We all face challenges along our military journey. One of my biggest challenges as a military spouse was moving overseas with three young children. We moved to Rota, Spain on the day of the Benghazi attacks. Most of my husband’s unit deployed overnight, and his first few months were complete chaos at work. Even more frustrating: our rental car was a manual shift, which I did not know how to drive, so I had to learn the day after we arrived. And even though I had just earned a master’s degree, I quickly learned there were few job opportunities for Americans.
When we moved overseas, I felt lost and confused for a long time. It was a difficult challenge, and it took several months for our family to adjust and enjoy our time overseas. It’s one of the reasons I am now so passionate about supporting military spouses through challenging times.
Five Ways To Face Military Life Challenges:
- Accept that plans won’t always work out. I’m a planner, and I struggle with the frequent changes of military life. But after two decades with my Marine, I have finally accepted that nothing is ever set in stone, and plans are always subject to change. Often, military life doesn’t feel fair. There are numerous opportunities to feel frustrated or even angry at the military. In my book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses, I address the curve balls that the military sometimes throws our way: “One way or another, you and your loved one are going to navigate the changes together, whatever they are. When you feel drained and exhausted, lean on each other.”
- Don’t let a bad day turn into a bad week. It’s okay to be sad, angry, frustrated or even mourn the life you leave behind. Acknowledge your emotions because they are real and justified. But then move forward. When you wallow in anger or sadness, you aren’t going to change the military. You are only hurting yourself. We all need to find healthy coping strategies that we can turn to during difficult moments in military life. Open When advises, “Everyone is allowed to have a bad day, but the most important thing is how you recover from it. Don’t let a bad day stretch into a bad week.”
- Build your support network. It’s important to be proactive about this. We must build a network BEFORE we face a challenge. In military life, you can always assume that’s just around the corner. Think of it like building a sturdy chair to support you when needed. You want it to have more than one or two legs! This became clear to me when I gave birth to my deployment baby … during a hurricane! Although I had prepared for months to give birth during deployment, I had to change those plans at the last minute when the storm came. But because I had already planned out my support network, I was still able to lean on some of those “legs of the chair” so I didn’t crash. No matter what storms come your way, you need people who believe in you and encourage you, especially when you struggle to believe in yourself.
- Create your own solutions. Military life throws us into many challenging situations. Successful military spouses are usually those who are creative enough to think outside of normal conventions and find their own unique solution. When we moved to Spain, there were extremely limited job opportunities. I found meaning in writing a blog — and then a book — about our local travels. After seven years unemployed, I established my Seasoned Spouse blog and freelance writing business so I could work from home on my timeline. Neither of these were traditional career options, but they have been a great solution for my family. Whatever challenge the military throws your way, use creative out-of-the-box solutions. Ask other spouses for inspiration.
- Remember that this life is lived in seasons. If you are going through a difficult season, it won’t be like this forever. It’s okay to take a step back, change directions or shift gears. That doesn’t mean you’re giving up or that you will always be in this same job or housing situation. Open When encourages, “Remember that most stress is temporary. You may be walking through a swampy valley right now, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never stand on a mountaintop or enjoy a beautiful sunrise.”
When you are faced with military life challenges, consider short-term options. You don’t have to commit to this forever. It’s only for this duty station, during this deployment or until military retirement. Whatever difficulties the military throws your way, keep these five phrases in mind to help you endure the large and small challenges of this life.