senior, seasoned and experienced. For this post, I’ll stick with experienced. There are different types of experienced military spouses – those who have been married to the military for 10 plus years, have been stationed in the same spot that entire time, and have experienced deployment after deployment; those who have been married to the military for five years and experienced three moves, but no deployments; those who have been married to the military for eight plus years, some with kids and some without kids. You get the idea.
For the purpose of this post, the new military spouses are those who have been married less than two years with no full deployment experience.
My husband and I have been married 13 years; he has served for 16 years; we have three kids; we’ve moved six times; and we are currently experiencing deployment number five.
There is so much encouraging advice I could give and have given to new spouses to help them in their military life journey. Yet, I have witnessed the eye roll from the experienced spouse. To be honest, when a new spouse has made a complaint, I have felt the internal eye roll myself.
This eye roll is the one that basically means “get over it,” or “you have no idea what I’ve been through over the years.” When I see this look come from a fellow experienced spouse and friend, I realize the arrogance in believing that we have experienced it all. Just because we have the experience doesn’t mean that we have it all figured out.
As an experienced military spouse, I have found two important lessons to be learned from the new military spouse.
Your Spouse Is Amazing
With the many branches of the military, there are so many different types of jobs and ranks. However, whatever the job or rank, the fact that your spouse is serving in the military and serving our country, makes he or she amazing. I can recall that feeling of awe in seeing what my husband did. I was with him through every step of flight training, earning his wings, and being selected to fly fighter jets. From that smooth grey jet to him in a flight suit, everything about it was so cool. I loved hearing him talk about what he was learning and asking him questions. Seeing him fly for the first time was surreal and absolutely amazing. But as the years went by, I lost that sense of awe.
I know why it happened. With detachment after detachment and deployments, I started telling myself that what he did was “just a job.” It makes sense. Well, at least to me it did. It was less worrying to me, to think “he’s just at work,” and nothing more. So after a while, the amazement in what he was actually doing faded.
However, it did return. We received orders back to the place he earned his wings. He was back as an instructor. There was a family day, and they asked some of instructors’ spouses to be there as guides. As I spoke to the new mil spouses, something sparked inside of me. A new excitement grew. I saw the awe on their faces and listened to all the questions, and I suddenly remembered that my husband is pretty amazing. As we all went out to the flight line to watch our spouses practice landings, I stood in awe. I had fresh eyes.
And thanks to this group of newbies, I was reminded that what my husband does is definitely more than just a job.
We are into our fifth deployment as a family. I recently had someone ask me, “What is it like for you as a spouse when he leaves?” My quick answer was, “I don’t know, I’m kind of just used to it, I know how to stay busy.”
As soon as I said that I had a flashback to when we first got married. My husband told me that he didn’t want me to ever get used to this life. He didn’t want me to get used to him leaving all the time. Seeing Facebook posts of spouses who were about to experience their first deployment and how utterly sad they were showed me that I had become used to this life and somewhat numb to it.
Getting used to the detachments and deployments can cause a disconnection from the reality of it all. The guy you love is leaving for a long time, again. His side of the bed will be empty for months; everything is cleared from his side of the sink; his shoes and boots are no longer in the way.
The reality is that it is sad. I think many of us experienced spouses choose not to think about it. Especially those of us with kids. We tend to focus on what their reality and feelings are, ignoring our own.
It’s important to think about and to feel the hurt. The hurt is the reminder of the love you have. It’s a reminder that you are blessed to have someone in your life who means so much to you that you miss him whenever he isn’t around. Deployments suck. Its OK to cry like it’s the end of the world, even though as an experienced spouse you’ve figured out how to manage while he or she is gone.
Thank you to the new mil spouses who have fresh eyes and hearts; who feel amazed by what their spouses do; and who feel the deep hurt when they leave. Keep that awe. And remember, don’t ever get used to them leaving.