PCS Stress: Preparing For the Emotional Volcano


I had been married to my soldier less than six months when we had our first major spat. I was reduced to a puddle of tears and left thinking that my brand new marriage was in shambles. Who, I wondered, has a terrible argument over segregating household goods, packing cars and preparing a house for inspection?

Military couples, I would come to learn. That’s who!

Under the most ideal circumstances, moving is stressful. The amount of work involved in executing a move may seem overwhelming at times. There are plenty of practical resources at the disposal of military families, but it’s important to note that a PCS move has two components; the practical and the emotional. As complex as the practical component is, it’s the emotional component which has the ability to turn your life upside-down and inside-out. Tricky, that one.

The practical component of a move involves research, planning and getting organized. Forget the to-do list, you’re likely to have a to-do binder before the move is complete. Efficiently managing the practical items makes for a less-stressful move and it can certainly mitigate the emotional turmoil, but will rarely eliminate it entirely.

On top of the daunting to-do list, you’re left dealing with the reality that you and your family must leave neighbors, friends and co-workers. You may also be starting over in a new and unfamiliar community. There are the dreaded good-byes and the uncertainty as to what -- and who -- is in your future. The excitement of a new adventure can easily get buried by the fear of the unknown and the never-ending set of tasks in front of you.

Every member of the family feels the pressure of a move. The collective fuse shrinks while the anxiety grows. At some point the emotional volcano is bound to erupt, at least in my household. I’ve learned a lot of lessons about military life over the years, but perhaps the one which has served me best is knowing that certain things are unavoidable, but they are temporary, and survivable.

Almost 20 years ago, just after my husband and I had our first fight, a friend dropped in to bid farewell. He took one look at us and realized there was trouble in paradise.  “Moving spat?” he asked, rhetorically. “I know all about that. Every time we moved my mom and dad got in a knock-down, drag-out fight. Every.Single.Time.” Hearing this from an Army-Brat-turned-Soldier helped put us at ease.

It’s a great relief to know that other couples experience the same turbulence that my family does when it’s time to move. It has little to do with "us." It's more a function of the understandable stress everyone is under given the circumstances. I don’t want to verbally spar with my husband. I don’t want to huff and puff and throw a pity party. Not ever. But when PCS season rolls around, I'm resigned to the fact that it’s going to happen. Understanding this, and better yet, understanding that we will get through it, and even laugh about it eventually, makes enduring the process somehow easier. In fact, now we joke about when the eruption might occur and sometimes we say, "Want to go ahead and get it over with?"

A PCS move isn’t all doom-and-gloom. Lessons are learned with each move. When we apply them to the next move, we become better prepared for the experiences which await us. And besides that, we accumulate a plethora of entertaining stories to share with friends and family.

At least that's what I'm going to tell myself in a few months when I'm driving down the road in a car full of boxes, bags, suitcases and one very unhappy kitty....

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