Dream Tax: When Is It Your Turn?


Military spouses are always surprised when the Dream Tax cometh. We marry into the military figuring that we are smart enough and determined enough and creative enough to get around the very real obstacles to a military spouse career. Then reality sets in.

Last week a spouse wrote to Ms. Vicki about her lifelong dream of owning a pet store. Their family plan was to do one tour in the Air Force, get her husband some career experience so that he could go into law enforcement, start their family. Then her husband fell stone in love with the military.

“Now he is talking about staying in for 20 years. It is too long for me. I will be 50 years old before I get to open my store. My husband even suggested that we just live apart while I have my store. He treats it like it’s a temporary dream or like I’ll fail and come home with my tail between my legs. How would our life even work if we did that?” (Read the rest of the story here.)
Ms. Vicki reminded the spouse that life is not short. That a dream deferred is not a dream denied. “ You have to understand that you can accomplish amazing things at 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 and beyond,” wrote Ms. Vicki. “It doesn’t have to be: my dream has to happen right now.”

The realist in me agreed with Ms. Vicki. One pattern of career success for military spouses is to keep their career plan simmering on a back burner. Then turn that sucker up to boil as soon as the servicemember’s career allows. It is a plan that lets a spouse have both career and yummy servicemember.

Still, something in me rebelled against that answer. How come the husband got to suddenly decide he was all in? How come his career was suddenly more important than her dream? How did the economic deal they made going in dissolve into choosing between staying with him or splitting up the family so she could pursue her career plan?

I call that the Dream Tax—when you have traded in some of your own ambitions to pay into the career ambitions of your partner. And that might be right where the solution to this problem might be found.

Instead of making this only about the military spouse, I’m thinking that maybe the Dream Tax arrives for both members of the military marriage. While a career in the military does mean your spouse will suffer a Dream Tax, we also need to understand that getting the servicemember out of the military before they are ready requires a Dream Tax of its own. It is hard for the military member to leave a career at which they excel in order to find a job on the outside that may or may not suit them as well.

Both these partners have a legitimate claim to a career of their own. The question is how can they possibly work that out? What factors do they need to consider?

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