Lizann on mountain

To the Military Spouse Struggling with Identity

Military life can sometimes feel all-encompassing. It makes numerous demands on military spouses, often without warning. Just when you’re starting to make friends and enjoy a new town — bam! — PCS orders to another time zone. When you finally find a great full-time job that will advance your career —pow! — your service member deploys, and you must cut back to part-time to handle the kids and household alone.

When military life defines your identity

After decades of being pulled in multiple directions by military situations, it’s easy to see why some military spouses begin to see themselves and define themselves as just a MilSpouse. They aren’t a service member, they don’t have many rights or privileges, and they have never had the luxury of establishing a life on their own terms.

This military spouse identity crisis can happen to younger, newer spouses too. If you move across the country to marry your service member and live at their duty station, you are forced to leave everything familiar and set up a new life that revolves around the service member’s job and schedule.

When new military spouses meet each other, they focus on topics like hobbies, work, recipes, or kids to make small talk and find some common ground. If they are meeting on base or at a unit function, they are more likely to define themselves by their service member: What housing neighborhood do you live in? What unit is your spouse assigned to? What’s their military job or rank?

Stop asking these questions. This is not okay, and it isn’t helpful. Here’s why:

You’re so much more than just a MilSpouse

There are many problems with a military spouse defining themselves by their service member’s job. Yes, the service member’s commitments have a major impact on the spouse’s life: where you live, when you can work and whom you become friends with. However, it is so important for every military spouse —the young and the “seasoned” — to develop their own personal identity that has nothing to do with the military.

You are not “just” a military spouse. You are so much more. You are a unique individual with your own strengths and talents!

The trouble is, sometimes it just doesn’t feel that way.

When military life steals your spark

Every military spouse I’ve met has been good at something. Many are creative, with ideas for food, crafts and home businesses. Others have impressive talents as musicians, dancers or writers. Some have advanced degrees in technical fields and want to pursue a corporate career. But somewhere along the military journey, each military spouse begins to put their dreams on hold. We tell ourselves things like, “I’ll get back into that after the deployment,” or “I couldn’t possibly pursue that with this PCS move coming up.”

Soon, all that talent, skills, knowledge and creativity is placed on the back burner. Our unique gifts begin to gather cobwebs as we focus on being military spouses. And eventually, “military spouse” becomes a central part of our identity.

Lizann’s book

How military spouses can rediscover their identity

If this sounds familiar, know that it is a common challenge for military spouses of all ages. But it’s never too late to dust off those cobwebs and begin to pursue the interests that make you uniquely you. If you aren’t sure where to begin, know that you aren’t alone. The first step is recognizing your individuality.

In my book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses, I encourage readers to define themselves by their strengths, abilities and passions.

  • “To rediscover your own identity, first focus on your strengths.” What are your core abilities or behaviors that make you unique? Your strengths define the kind of person you are and may be expressed when you’re introducing yourself: strong, creative, good sense of humor, etc. This is the beautiful combination you offer the world.
  • “Think about the abilities you have developed through your experiences.” Has military life made you organized? Open-minded? An independent problem-solver? Are you a good listener or collaborator? These are the types of skills and abilities many employers are looking for. If you’re planning to re-enter the workforce, focus on the abilities that help you stand out from others.
  • “An important part of your personal identity is your passions.” Also called hopes and dreams, or things that excite you, your passions are the things you would choose to work on if you had unlimited time and resources. Think back to the things you pursued before military life. Have you always wanted to have a certain job, create a product or launch a business? Has military life made you passionate about working with a certain group of people or changing specific laws? Follow your heart to discover the unique passions that identify you.

When military life feels demanding, hold onto your own identity. Focus on your strengths, abilities and passions to remember who you are, in addition to being a military spouse!

Lizann Lightfoot
Written By Lizann Lightfoot
Marine Corps Spouse

Lizann is the Seasoned Spouse – a Marine Corps wife, mom of four and published author. She loves writing, exploring new duty stations and chocolate!

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