Anyone who lives a fulfilling military life would tell you that it's not easy--but they wouldn’t change it for the world. Ruining your military life? Now that’s easy. Although I wouldn’t advise it, here is how you can ruin your military life in just a few simple steps:
Complain about your current duty station.Complaining is the easiest possible way to ruin any life, military or civilian. With this one simple tool, you can discourage your spouse, alienate potential friends and create your very own downward spiral of discontentment.
Finding something to complain about, unfortunately, is easy, and we’re all entitled to a “vent” now and then. You should know that when complaining becomes a habit, or even an entitlement, it can ruin a military life
. Instead look for things to celebrate--slightly harder to find, but so much more rewarding.
Pin all your hopes on the next duty station.The best way to waste today is by trying to live in tomorrow. It can’t be done, trust me. I’ve never found a cure for dissatisfaction in a new assignment. I’ve been unhappy on a tropical island and perfectly satisfied in the desert.
My level of satisfaction is about the condition of my heart and mind, the health of my marriage and the strength of my support system. For me, faith is key, but for anyone happiness is found inside, not out—today, not tomorrow. Life can’t be deferred to next year or the next location, it has to happen here and now.
Compare every duty station to the last one.Another good way to ruin military life today is to compare it to military life yesterday. A great assignment is a blessing, but it can become a pitfall if a wonderful experience becomes the standard by which all others are measured.
Locations change, we change, our families grow. Expecting life to be the same as it was three years ago is a mistake, even without a move. Comparison is an excellent method for sabotaging military life, especially when comparing stark reality to romanticized memories of past friends and experiences. The assignment you are in always has the potential to be your best yet.
Believe in the “Dependa” and other stereotypes.This is a surefire way missing out on lifelong friendships--the treasure of any military life.
Believing the stereotypes allows us to keep at arm’s length those we believe are “not like us.” But the truth is that, whether we’re talking about the mythical “Dependa” or the red-white-and-blue-clad, casserole-toting, practically-perfect-in-every-way spouse club activist, few of us actually fit these stereotypes.
The spouse who thinks he or she could never fit in or find friends among a group of military spouses may think all military spouses are alike. We are not.
We do have in common the love and support for our military member, as well as the challenges and rewards rarely understood outside this military life.
Of course there are military spouses who’ll rub us the wrong way with the way they talk, live, dress, act. That’s not unique to military life. It’s life. In the immortal words of Elsa, “Let it go.” Move on with an open mind and heart to meet the best friends of your life. They’re out there. Depend on that.
Expect your service member’s career to be something it is not-- Civilian.To ruin your otherwise happy military life, expect your military spouse to work regular hours, have holidays off and always be home for your wedding anniversary.
Deployments, training exercises and other temporary duty will take military members away from home—often. These absences are as likely as not to coincide with important family events and holidays, even the arrivals of babies. Not always, but it happens. Moves may demand that we restart or re-invent our own careers again and again.
We can find many ways to manage these challenges if we know and accept them. Military life is more easily navigated with a working knowledge of how the military works, and how it doesn’t.
Expect yourself to be someone you are not—Super Spouse.Ignoring your own personal, physical and spiritual health is the road to ruin in any life, military or civilian. Your active duty spouse has pledged to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. This does not include dust bunnies or the flu.
Even if you have a career, you are probably the one who keeps family life on track. This means ensuring your own health and well-being are important. Putting everyone else first all the time may sound virtuous, but it’s not sustainable.
Invest time and thought into taking care of you. Evaluate what you do every day, and carve out time. If you’re using your limited free time to skim Facebook or watch television, think about how you could use that time in an activity that recharges and restores, like prayer, exercise, meditation, yoga, time with friends. The benefits are more lasting than putting your mind in neutral and staring at a screen.
Expect a military benefit to solve every problem.Disillusionment is in store for those who think military benefits should take care of all our needs. This is especially true in the days of sequestration and defense cuts.
It seems everything is eligible for the budget axe. We don’t live in the days of, “If the (insert branch of service here) wanted you to have a family, they’d have issued you one,” but neither can we take all benefits for granted. It’s important to know what programs and benefits are available and know how to access them.
Many of the programs the military offers are tools to be employed, not automatic safety nets requiring no action on our part. Military families must put them to use, not simply expect them to serve us.
Overlook all the good things with determination.This is where all the methods of ruining military life conspire to thoroughly mess things up. Comparing this assignment to the last or wishing for the next, expecting things to be what they’re not, making assumptions about other military spouses-- these all conspire to obscure the good things about military life.
This is the most effective way to ruin it. Making the most of military life takes time, effort and determination. It requires seeking out good things, cultivating lifelong friendships, appreciating service to a larger cause, broadening our horizons by living all over the world. These rewards are hard won. Ruining military life is easy, but successful military spouses don’t specialize in “easy.”
What would you add to this list?
Terri Barnes is an Air Force wife and the military family columnist for Stars and Stripes. She is the author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life and the editor of Stories Around the Table: Laughter Wisdom and Strength in Military Life.
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Alystria Mauer