After eight deployments, 16 moves, 26 years of marriage, and a job that puts me in touch with hundreds of thousands of Navy wives (and husbands), I’ve learned to recognize a Navy Wife with a happy life from a mile away.
None of them are exactly alike. Some have kids. Some don’t. Some throw their hearts into their work. Some just pay bills. Some would give Gordon Ramsay a kitchen nightmare. Some have the kind of decorating skills that make Home Depot quiver in anticipation.
The Navy Wife with a happy life seems to have a particular set of skills. That Navy Wife looks at things in a certain way. She runs her family in a way civilians don't quite understand. (Male spouses are even a more unique breed -- so not all of these things apply to the guys. That is why I will use “wife” here instead of “spouse.”)
So here are the things I think you gotta do to be a Navy Wife with a Happy Life:Marry a sailor. Marry someone who loves the ocean, or loves the way the inside of a ship smells, or gets excited to see a plane or a helicopter in the sky. Marry someone who loves what they do -- that happiness will be passed on to you.
Dress your family in anchors and N-A-V-Y. Ignore the people who try to tell you that the Navy is just a job. If it is just a job your sailor won’t be doing it very long. Instead, let your family think of the Navy as the environment you live in, the place where you are from. Be a little proud of it.
Bless the spouse who’s got her own. As much as the Navy will be a part of a Navy wife’s life, it isn’t enough to be her entire life. The Navy will not be signing your paycheck or pinning medals to your chest. The happy Navy wife has direct accomplishments of her own -- a portable career, a skill, a hobby, an education. Discover your own divine spark, your own unconquerable soul.
Rework your definition of love. Our movies, books, and music teach that true love means never being apart. If you insist on constant togetherness as the sign of love, then you are going to feel unloved very soon in Navy life. This is the hardest lesson the Navy will ever teach you: someone can love you profoundly and still need/want/love a job that takes them away from you.
Hold the center of your family. The rest of the world might think that couples ought to do exactly the same amount of work in a family. They should earn the same income. They should split chores down the middle. Daddy and Mommy ought to be interchangeable to a wailing baby. That won’t work in Navy life -- the sailor has to go to sea too often. Instead, the research says that Navy families do best when the Navy wife or at-home partner holds the center of the family and then lets the sailor come back to their own place in the family. Think of it like the way the sun holds the center of the solar system. As long as you provide the gravity, Navy Wife, the family is going to be all right.
Count the days you are together. If you want to be a bitter little woman, let yourself count up every day your sailor is out to sea or has the duty. I can guarantee you will develop ugly little lines around your mouth like you have been smokin’ eight packs a day for 30 years. You and your sailor both need to make the days you are together count instead.
Have more sex. A Navy family can’t consist of two parents revolving around kids. A Navy family can’t survive if the only thing that matters is the Navy. Instead, the Navy family must have the marriage at the center. So spend more time talking under the covers. Take the Five Love Languages training when it is offered at your base. Have some routines that bring you together again and again.
Be a duck or a dog. Navy life guarantees you will have a deluge of emotions. The Navy wife who is a natural optimist shakes these things off like a duck -- she’s barely even wet. Lucky her. I've read that those of us who aren’t natural ducks can learn to be like dogs instead. We may get drenched in negative emotions, soaked in them, half-drowned in them. But we can learn to be like dogs and shake those things off a little better as the years go by. Managing emotions is a lesson you keep on learning.
Plan to move.Part of me hates moving with a passion. The disruption, the expense, the details, the little cracks you get in your hands from all that sticky brown tape -- there is little to love about a move. But it is a guaranteed part of military life. I try to look at the moves as a sort of a giant New Year’s Eve-style chance at a fresh start. Who are we now? Where are we headed? What do I want to make happen in this new place?
Indiana Jones your benefits. You know there are benefits out there for Navy families in almost any situation. All you need is a map. Put Military.com in your Bookmarks bar. Get a current copy of Terry Howell’s The Military Advantage. Keep Military OneSource on your speed dial. Get the app from National Military Family Association on your smart phone. One of these four things will lead you to the right benefit you need every time.
Make friends with a Navy wife. A commanding officer’s wife once asked me why we bother to get people together during deployment. She said, “All we have in common is our own misery.” Wow. That’s harsh. Loathing other military wives is just like hating yourself from a distance. While I like my civilian friends a lot, my Navy girlfriends have been the ones who understood me best. They are the ones who taught me how to find a house I could afford. They are the ones who shared holidays with me and drove my kids to school. They help me with my career and urged me to go back to school NOW instead of waiting. I count on them. They count on me.
Cheer. Life during deployment can suck for a Navy wife. That’s why I treasure my mom and my kids and my Navy wife girlfriends and those sweet emails from my husband. My husband doesn’t have so many people encouraging him. Mostly people yell at him. Life at sea is the Death of a Thousand Cuts. So I try to be the person who encourages him the most, who remembers how far he has come, who witnesses his good life. Of all the things I do, that sure is the one he seems to rely on me to provide.
Just try. If you really love that one sailor in uniform, you try to learn to be a Navy wife. You try to be that person who breaks free of the things a narrow, safe little mind craves. Instead you give yourself to a life you can’t always control for the sake of the person you love best in the world. When you have a choice of being weak or being strong, you choose strong. So have a little optimism. Believe that you can be big enough to take on something that the world won’t really understand.
Being a Navy wife will never be the only thing you are. It is not the only thing you will ever be. Instead, your time as a Navy wife is a role you play valiantly, with style, with grace, with love. You trust that it will be worth it in the end. I know it was for me.