Did you and your partner ever have ‘The Talk?’ Every couple does. At some point after you start dating, the two of you have to define the relationship: Are we exclusive? Where is this relationship headed? Do you love me as madly as I love you?
In a dual military marriage it turns out that they have this Talk, then years into the relationship they have another Talk, too.
This time, That Talk includes both service members and the third member of their relationship-- the military itself.
Our Spouse X participants who met their partners while both of them were serving in uniform report that this Talk for members of a dual military marriage is more along the lines of: Are we both staying in the military? Should I stay in or should you? Can you ask your command to suck it up again? Do you still love me as madly as I love you?
Although the research shows that both male and female service members perform at the same levels on the job, females are more likely to leave the military.They are also more likely to leave citing family responsibilities. Male service members are more likely to cite financial concerns or career opportunities.
This is probably more due to the way we socialize men and women about work in this country.What is more revealing is the way that these decisions are reached in a modern dual military marriage. Many couples (like these) decide to stay in the military. Others decide to get out. Here are the five things that triggered The Talk for our Spouse X participants:
1. How will we handle a second child?Most military couples report that they handle their first child and their military careers with a certain amount of aplomb. It is usually a little rocky, but couples can mostly figure out work schedules and day care—especially if they are in non-deploying units.
“One child was OK,” an Army wife told us at Joint Base Lewis McChord. “But after you have the second child it gets a lot harder.”
Any family with two children can tell you that the second child is exponentially more work. Every thing goes fine as long as everything goes fine. Which it seldom does.
When both service members have to be able to respond to the demands of their units, childcare becomes that much more difficult and that much more expensive.
2. Who will take the kids overnight?Childcare during daytime hours is hard enough to find. Finding overnight childcare is like seeking the Holy Grail.
One Army infantry officer told me that his wife decided to get out when she her job changed and she had to work the nightshift as an Army nurse.
Between her nightshift work and the frequent demand for him to be in the field overnight meant that they were forever looking for overnight childcare for their kids.
“We would have to get one of the family care providers,” he said. “So basically, you’re taking your kids over to drop them off at somebody else’s house, and somebody else is basically raising your kids.”
That triggered The Talk for them. His wife decided to leave the Army and keep her career as a civilian nurse.
3.Who will take care of our children if we deploy?Every service member is required to fill out a family care plan. Among other things, the plan officially defines who will take care of the kids when (not if) you deploy?
For families with only one service member, that choice is easy. The kids stay with the non-military parent in their own homes. But when both partners are equally likely to deploy, dual military parents have to look beyond one another. Will your mom take the baby? How about your sister? Could we possibly ask Grandma to have the boys for eight months? Would they have to go live with her in Texas?
"Even if your mom or a relative will take the kids, will they do a good enough job with them?" asked a former airman who attended our Spouse X event in Aviano, Italy.
She and her husband had to have The Talk when they were moving to Italy and realized they had to have a family care plan in place that included getting two preschoolers back to the States if they both deployed at the same time.
Even the possibility of leaving the kids with someone locally was a problem, “Who can you trust when you have just PCSed?” she asked the former airman. That worry triggered her to put in her papers.
4.Who will go on to be Chief?Childcare issues aren't the only driver when it comes to making a decision. When weighing which partner will stay in and which one will get out, couples say that they weigh the career itself for both partners.
Partly that is based on performance. Some service members are better suited for their particular job, so they like it more and want to keep doing it. Or one of the partners can have an MOS that offers more of a chance for promotion. That matters to couples.
There is also the difference between feeling that the military is your job and feeling that it is your career or calling. “I joined because I wanted to see what it would be like,” said a former airman in Aviano. “I wanted the experience. He always wanted to be a Chief.”
When it came to making a decision about who stayed in and who got out, she thought there was more opportunity for her in the civilian world than in the Air Force.
5. How long can we live apart?The military does try to collocate dual military couples. These partners know going into the marriage that at some point they will probably have to live apart. But when orders don’t come together for a second time, our participants reported that their marriages got rockier.
“Something’s gotta give,” said one former Marine at our Spouse X event in Quantico, Virginia. “If you are going to be married, you gotta be together. You can’t live apart forever.”
The way dual military members make their decisions about career reflect the way many military couples decide about career commitments. Did you and your service member find these same triggers? Or did something else push you to get out? Or did these things trigger your desire to stay in? And then what happened?
Photo courtesy US Air Force.