Before my husband deployed to Iraq for the second time, he and I went through a particularly rough patch in our relationship, and found ourselves fighting, literally, all the time. We fought about stupid things, things that didn't matter, but for some reason, neither of us were willing to let anything go. I remember mentioning this to another wife in passing, and how surprised I was that this build-up seemed harder than his first tour. I felt like I was at my wits end and worried about going into a deployment in this state.
She simply smiled and said, "Let me give you a piece of advice, honey. If you want to get married to a Marine, and stay that way, you've got to realize, you can't make any major life decisions beginning six weeks before he deploys until six weeks after he gets back. If you do, it'll drive you crazy, because both of you are out of your mind right now."
That was the best advice I ever received, and truly one of the major reasons why my husband and I are still (happily) together. Which got me thinking about how many other pearls of wisdom are floating out there in our military wife community, waiting to be discovered. So we took the opportunity to talk with a few wives, and pick their opalescent brains about their best advice ever.
Get Out of the House
When it comes to tips about loving a service member, nearly ever wife agreed, that getting yourself moving and keeping yourself occupied were key. Marine wife Meghan Lee recommends, "Find a hobby, or something to invest yourself in, to keep busy while he's deployed."
Military wife Bobbi agrees. She used to hole herself up in the house with her children whenever her husband was deployed. "Because my husband missed so many milestones already," she explains, "I didn't want him to miss things like going to the zoo for the first time." But then she got a great piece of advice, "Go out and Experience life! Life doesn't stop because my spouse is deployed." Once she finally got out and about, she reports, "It was sad that my husband missed those milestones too, but we're a happier family and or kids aren't missing out on he experiences.
Erica Ray, who's been with her husband through three deployments also adds, "Try to find a job and keep as busy as possible, even if it's just hanging out at the pool or going to church every weekend. Just make sure you have plans to get out of the house everyday."
Get Your Move On
As every military wife knows, permanent change of station (PCS) orders are simply a way of life. Rather than seeing them as a life sentence for loneliness, look at the bright side of getting to see the world on the government's dime.
Army wife Erin Hamilton recommends "First and foremost, deal with housing. Once your orders are official, contact the future post's Housing office and get on a list as soon as possible, if you hope to live on post." Another tip, which many wives can relate to is "NEVER accept a house, sight unseen. You never know what the housing is like from post to post." She also recommends taking around three weeks of leave, when possible to accommodate the challenges of moving. "That way, [both my husband and I] can take our time getting there and he's around to help unpack and set up the house. Nothing is worse than coming home from work to a house stacked with boxes everywhere."
Hamilton also suggests that when doing a government move, "make sure you inventory everything. Write serial numbers of electronics, take photos of valuable items in case something is damaged, and always take the important paperwork (marriage license, birth certificate, passports) with you in the car. If you can't bear the thought of it getting broken, move it yourself."
Another option is looking into Do-It-Yourself (DITY) moves. Ray reports, "I'm a huge fan of the do-it-yourself (DITY) moves. It's a lot of work, but you can make a nice chunk of change." Also, check with your local Family Service Center to see if you can sign up for a PCS class or workshop. A lot of these classes can really help to demystify the process and the paperwork, and even tip you off to money you may be entitled to that you never even knew about!
Check the Attitude at the Door
One of the best investments military wives can make to their happiness is getting on-board with the military lifestyle. As Army wife Stephanie Rickert explains, "The military is not a job, it's a lifestyle. The needs of the Army always come first." So try to look on the bright side and see the positives of this lifestyle. As Army wife-to-be Rachel Friedhoff explains, "Life, especially military life, is all about perspective. So make the best of it and enjoy the adventure."
Chantal Arsnoe, a Marine wife, agrees remembering, "A great piece of advice I received was 'Don't involve your whole life around his career, do something for yourself.' So every time we PCS, I make myself a Top Ten list of things I want to do or places I want to go while we're stationed there." Previous lists she's made have included sky-diving, glider plane riding and going on a shark dive, but she says "it can also be something simple, like going to the local zoo. It gets me out of the house, and helps me see this as my adventure too, not just his career."
Another wife, Jamie-Lynn recalls some of the best advice she ever received, "was from an Army wife of 12 years. I had just found out where our first orders were and was not thrilled over the location. She looked at me and told me, 'Bloom where you're planted, baby doll.' It's stayed with me for a long time, always make the best of where you are. Bloom where you're planted!"
Turn off the TV
As hard as it is, put down the remote. Seriously. Now.
"I'm a CNN junkie," confesses Hamilton, "but when Matt's deployed, I have to fight the urge. I don't ever watch he news when he's gone. It seems like every time I do tune in something is happening where he's supposed to be, and it's too hard to worry like that. I spend days terrified something has happened, meanwhile, he's playing poker with his buddies waiting around for something to do."
If you can't pull yourself away completely, take Rickert's lead and "only watch the news in moderation." Friedhoff agrees, saying, "Newscasters are only there to sell a story. Wait for the Army to tell you the truth, and the saying is true. No news is good news."
Get the 411
It may sound obvious, but most of the wives emphasized how important it really is to make good friends and get involved in the community. When Jennifer Grier first told her former Marine father that she was marrying a Marine, he offered his support, but also a few suggestions. "He told me how difficult it would be. He said to be strong and make good friends, because the Marines and friends we'd make along the way would be very much a family to us and they'd often be the ones who got us through the hard times."
Ray suggests getting involved with al local Family Readiness program, "the network is great for support!" It also can keep you informed on some of the resources the military offers like the "J Allotment" otherwise known as the Savings Deposit Program (SDP) into which service members can contribute up to $10,000 while deployed to a combat zone and earn a guaranteed interest rate of 10%. "Put as much money into the account as possible," Ray suggests. "It keeps you from spending it, and is great for when he comes home and wants that new car or motorcycle."
According to Rebecca Selfridge, a Marine girlfriend from Massachusetts, getting involved and informed has kept her sane. "While my boyfriend was deployed, I looked up as much information as I could about where he was and what he was doing. I found his unit's website, I read and printed all the newsletters. I learned the Marine acronyms and terminology ... it helped me feel both educated and connected. I don't think it would have worked out if he just took off places and I just sat around clueless about where he was going and what he was doing."
Grier chimes in with an important tip she learned at a L.I.N.K.S. session at Camp Lejeune, "the lady running the session said, 'Military wives can't be shy. Speak up.' I know that probably sounds like such common advice, but it comes back to me often, when I'm in a new place or around a group of people I don't know."
Don't Believe the Hype
In the military community, gossip flies faster than C-17s and can be twice as deadly. We all know that 'loose lips sink ships' and that following Operational Security (OPSEC) is a must for mission security, but many wives also caution about staying out of the personal gossip flying around back home and abroad.
"Never believe any of the rumors," says Rickert. "Especially when it comes to when the troops are coming home. They're always wrong." Hamilton agrees saying "As for rumors, they're just that -- rumors. Nothing is ever official until it's in writing, and even then it's subject to change. As a general rule, I don't count on anything until his boots hit the ground."
Army-wife-to-be Rachel Friedhoff agrees, saying "I learned the hard way not to listen to rumors. Listening to all the talk just made for an emotional roller coaster, so eventually we learned to just ignore the rumors." To put it simply, says Ricker, "Never spread gossip. Ever. It just causes drama."
Of all the advice these women had to offer, some of the best tips were often the simplest. Marine wife Jessica K. reports, "The best advice I've ever received about military life is 'Semper Gumby,' which translates to mean 'Always Flexible.' Life being married to a military member -- and staying married -- requires that you're always flexible. Things change fast and often, and it's absolutely essential that you, as a spouse, are able to roll with the punches as those changes affect your life too!"
Marine girlfriend Jessica Schleimer tries to remember that "Everything does happen for a reason, and while we don't always know the reason right away, it will lead to the right path. Just basically, be patient ad things will work themselves out."
Lee agrees advising, "Be flexible and patient! Nothing happens the way it's supposed to, or when it's supposed to, so learn to go with the flow." Friedhoff agrees saying, "My new motto is 'Just go with it,' or 'Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.' The Army is going to operate their way whether you like or not, so learn to be flexible."