Maintaining Your Identity as a Spouse
This month’s Thriving & Surviving Military Life post is on a topic that has been on my heart for a long time now. Years actually. And for a majority of those years, I thought I was alone in my struggles and my feelings. But in this most recent move, I’ve met some new friends and fellow spouses who have shown me that not only am I not alone in these feelings, but that there are ways to change them! Today, I’m chatting about maintaining your identity as a military spouse.
I have to preface this post by saying that I truly love being part of the military community. It requires a special calling, by both my husband AND myself…one we are both pretty passionate about and take pretty seriously. And while there are lots of sacrifices required, being a part of the military community has also afforded us some amazing opportunities, relationships, and life experiences. All that said, there is a reason I call this monthly blog column “Thriving & Surviving Military LIFE”…because being part of the military community is more than just a job. It’s a way of life that effects the entire family. Yes, this lifestyle can be exciting and fun, but at times it can also be intrusive, consuming, unforgiving, relentless, burdensome and just plain frustrating. My husband’s job dictates where we live, when, and for how long. It determines where our child goes to school and where I can look for jobs. It determines how much we see each other, what healthcare facilities we have access to, and what kind of housing we live in. I believe we are well taken care of and compensated for these sacrifices, but this willingness to go along with the ride can also take its toll.
Three years ago we moved to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina…a quintessential military town and one of the main installations for the US Marine Corps. I never wanted to move to Camp Lejeune (ever!) because of its smallness, isolation, and lack of professional opportunities for me. I even told Greg long before we were married years ago that I never wanted to move there. But we don’t really get much say, and to NC Greg was assigned when Henry was just about 15 months old. We chose to live on base in Camp Lejeune for many of the reasons I outlined in this post. Greg was scheduled to be deployed a lot, and we felt the support and security found on-base would be just what we needed to endure the tough three-year assignment. In so many ways, we absolutely made the right decision. We had an amazing, supportive, and understanding community all around us, and everything we needed was literally at our fingertips. But with on-base living, comes a certain loss of balance and perspective (at least for us!). All of our neighbors and friends were military. We shopped at the commissary (on-base grocery store) and other on-base stores. Our church was on-base led by a military chaplain. Greg’s office was 1.5 miles down the road, and his boss lived 2 miles in the other direction. On top of everything being so close, Greg was part of a unit that sucked us both physically, mentally, and emotionally dry over the course of three years. Every conversation, event, social opportunity, spiritual occasion and more was somehow connected to the Marine Corps. Everything felt tight and intense, and after three years, I was exhausted by the pervasiveness it all.
Layered on top of all of this was our decision that I would stay home with Henry during our time in NC. We made this decision for three main reasons: I genuinely wanted to stay home, Greg was scheduled to be deployed a lot, and there were not a lot of job opportunities for me in the area. I tell you this only to paint out more of the picture. Greg suggests that a lot of my struggles with being a military spouse are intertwined with being a stay-at-home Mom, and I think that’s a fair and true point. I’m not entirely convinced I’m cut out to be a stay-at-home Mom (that’s a post for another day!), but at that moment in time, it was the right decision for our family. Right decision or not, I found myself for the first time ever in a strange place with no professional purpose or passion. I had nothing I was working at or towards, and I struggled with the lack of validation a job and a career bring. Without something of my own to define and energize me, I allowed the pervasiveness of Marine Corps life to creep in…and before I knew it…my individual identity that used to be defined by my own passions, hobbies, and professional interests was replaced with a new one: being a military spouse and supporting my Marine.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye but in reality was a slow chain of events, I lost myself. Sure I threw myself into house projects and playdates. I trained for races, made amazing friends, created great memories, worked hard to raise Henry well, endured deployments, and blogged consistently on this little site of mine. But all of these things were attempts to make my new life fit…in reality, I felt like I was just keeping busy. On the outside, I looked generally content, but inside I felt lost, directionless, and without a purpose. I felt like I was sitting at home, twiddling my thumbs on the sidelines….living a life I didn’t want to live in a place I didn’t want to be…while my husband was (quite literally!) off saving the world. His career was the driving force in our world. And as noble and honorable a career it may be, it was/is hard for me to handle. Our three years in Camp Lejeune felt like treading water. I just did all I could to make the time pass and get through it.
As I share all this, some of my frustrations about our 1 year move to Kansas might start to make more sense. At the end of Greg’s 9 month deployment (and the end of my patience rope) this time last year, we had many long conversations about what changes would be necessary in order for this lifestyle to work for both him and me…and a lot of those conversations revolved around professional development and a sense of ownership and direction of my own life. Leaving Camp Lejeune was supposed to be a fresh start for me. I was hopeful to get back to work (my career field is in Exercise Physiology and Health Promotion) and re-gain a little more of myself separate from the Marine Corps. When we found out we were moving to Kansas (which I didn’t want to do) for just a year (more treading water), I was devastated. Yet again, I had no say and no control, and I was a silent passenger along for the ride of my husband’s career. For a passionate, career-oriented, well-educated gal like myself, being told when, where, and how to live feels stifling and frustrating. I felt like I was just moving to another Camp Lejeune, and more of the same frustrations would surely follow (hence the months of whining and crying.)
But wouldn’t you know it…Kansas has been the biggest surprise of all! We chose to live off base, primarily to create some of the space I was so desperate for. Many told us we’d regret it, but most also didn’t realize how stifled I felt by the lifestyle we were leading and how dramatic of a change I needed. While I still shop at the on-base commissary (prices are just better!), we now go to an off-base church, we have some non-military friends, and I even started back teaching group exercise at an off-base gym. I started taking knitting lessons in a downtown shop from a lady not even associated with the military, and am planning on taking sewing lessons soon (to learn how to use the embroidery components on my machine!). I’ve met other military spouses who have achieved a good life/Marine Corps balance by pursuing their own careers in creative and unusual ways. I’m learning that I am not and shouldn’t let myself feel like a victim in this lifestyle; and that there are indeed ways for me to feel satisfied while supporting my husband’s career at the same time. Simply put, living off base and creating some space has allowed us to nudge the military needle more toward “job” and less toward “life.” I can still access all the wonderful people, privileges and programs we’re afforded by being a military family, but I now have the space to be who I am and want to be, regardless of my husband’s job and the implications of the commitment he has made.
The other night laying in bed as we were falling asleep, I said to Greg, “I’m happy.” There was no “but this” or “except for that.” I can’t even tell you the last time I felt genuinely happy. Through knitting lessons and new friends…by getting back to group exercise and living off-base, I have slowly regained perspective and feel more like myself than I have in a long time. I am starting to create balance and carve out personal space in a lifestyle that can quickly and easily swing off kilter. I have learned that some military spouses need this boundary and other’s don’t…neither are right or wrong, good or bad…I am seeing now that I am just one who does. I am a happier Megan, a more satisfied person, and a better military spouse when I am able to have my own sense of self separate from our military livelihood. This one year pause in Kansas (that I didn’t want to take!) is not only allowing us to reconnect as a family and recover from a trying three years at our last base, but is also helping me figure out who I am and how this lifestyle can really work for both of us (hint hint: this blog is a big part of that :). I don’t yet have everything figured out, but today, as I write this…I believe we can make a military lifestyle work for both of us for the years to come!
Of all the posts I write, these military ones are the toughest (and most time-consuming!) ones for me to put together. I bare a lot of my soul in these posts, and I thank you for the time and space to share these thoughts. Each and every time, I am scared to hit publish…yet each and every time, these posts spark some of the best interactions and content from you readers! I know I now have many military spouses out there reading! I’d love to hear if/how you relate! Do you struggle to create balance between your own professional and personal ambitions and your service member’s career? How have you made things work? Please share any tips that may benefit me or anyone out there reading!
And with that, I will see you back here on Friday with another Organize This post! See you then!
28 Comments on “Maintaining Your Identity as a Spouse”
Long Comment Warning:
Wow! What an amazing post! I really felt like you crawled in my head. Your feelings of feeling directionless, sitting on the sidelines & treading water in NC Could.Not.Be closer to mine currently. About a year ago my husband’s job (non-military) moved us here and since then I have been feeling just as you described. What I thought would be a new opportunity for us has turned out to be an extremely challenging one in so many ways & we’re still trying to make our way through it.
Even though we are not in the military, I can still so very much relate to your post. Thank you for your honesty in writing it and for showing me your “light at the end of the tunnel”.
Yours was the first comment I received on this post, and I can’t tell you what I huge sigh of relief I felt after reading it! I always worry what my readers will think of feel when I share so personally, and after reading your comment I knew only positive comments would follow! I am so glad we could connect over these similar feelings and situations. Getting comments back from my non-military spouse readers has reminded me that women/wives in all walks of life feel the same things and that I’m not alone or foolish for feeling the way I do!
Glad my post connected and hope you have a great rest of the weekend!
Thanks, Megan, for the honesty of this post. I can relate to a lot of what you are saying as the (non-military) SAHM of a 6 1/2 yo and 3 1/2 yo. Thanks for doing what you do and sharing your projects with us all. 🙂
I’m so glad you enjoyed this post! My most pleasant surprise was that so many of my readers, military and non-military, could relate! What a comfort knowing we’re not all alone in this wife/motherhood journey!
Hope you have a great rest of the weekend!
Having been present for the arc of Megan’s story, I can tell you she is one of those exceptional spouses who manages our family by keeping us all grounded to was is really important in life. Namely, love for each other, striving to be better humans, and empathy towards those who need our support not our pity. You’re amazing sweetie!
Love you for this, babe 🙂
I’m a regular reader and I totally expected this post to not apply to me as a non-military wife, but I have been a stay-at-home mom for 4 years and I found myself nodding along with a lot of what you said :). Thank you (and your family!) for your service and sacrifices for our country!
Thank you so much for this comment! I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by how many of my readers connected with my thoughts, regardless of our different walks of life! Really helps knowing we’re not all alone in our struggles!
Hope you have a good rest of the weekend!
I can so understand. I am a non military wife, but mostly a SAHM of 3. And over the last few years I have learned that when I don’t have a part time job, even something just 2-3 hours a day that gets me out of the house, I tend to wallow. And not accomplish anything. But my little job gets me out of the house and talking to other adults. Such a blessing. And as hard as it is that my job isn’t in what I went to school for, it still makes me feel like I am doing something worthwhile and helping my family beyond being a maid and a cook.
Also, what a sweet comment from your sweetheart. You are one lucky girl!
Thank you for this! I totally hear you on the part-time job. I was just telling Greg last night that I wonder if my improved mood is because I’m finally back teaching group exercise?? It’s something that I have to be at, is just mine, makes me some money, and helps me feel like a professional again! I tend to wallow (perfect word!!) at home too (which is why I blog 😉 – I loved reading all the responses to this post – knowing we all share some similar feelings was so comforting!
Hope you have a great rest of the weekend!
Thank you so much for this post! It made me see that there is hope for having balance in this lifestyle!!
There is hope, my friend. It’s not easy and it certainly ebbs and flows depending on the base and the unit, but there is indeed hope! I’m just starting to learn that I need to be more proactive in my happiness instead of depending on the military/lifestyle to fulfill me!
I hope you have a great rest of the weekend, and thank you so much for commenting!
What’s interesting to me about this post is that while I completely understand why you would feel the way you do about things, I am having exactly the opposite experience. When I gave birth we were at a tiny base in TN. We lived in “the country” and I felt SO isolated. Once we moved to a large base in MS, on base I felt so much better about being a SAHM in the military. I feel like I have so many people right out my door that are experiencing the same things and it’s been awesome to share child care duties and just to have people to go to the park with and that kind of thing. I actually dove way deeper into military life, probably due to living on base and making friends with the neighbors and became a board member with the spouses’ club (and currently I’m the President – something I NEVER thought I would be/do). I feel like becoming more involved has given me drive and purpose. My brain doesn’t feel as mushy or numb. This post was so intriguing to me because I can completely see your point of view even though I currently find myself on the other side of the fence.
I LOVED this comment last week. Not only did I completely appreciate what you had to say, but I love that you offered another point of view in such a positive way. Thank you for that! I am glad you are finding your niche at your new base. Like you, I can totally understand how being more integrated can help you feel more connected, and there are times I need/needed that too. Thankfully the military journey is long and varied, so we can adjust as we need to!
Hope you have a great rest of your weekend, and again, thank you so much for leaving such a thoughtful comment!
Great post Megan. What you say about not being just an extension of your military spouse is also true of spouses of non military spouses. We all need to find our nitch and the space to be there. Your posts will find resonances outside of the military life. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Mary Alice!
Thanks for commenting on this post! Yes, many of my non-military spouse readers commented that they too relate. What a comfort to know these struggles are universal among other women!
Hope you are well, and thanks for reading along!
I appreciate your openness and we’ll thought-out message. I am not a part of a military family. But I have had some similar experiences both growing up and now being a wife. Even though I have a career, it’s not of my choosing but instead necessary to support my family, and driven by my husband’s career choices. It’s interesting how even differences life styles and choices can result in the same thoughts and feelings. Again thanks for sharing!
Thank you so much for leaving your thoughts on this post! I was so pleasantly surprised how many of my wonderful readers could relate to this post, like you said, despite us all having different circumstances! It’s comforting to know many of us struggle with the same things!
Hope you have a great rest of your weekend!
Hello Megan, I’m writing to you from France. I discoverde your so nice blog some weeks ago through other organization blogs ! These blogs bring me so many things and made me declutter and organize my home which need it quite a lot.
This is the firt time I decide to react on your post as even if I have nothing to do with the military life, I followed my husband in every place he had to go for his job to be a family together with our two daughters, I lived a different choice being a child so for me to follow my husband’s career was the only way. I worked when I coulf find a job for me. I quite understand what you feel even if sometimes I could have love maybe to find a communatary life, easier to get friends, other mothers with children, but maybe not as too intrusive, well some balance in an ideal which is probably just a dream ! So thank you to share all these deep feelings with us and on this stormy morning here where I live, it brightens my day and makes me feel better !
Hello again, Michele!
I am so glad you, and so many other readers, enjoyed this post! It was SO hard and tiresome for me to write (the personal posts are always like that!), but I feel like I really connected with so many different women/walks of life! Glad you enjoyed it and felt a little more connected!
So so so glad to have you reading along!
Yes we were a lot of women to feel connected with your post and relieved to see we are sharing in our differences the same feelings deep in our hearts and I quite understand these posts are the most hard to write !
I follow maybe eight or nine blogs including yours, but have never commented on a post before. This one I have to admit I read because I was procrastinating, not thinking it’d be particularly relevant to me (military life…). But I was really touched! I think because it made me realize again how people share similar experiences. I guess we forget (I do anyway) that random people can actually have so much in common. I’m for example non-military, living in Germany- but have felt very much the same way you do. I like this surprising feeling of fellowship or community or whatever you want to call it, it’s so positive. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this blog.
I am so honored that you include me in your short list of blogs and allow me into your life each week! I love finding out I have other readers overseas, so I am so glad you took the time to write!
My biggest surprise with the response to this post is how many women – even non military spouses – related! It sure does make this big wide world feel smaller, and it sure helps to not feel so alone with these hard feelings! So glad you felt the connection too!
Hope your week is off to a great start!!
The Marine Corps should seriously hire you as a motivational speaker for new spouses or those enduring a deployment or PCS. This post was so honest yet so inspiring at the same time. One of the most important lines I read was that BOTH husband and wife have to be happy living a military life or neither will be able to sustain the demands and challenges. Lucky for many of us military wives that we have very supportive husbands. But THE most important line I read was when you said “I’m happy.” You yourself are responsible for being happy; you didn’t depend on anyone else, and didn’t expect happiness to fall in your lap. You’ve worked hard every day that I’ve known you to get to this place, and that is by far the most respectable type of happiness.
Thank you for this comment – I always get so excited when I see a comment from someone I actually know 😉 I felt like this post was so rambling and babbly and I didn’t say everything I wanted to say…but it seemed to resonate with people so I am glad I wrote it. My military posts have gotten so deep, they are taking a lot out of me. I need to lighten it up – let me know if you think of any military-related topics people might enjoy reading about???
I don’t normally comment on strangers’ blogs but I cannot tell you how much this post has spoken to me. Thank you so much from the top to the bottom of my heart for articulating your experiences living on post and off. I am a military spouse as well and while we have never lived on post, we have been considering it for our upcoming PCS because of the OCONUS location. Your post has inspired me to dig my heels in and trust my gut instead of trusting what living on post looks like on paper. Thank you very much– have a great Monday! 🙂
Thank you so much for leaving this comment! The military posts are always such a risk for me to write, but each time I am so pleasantly surprised by who they touch and who can relate! I’m so glad you found this one helpful. We all want and need different things from this crazy lifestyle, and I’m learning that those things can/do change and evolve with time, too! I hope you find a living situation that works for you, and wish you the best of luck with your upcoming PCS! OCONUS!!! – what an adventure!!!!
Stay in touch!
I totally know those feels. I felt, well still feel the same way. I haven’t been happy, truly happy in a long time. Last duty station was better, we were living in a civilian community for I&I duty in an area with good career opportunities and near family. It was good, but always something missing…mostly space, cramped suburbia was stifling for a country girl. Now we are overseas, living off base (not by choice) and it’s been difficult. Not because of our host country, or even any of the inherent changes in living in another part of the world (Korea and Koreans are awesome) but just the typical way the military works and all the things we had to leave behind when we came here. I tolerate military life, I hope to one day be happy like you describe again…