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!