After so many years at war, every military spouse, male or female, young or old, experienced or newlywed, has the feeling, the implication, the “understood” moment of what it means to be “a good military spouse.”
Good military spouses never complain. We work hard, hold down the fort, keep everything moving forward, protect our homes and our families and we must never forget that we are NEVER to worry or stress our service members.
Particularly when married to a US Marine, we are told that we are the baggage that comes with a service member. We did not sign the contract and the Marine Corps has never shied away from making it clear that the service member is the priority and we are the after thought. I don’t actually disagree with that stance, but maybe that’s because I’m married to a Marine and have been appropriately indoctrinated into the USMC religion.
But most spouses, regardless of branch, will all come back to you with the same life motto. We are to be strong, we are to be brave, we are to keep it together so that our service member doesn’t have to.
And it’s that mindset that almost broke me. And it almost broke my marriage.
I will never worry him with trivial things when he is deployed or on a training mission, but I took our “duties” to heart. I wanted what was best for the mission and for my husband and his unit. So when he deployed as a newlywed, I hung on so dearly to that role. It was what good military spouses do after all.
I was young. I was naive, and I simply believed that I was doing right by my country and my husband.
In fact, I held it all so close to the vest, devoting all of his re-integration time to him, helping him, adjusting to him, that somewhere in there, I forgot that those “duties” aren’t something my husband and I put in place, but that I simply believed to be the way things were supposed to be. And it was reinforced by other spouses.
Instead it broke my spirit as I lay in bed night after night crying silently that my husband wouldn’t reconnect with the world. I cried in silence when he was at work, or in the garage, or anywhere not near by enough to hear. I never told him I was struggling too. I never explained my needs, my hurts, my worries or even just my feeling weak that I couldn’t seem to hack it as a military spouse based on what little information I had.
But who can live up to that all the time? And is it really good for your marriage?
While I understand a time and a place for all things, and a deployment is probably not the time to discuss your unending fears that he is going to die. I get that. But when my husband came home, I continued in that vein. I didn’t know any better as a newlywed, as a new military spouse, and just as a young person living a roller coaster of a life and not really sure what to do in general.
So, I crumbled. I broke. I bent and swayed and nearly fell over in the gentlest of breezes. And my marriage suffered. We fought, we struggled, we came to the brink of collapse and back again more times than I can count. And it was years later that in a fit of frustration I screamed through furious tears what I felt.
An extremely emotional form of word vomit followed as I shouted every worry, every fear, every stress, every time I didn’t want to keep going, every time I felt inadequate as a spouse and military wife at him and at the universe.
And at the end, for the first time in our marriage ever, he understood me. Not because he was incapable of it before, but because I had taken my role as “a good military spouse” to the extreme.
As a reservist spouse, we have no other families around to help us in this life. We don’t have a community to guide us as newbie’s. Will everyone take it to the extreme? No. But no guidance with only an online community that accidentally reinforces this stereotype (I’m guilty of it too) means it was all too easy for me to do so.
So, my life unraveled under the stress and pressure. And it took a long time for me to remember that I can be a good wife, which will make me a good military spouse by default. Because what matters is what you and your spouse decided to do, how you choose to communicate, and what you both agree upon for your life together (in all facets of your marriage). And while I agree that military life will put you in many situations that make it tough to honestly discuss true feelings, stresses and what have you, it doesn’t mean you should never share them.
Your spouse is your best friend. My husband was sad I was too scared to tell him all I had been feeling all these years. He was disappointed that that is what I thought being a good spouse meant. Because, while his needs were met and his house was clean, our connection was weakened and intimacy with each other compromised.
I was a textbook “good military spouse.” And I really wish someone had told me not to bother.