Dating, loving, and eventually marrying a service member can bring a flurry of butterflies. The uniform, the exotic PCS locations (29 Palms, am I right?!), and the pride that goes with standing next to your military loved one is incomparable.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, and military spouse, myself, I often have other military couples who want guidance with how to make their relationships shatterproof. Here’s 3 tips I like to share:
Keep civilian friends. Being a military family can start to bleed into every crevice of your life. Initially, maybe you’re simply dating someone in the military, but then all of a sudden, you’re moving halfway across the country, leaving your job, your friends, your church, and your family.
It can be extremely important to keep an anchor in the “real world,” and have someone there to remind you how exceptional your life is. Normalcy (whatever that means) still exists, and someday you will be faced with it again. It’s hard to imagine, but for many active duty members, the choice to stay in the military has a lot to do with the fact that they haven’t written a resume in years! They wouldn’t know how to begin interviewing and applying for jobs. They can become so engrossed in war stories and surreal job descriptions that to have a ‘9:00am-5:00pm’ job can be extremely jarring. Keep civilian friends around to help you from falling too far down the rabbit hole of an all encompassing military family lifestyle.
Remember your partner is fighting for YOU. In the words of Brad Paisley, “You think you’re one in millions, but you’re one in a million to me.” I know we can get lost in thinking that with all the hours, deployments, tests, and such, we’ve become an accessory to a military career. In all my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve found it’s the complete opposite that’s true for the service member.
Often times, when a young person enters into the military, he or she tends to marry very young. Why, you might ask? They have money, a stable job, friends and camaraderie…why settle down so quickly? From my experience, it seems as though most times, these service members want to ensure that they will have someone to come home to, someone to fight for, and give a face to their mission. Therefore, dating is not enough. Some want to lock in their partners, and have a sense of security they might very well lose in every other aspect of their life.
Loyalty, compassion, forgiveness, motherhood/fatherhood, and other traits are LEARNED. I remember a time when my son was still very little and he felt sick. It was late, and I was a new mom so I was trying to decide whether it warranted an emergency room visit. I kept asking my husband what he thought and finally he said, “I don’t know! YOU’RE the mom!” I yelled back, “I wasn’t born knowing how to mom! I google things just like everybody else!”
In hindsight, this is pretty funny to me now, but at the time I was irate. As a military couple, we are given a lot of responsibility very quickly and it can feel like trial by fire, but its important to remember we were not born with innate values and the ability to love deeply, faithfully, perfectly. We must remind ourselves that even with the jobs, the marriage, the kids, we are never really grown up; we are always maturing and growing. The question is: do you want to grow together?
What tips would you give to other military couples? Leave us a comment an tell us!
Posted by Erin Calahan, M.S., LMFT, LCDC, military spouse and mother of two.