By Jaimi Erickson
I thought we would be retired from the military by now. My husband had mentioned some retirement dates, I got attached to them and here we are, still on Active Duty — a year past what I thought would be the start of retirement life. I underestimated my husband’s commitment to the military. It is all he has known since graduating from high school. After a brief stint as a civilian while he was in college, he made his way back to the service and planned for a military career.
My husband would say he was “ready to be done” during every deployment. Then, after we PCSed to a new location, his role would become a dream job. When Marines say they are ready to be done, it is really code for ”I have been doing this for a long time and I see changes I am not sure about.” But, I have learned that saying you are ready to be done does not actually mean you are ready to get out of the military.
When your spouse is in it for a full career — whatever their timeline is — it reflects an unbreakable focus and dedication to service. As a spouse, I have found getting on board with that level of commitment is not easy. I have also learned that keeping the peace is more important than being done with the military on my timeline.
Different Experiences of Servicemember and Spouse
To a large extent, military life is an orchestrated existence. There are so many strings attached to your servicemember. Your spouse — and, therefore, you — simply cannot make moves or decisions without an order leading them. As a military spouse, it is tough to reconcile with that type of attachment.
Military spouses live a completely different existence than servicemembers. Every new duty station is essentially the same for my husband. He wears the same uniform. He speaks the same Marine Corps language. He works with fellow Marines. Although his day-to-day activities may change, he has a community and environment that is familiar in each new place.
But the kids and I do not have the same familiarity. We have to start fresh everywhere. Living on base can help connect us to a community of support, but not everyone is living the same life. Military spouses choose varied careers, roles, and involvement. We are not all social butterflies. We are not all living on bases or even in areas where there is a military community.
Yet, we all do our best to bloom where planted. But, there is not an easy built-in community available for us everywhere we go.
I have written before about ways to build community at duty stations. Sometimes this is with unit support. Other times this is accomplished with playgroups or common-interest groups like homeschool meet-ups. But It gets to be draining at some stage. There are seasons where the planting of seeds and the building of community just wears me out. So, I had reached a point where I wanted to be done, but not out. I was almost hoping for retirement earlier than we had planned.
Military servicemembers are loyal, though. My husband did not join the military for personal glory or to make a name for himself. He joined to defend his country. Years of growing up, reading history books, and longing to take part in the defense of the American Dream were on his mind when he signed the enlistment papers.
I still feel that I want to be done. And yet the simple fact is, it is not my choice. Sure, I can share my thoughts, but it is his career and his decision. I cannot force him to be done.
Remembering the Excitement of Military Life
I realized I needed to shift my mindset. I realized that devotion to what you do — especially when it involves service like the military — is not something to look down on. Working every day for the goal of defending your country is admirable, and selfless.
When I reframed how I was looking at our life in the military, I realized that the core of who we are as a family does not change whether my husband stays in or gets out. Our marriage, our children, and our common goals remain the same. I had to back off and let the process work itself out.
If it were my career that was leading us from place to place, would I want my husband to be pressuring me to leave? When I think from that perspective, I can better empathize with my husband’s decisions.
The Service of the Spouse Is a Journey, Too
Now I am looking back to the days when I was eager to lean into this military spouse role, and how excited and energized it made me feel to pour myself into our community. I am putting that perspective into action through volunteer work to stay focused on the future with a positive mindset.
The unknowns of when my husband will retire are still there. I am learning to embrace the good things about military life rather than wish it away. If my spouse is in this until the military tells him to retire, then I can be supportive. The benefits of being a military spouse are many. The journey of receiving those benefits can be draining, but it is worth it for the experience of this military life.
(Family photo credit: Robin McMurry Photography)