Why Military Spouses Really Don’t Know What They are Marrying Into

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I am a military spouse. I married a man in the military, but I had little knowledge of what this meant and how it would affect our family.

We dated for three years. We met in college and that third year he told me he wanted to join the military. I was shocked. I knew nothing of military life nor had I known any other military families. I was completely clueless.

It was then that I decided to do some research. What was this life about? What should I expect? Was it really as hard as everyone said? I learned everything I could and more, but still nothing prepared me for the actual life of a military spouse.

Several months before our wedding, I had multiple people tell me to think this through very carefully. Did I really want to marry a military man? Did I understand that he will be gone all the time. Did I understand how hard it was on family and kids? Did I know it can be a lonely sort of life?

I appreciated some of these thought-provoking questions. I thought long and hard about being a military wife. Was I really cut out for this? After much prayer, I realized that this was what God had for me. It was a special life and he had picked me for it. It wouldn’t be easy, I knew that, but I knew I could do it with God and good friends by my side.

Fast-forward almost 7 years later. I’m still here, I’m still surviving, but military life has definitely been different than I ever could have imagined!

Military life is different from what you see on TV. It’s lonely and it’s hard. That’s why it hurts when people say, “Well, you know what you got yourself into when you married a military man.” I’ve heard that a lot as have a lot of other military spouses and it is one of the most frustrating phrases we hear.

Military Spouses

Actually I didn’t Really Know What I Got Myself Into…

1.  I heard about deployments, but I had never experienced them for myself.
People told me he would be gone a lot. They told me the time apart would be hard and that deployments were the hardest of all. But nothing ever prepared me for the heart-wrenching goodbye, the days where it took everything I had to get out of bed, the 16 hour work days he would have, the times everything fell apart and went wrong, and the unsympathetic things people would say.

2. I knew he would work for the military, but I didn’t realize how much they would own him.
When your man works in the military, they own every part of him. He is yours in marriage, but he is theirs in every other way. Nothing prepares you for all the last-minute changes, the “hurry up and wait,” or all the things he will miss because work (the military) always comes first.

3. I knew military life would affect our whole family, but I never imagined how.
When you first get married to a man in the military you don’t have any kids so You aren’t considering how it would affect them. The thing is, military life is very hard on military kids. The moving around a lot, the long deployments and learning that daddy will be away for awhile, and the the general instability of it all.

4. I knew military life would be lonely, but I never realized how much.
I was told military life would be lonely. I would be away from family and friends, I would move a lot. But nothing prepares you for how true that is. You have to learn to adapt, you have to learn to be independent, and you have to learn how to make friends quickly. You have to find your support system at every duty station.

Being away from family is another hard aspect of this. Seeing other family members more then once a year is a treat. We don’t get to have family dinners once a week, or drop the kids off with the grandparents for babysitting. I’ve learned that there are other ways to keep in touch and that family may be far away, but they are always close in our hearts.

5.  I didn’t realize how independent I would have to be.
I knew I would be alone a lot, but I didn’t realize how independent I would have to become. There has been so much that I have had to do alone. There has been so many times I’ve had to tell myself to just get up and go even though it was hard. Then there is the parenting aspect. When my husband is gone it’s very much like being a single parent. I have to make the decisions, pay the bills, and make sure the kids are taken care of and I have to know how to do it all by myself.

After reading all this you may ask, Is it really worth it? And without hesitation, I say a thousand times yes! I would do it all again (and still do) just to be with the man I love, the man God chose for me.

 Why Military Spouses Really Don’t Know…

  •  “No bride (or groom) truly knows what they’re “getting into” when they get married. It’s all about learning and growing together. The same is true about the military: things change, different obstacles and opportunities present themselves over time. There’s no way to really know what it’s going to be like until you’re actually living it. – Joanna
  • “How can anyone truly know? Does everyone know exactly how their marriage will go? What about people who are in accidents and then disabled? You never know. What about a new job? You may think you know, maybe have an idea, but sometimes those ideas are way off. – Kara
  • “We were both clueless when we got married. The military was just a part of the puzzle for us. We had to learn while living through each “phase” in life; military or civilian life.” – Aracely
  • “No two military experiences are the same. And you never know how you might handle different situations.” – Julie
  • “My husband was a recruiter when we met. We lived a civilian lifestyle the first 2 years of our marriage. I had NO idea what I was getting in to nor did I care. I loved him and he loved me. Nothing else mattered. Then… We moved to Korea! I STILL had no idea.” – Mallory
  • “I didn’t know anything about the military, but I did know one thing – I loved my husband. For me, that’s still enough.” – Carly
  • “There are so many ways to prepare yourself, but I don’t think there is anyway to know 100 percent how it will go. Similarly to motherhood, you can read all the books and talk to other moms, but until you take the journey yourself, it’s difficult to truly understand the life. I love military life, but there are certain challenges that happened during our married life that were simply UN-predictable. I think working hard to create a good support network for yourself is really what creates the most resilient military spouse.” – Lauren
  • “You can think you know what you’re getting into, but until you’re living it, you can’t know exactly how things will go. I think marriage in general is like that though. You can think you know that marriage will be hard work, have ups and downs, etc., but until you hit those ups and downs in your own marriage, it’s hard to know what they’ll feel like or how you’ll manage them as a family. You can do your best to prepare, but sometimes life requires you to learn in the moment, not prepare in advance.” – Melissa 
  • “My relationship with my husband predated the Marine Corps. I had no idea what I was getting myself into with the military, but I had already invested my love in him! No matter how dissatisfied I was with aspects of military life, I had to find the silver lining because I knew I wasn’t walking away.” – Lau-ren
  • “I knew NOTHING about the military when I decided to date my now husband over six years ago. I quickly learned that it was going to be rough… but how can you turn back after you’ve already fallen in love? Several friends (of both mine and his) suggested we break up before we became too invested, but we both decided that we’d rather have each other some of the time, even if it was difficult, than not have each other at all.” – Janelle
  • “You never know exactly what will happen living this lifestyle, no matter how much preparation or thought things can change in a moment, finding the strength to live for those moments is hard and can either bring out the best or worst in you. You never know and that’s the truth.” – Erin
  • “I knew but I was enlisted when I met my husband. I really don’t think most women do though. The hours are long and unpredictable. It takes one phone call and your spouse is gone. You have babies while they are deployed. You parent alone. It’s a hard life, but worth every minute of it. I think the best thing about this life is I don’t take time with my husband for granted. When he’s home I wake up just happy to know he’s there.” – Ashley
  • “A lot of military spouses marry young. We are young and new to the military and there is soo much things to learn! There is no way anyone knows truly everything that will happen in their lives. That and even if they know of things that can happen, deployments, tdys, pcsing, those are things you really can’t fully prepare for. That and the sacrifices. You don’t know all the sacrifices you will be giving because yiu haven’t experienced them all yet or even can. For example when you have sacrifices involving your children, you don’t even have children when you get married.

    The only thing you can know is that the military life is nothing like any other. And even the things you know ahead of time or did know ahead of time, IT DOES NOT MAKE IT ANY EASIER! That’s the thing people forget when they make that comment. – Briana

Other posts on this topic:

What about YOU? Have you had this said to you? What are your thoughts on this frustrating phrase?

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  1. Kathryn, I agree with what you’ve shared here but it also helped to read this today. I didn’t marry into the military as my husband enlisted 20 years after we married but I have the experience of watching my son be in the military and the effect on his marriage. Within days of returning home from his first deployment his wife left him. A part of me wants to say, she knew what she was saying yes to when she married him but obviously no one fully understand until you have to walk through it yourself. It still really hurts that she’s walking away that quickly. They do not know the Lord so all I know to do right now is to pray for God to pour His Holy Spirit upon them to draw them closer to him and back to each other.
    Blessings to you.

  2. This blog entry details how frustrating it is for you that people tell you that “you knew what you were getting into.” I would encourage you to take your own advice and consider the same thing when you, as a married woman, compare yourself to being a single parent (#5 on your list). Consider this: your bank account has the benefit of your income and his—a single parent does not have this luxury. You don’t have to re-enter the dating world and face the associated stigma of single parenthood, nor do you even have to make the decision about whether or not to enter the dating world. Your children (probably) have the opportunity to speak regularly with their father. You don’t have to despair as to whether or not you will ever find someone to spend the rest of your life with. You have the luxury of knowing that one day, relief will walk through that door. There is certainly more, but hopefully you get the idea. Military or not, married or not, everyone has circumstances in their life that are challenging; you don’t need to try to make your challenges seem more insurmountable with false equivalencies. Your readers deserve better than that.

    1. I knew that someone would get upset over this, but all I said is that “it’s very much LIKE being a single parent.” I didn’t say I was and I didn’t compare all the other aspects. Just the parenting part. Parenting by yourself is hard. And no, my kids don’t get to talk to their father a lot while he is away. Getting a chance to talk to him while deployed is a luxury. We also do not have dual incomes as I am a parent to two special needs kids and need to stay home with them. We do have the relief and we hope that he will come home. We do have the knowledge that he may not make it if he is in a war zone or in a dangerous job.

      The point of this article wasn’t to put down single parent and their very hard job. I admit it’s one of the toughest jobs out there. The point was to bring awareness to a phrase that bothers many military spouses.

  3. No matter how much you read about it or talk to other military spouses, each person has a unique experience and learns along the way. But this is true when it comes to any type of marriage – there are always challenges to face.

  4. Well done Kathryn.

    You are right when you say people say prior to getting married to think twice about the military side of your lives together. I heard it as did most of our friends. However, not many choose to serve in our nation’s military and that says some wonderful things about the men we married, doesn’t it? Yet, it also speaks to our character as well. Yes, it is not an easy life. (I am not exactly sure where you would even find one of those.)

    Even so, challenges come to everyone. Some days they “weigh” heavier on us than others. While we are LIKE single mothers, we aren’t. While we are strong independent women, we are classified as dependents. While many of us have college degrees and thought we would have careers, we don’t. Life never seems to match our dreams or plans, does it? How you count the blessings in your life and how you over come the challenges it brings you, greatly impact your happiness and marriage, don’t they?

    What we have are marriages that have been tested and stood each and every single test that life in the military could give us.

    So personally, after nearly 24 years of being married to a military man, moving, deployments, work ups, good commands, bad commands, orders changing last minute, raising our kids together & apart, taking in a special needs nephew, sending a child off to college/then to study abroad and all the countless tests we have had, it was worth it. Honestly, could not envision sharing my life with anyone but my husband.

    That is the “happy ending” of any marriage – military or not. : ) Ruth

  5. Well said. I watch my enlisted son and daughter-in-law deal with these things on a daily basis. It is just plain hard. There are certainly circumstances that are very specific to military spouses that those of us on the “outside” cannot comprehend. To say, “You knew what you were getting in to.” is a bit cliche, isn’t it? Do any of us really know what we are getting in to? It is kind of like if someone had said to me, “Well, you knew what you signed up for when you decided to have 4 sons.” Uhhh, not really. Each of us is a product of all of our choices and experiences. And we change and grow with every passing moment. To pretend that any one could possibly know what was coming and how he or she was going to feel about it is just crazy. I thank God daily that my son and DIL are walking with Jesus and seeking His guidance in their decisions. I am so proud of them and the life they are making for themselves. And I will continue to try to encourage and support them in their decisions, whatever they might be. Thanks so much for your post!

  6. Appreciated how honest but tactful this post was! I’m not a military wife, but a good friend of mine is, and I recognize a lot of what you wrote from her experiences. Thanks for the tips on how to be a better friend to her (and what NOT to say) even when we don’t live nearby.

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