Life is all about making tough choices, and oftentimes a plan looks better on paper, especially when trying to make decisions as a dual military couple.
I had intended to serve in the Air Force for 20 years, so when the decision came to leave that career after just six it was hard. It felt like I was walking away from my dream—or maybe even quitting. I wanted to continue serving alongside my husband, but making life work as a dual military couple just wasn’t working for us.
Should I stay or should I go?
There were three main things that pushed me to hang up my uniform for good, altering my military identification card –and own identity — to dependent. My husband, who was also in the military had a career field that didn’t jive with mine. We knew that in order for us to both serve the full 20 years, we would likely have to commit to being separated for at least one assignment.
The second factor came with my first deployment. It was a yearlong deployment including training, and it was hard being separated from my husband for that long. My husband also PCSed while I was deployed. All these little inconveniences were relatively easy to overcome without children, but then I found out I was pregnant and everything changed.
With just the things I listed above it should have been clear that leaving the military made the most sense. Though, at the time, I still wasn’t sure.
Our decision-making process
It was easy to put on rose-colored glasses and dream of what life could be like after we both achieved 20 years of military service, especially if we bypassed the realities that mil-to-mil life can throw at you. So, we decided to make a list. Not in our heads, but on paper. We included pros and cons, and it wasn’t something we did in one sitting. In the end, cons far outweighed the pros, but that didn’t mean the choice was made.
After we had completed the list, we looked at the sacrifices required for both of us to reach the retirement stage—including the daily sacrifices required along with the external factors of the unknown. In the end, we decided the best choice for our family was for me to transition from the role of military member to military spouse.
Leaving my military career
Transitioning would be a challenge. You go through a process where you have to grieve the loss of what could have been and what your new life is. It is difficult to make that switch. But through the process you learn a lot about yourself and become stronger.
I thought being a military spouse and mom would be easy, but I quickly learned that military spouse life is vastly different. There is a sense of order and expectations in the military. Military spouse life has twists and turns, and nothing can ever be replicated. I once knew who my friends would be at each duty station as I became connected with the people I worked with. For military spouses, there are no guarantees that you will find your tribe at each new location.
Looking back, I realize I could have prepared myself better for the switch by changing my attitude of one where I can do it all on my own, to building up a community online or in person with others who had gone through similar circumstances. So often I felt alone in my struggles, but each time I reached out I was greeted with understanding and open arms. I realize many of my loneliest moments were caused by my pride and fear of judgement.
Three tips for a smooth(er) transition:
One thing you can do before you begin your transition process is to get connected with the military community in your area. If you are married to someone in the service even while serving you are a military spouse. By attending these events you can begin to meet other spouses for support. There are also great groups online to connect you with others of similar interests.
After building your community the next step is easier, but even if you are in the early stages, reach out for help when you need it. People are willing to make meals, watch your kids in a pinch or just listen. Fear kept me from asking for help. Putting up a façade that everything was okay wasn’t helpful for me and only made me feel more alone and like a failure.
Lastly, leaving the military can make you feel lost. That is why so much of the transition classes are focused on finding a new purpose. If you don’t plan to work in traditional employment, plan to have a hobby, take a class or consider entrepreneurship—a growing trend among spouses who are passionate about particular products or services. The military gave you so many tools during your time in service. Use those tools to create a new vision and dream.Read comments