When a service member retires, the military offers a robust program to help ease the transition to civilian life. What about the service member’s spouse? Last month, the Evolve Retreat, helped seasoned spouses explore this transition by providing them with tailored tools for success in the next chapter.
The retreat was held April 17-18 and featured 10-hours of live sessions and life coaching focusing on personal identity, marriage, and family. The event was the brainchild of Army spouse Jennifer Pasquale who says that what often goes unexplored are the challenges spouses face during a military retirement.
“So we’re putting two members of the family through an identity crisis. At the same time. That’s massive, that’s a massive burden for them to bear.”
Pasquale is the founder of Pride & Grit, an online community dedicated to storytelling and providing resources for families as they tackle the highs and lows of military life.
The idea for Evolve came out of a survey she conducted last fall with seasoned spouses, a term that’s fluid but she says typically applies to those who have been in the military community long enough to see retirement on the horizon.
The survey explored pain points for families at this later stage of the military journey. Three themes emerged — marriage, identity, and family support during the transition to retirement. Pasquale says that the retreat was designed to meet the need of these three key pillars most impacted by cumulative service.
“Some of the most interesting conversations were about what happens at year, 15 and 16, and 17 that just isn’t going to happen at year two,” she said. A great deal of the conference focused on the impact of this compounded cumulative on families.
“For many of us, it’s not the first or second move that was the most challenging, it’s the eighth and ninth moves, tend to be the ones that kind of just broke us,” she said.
Pasquale says that oftentimes the longer your service member has been in the military, your circle of resources can strangely get smaller even though your exposures to more people may be great. “I think the retreat provides this opportunity for us to broaden our circles,” she said.
Army spouse Charlene Wilde said the event provided her with the opportunity to network with like-minded seasoned military spouses. Wilde said she was surprised at the vast scope of participants.
“The event was a refreshing opportunity to take some time to focus on my own self-care needs,” said Wilde.
With Evolve, Pasquale’s goals were to help spouses be prepared when the time comes. “What is my vision for me, for our family for our marriage at the other side of this crazy life for which I don’t have any control? What do I want that to look like and what can I do now to help prepare so that, I can arrive at that line and stand strong and confident?” she said.
Pasquale said that she sees her peers simply surviving until their spouse retires. “They sort of fall across the retirement line, exhausted, they have to figure out who they are, like, it’s just not it’s not a recipe for success.” Her goal was to provide spouses with the tools to arrive at that line the stronger of the two, ready to help their family thrive in this next chapter.
“Attending this conference gave me validation that I wasn’t alone during this process,” said Val Simmons, an Army spouse whose husband recently retired after 25 years of service.
Simmons encourages military spouses to use their tools to figure out what they want life after the military to be.
“Start using your tools and learn some new ones,” she said. “Because this is a great stage of life, but it’s a transition and the transition could be rough. Now is the time to talk to your spouse and have some really good conversations about what you really want moving forward.”