Managing changes – military spouses must adapt, stay connected

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The life of a military spouse has about as many moving parts as a traveling carnival: juggling deployment cycles, the bumper cars of employment and continuing education, the fun house of keeping kids happy and, of course, the magician’s hat that contains the location of your next duty station.

The balancing act of managing constant uncertainty and upheaval would send many screaming for the exit, but military spouses are nothing if not professional adapters.

But what happens when the military Ferris wheel you’ve come to know so well comes to a screeching halt?

There are many resources available for service members as they retire or transition from service, but what about information for those spouses and family members for whom the military lifestyle is all they’ve known?

Here are a few ideas to help guide you through life after the circus.


Acknowledge the changes

It’s okay to say it: "This is weird." Everything you’ve known, the way of life you’ve grown accustomed to – it could all be changing soon.

Contrary to popular belief, simply pretending like something isn’t even slightly difficult doesn’t help you process things any faster.

Here’s an interesting exercise to try: get out a sheet of paper and list the things that make your life "military."

List everything – the things you love, the things you don’t like so much, the quirks, etc. Looking at the list, what will change once you leave the military? Are there activities or events that you will now have limited or no access to? How will you replace these things locally? If you are not relocating post-separation, what will it be like living in the same town for a while?

By drawing everything out and talking about it, you might find that things aren’t going to change too drastically, and even if they are, you’ll be able to find options to manage the differences.

Be sure to talk about your fears, concerns, and anxieties with those closest to you, as chances are, they’re feeling uneasy about some of the changes, too.


Create a blueprint

Your service member will take part in a transition assistance program, and many of these programs are increasingly more spouse-inclusive, helping families to come up with long term goals and strategies to organize finances.

It’s incredibly important to discuss these elements of your retirement, but it’s also important to create more individual versions of this document.

Where do you, personally, want to be in five years? Ten years? What does happiness or working toward fulfillment look like to you? Set large goals then scale backwards to fill in the smaller tasks it will take for you to complete those goals.

Carving out your space and setting definite markers for your life will keep you active and engaged, and will lessen the feeling of swimming without a life vest in the expansive open water of the world.


Stay connected – build your network

Even if you won’t be moving after separating from the military, it’s important to stay connected.

You might not be able to walk next door to chat with friends or make a quick run to the commissary – but just a little bit of extra effort to build a new community of support will be invaluable in the long run.

With a social media network available to meet every possible need you have, staying connected from near or far is easier than ever.

But while sharing pictures of cute puppies on Facebook is worthwhile, you can also use these virtual communities to your advantage in other ways. If you’re relocating to a new city, seek out information about the area and get the insider perspective from people you know (or knowledgeable strangers).

The same goes for your career. Will you be entering the work force? Thinking of going back to school?

Seek out people who have experience finding work in your field and can offer you advice, provide job leads, or can help you make valuable contacts.

It might not all seem clear now, but with some preparation, transitioning from the military doesn’t have to feel like you’re fumbling around in the dark.

You have the tools to make this work, and can round out the transition with help from great resources like Military OneSource, and, most importantly, the military community that, even though you are no longer active duty, you will always belong to.

Family Strong – Army Strong!