How to Live When the Military Forces a Pause

(U.S. Air Force/Gina Randall)
(U.S. Air Force/Gina Randall)

Anonymous ... raw ... lost.

Even though it’s been a mere two years since our last military-mandated move, I’d nearly forgotten the feelings that would hit me on leaving a beloved location and slipping in quietly to the next.

We’re the new folks ... again. It’s our family’s fifth move in six years, and we’ve recently returned to the U.S. mainland after living overseas for several years. Aside from the culture shock and homesickness for places we knew we’d never stay permanently is the now familiar feeling of life being on hold. As my 18-year-old daughter and I strolled the streets of our new neighborhood a few evenings ago, we imagined aloud how different life will be in a few months when we’re finally settled in our house and maybe have found important things like a church, hairdresser, and some friends. She remarked astutely, “It’s as if our lives are on ‘pause’ right now.”

I’d bet you understand this feeling. If you also find yourself in that strange transition time following a move, it can seem that everyone else is still going forward (including your spouse who’s at a new job and meeting new people) while your own life has come to a standstill.

It’s a mixed blessing, this abrupt grinding to a halt of the too-busy life we raced through just a few weeks ago. We’re forced to stop and reassess everything, whether we like it or not.  And what we choose to include in our lives is now a choice, no longer a default.

How to embrace living in the pause?

Grieve what’s lost. I’ve told my kids repeatedly through their growing up years, “I don’t know what this feels like -- I never had to do this when I was young. Feel what you feel.” Glossing over the challenges of huge change as something they simply must accept as part of military brat life doesn’t help anyone. And pretending the changes don’t bother me isn’t exactly a healthy model, either. Ultimately, we all eventually accept we must do it because Uncle Sam said so, but I’ve tried to let each child guide me in how best to help.

It’s often simply providing a listening ear and letting them work through it on their own timetable, as much as I’d like to be able to instantly fix it all. (I also realize some children may need more help from outside the family unit in some cases. Please seek help from a trusted chaplain or counselor.)  My kids have also seen my own grief at leaving loved ones and places and know that I’m not immune to the love it/hate it feelings about military life.

Be honest. On the flip side of that: what downright sucked? Admitting and owning those things will bring a fresh and realistic perspective. How can you use that knowledge in your new assignment?

Remember the good times but be willing to move forward. Maybe you’ve just left the greatest assignment and said goodbye to the best friend you’ve ever had. Yes, cherish and maintain those friendships, but don’t close yourself off to new experiences. On that note…

Don’t compare. It’s difficult not to compare what once was to what you seemingly face now. But one thing I’ve learned from 25+ years as a military spouse is that circumstances are not always what they seem and first impressions can be deceiving. Some of the places I’ve hated at first glance have turned out to be our best assignments.

Look at this as a second (or third, or ninth…) chance. Realize this is an opportunity to start fresh, to even reinvent yourself. That job you’d learned to dread and the boss who made your life miserable? Gone! The difficult neighbor? Not your problem anymore! This is also the perfect time to seriously consider opportunities you’ve always wanted to pursue and make changes.

But what if it’s your marriage that’s on “pause” as you are apart more than you are together right now due to deployments or TDYs?

Find simple ways to connect. This seems obvious, but it can be easy to drift apart when you’re physically separated… and repeated separations can take a toll. Whether it’s daily texts to stay updated on each other’s lives or to simply say “I love you,” it truly is the little things that make or break a marriage.

Work on your own stuff. Separations give you each focused time to work on yourselves. What part of your own life -- and by extension, your relationship -- can you strengthen? What interests have you neglected? Utilize this seemingly fallow time to step out of your comfort zone and do something you normally wouldn’t.

Lessons are usually better understood through the lens of hindsight, not while you’re slogging through difficult circumstances. None of us enjoy saying goodbye to comfortable situations, and the known is preferable to striking out and beginning again. Yet by shifting perspective ever so slightly, “life in the pause” can turn out to be an unexpected gift.


Jen McDonald has been "married to the military" for over 25 years. A mom of four, including one son in the Air Force, she's a foodie, insomniac, coffee addict, wine lover, and runner wanna-be. An experienced writer and editor, she’s contributed to several books, written for numerous national publications, and will release her own book this year. She loves to connect with other military spouses locally and via her Facebook page, on Twitter and Instagram as @jenmcdonald88, and at her site


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