The Top Mindset Lessons I Learned as a Military Spouse
The Top Mindset Lessons I Learned as a Military Spouse
I became a military spouse at 24.
When I married my husband I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.
I wasn’t raised around the military.
I had no idea what to expect from the lifestyle.
I just knew that I loved him and saw an incredible future with him by my side.
My Unexpected Military Life…
But military life is hard.
Being a military spouse is hard.
Deployments, long work hours, weekend duty and all the stinking moves to new places far away from family and friends.
I could very easily get caught up on all of these challenges, the uncertainty…
…and wondering what the hell happened to to box with all the furniture hardware after the last move. (For real though, we really needed that box to reassemble everything!)
But I have learned not to.
I would say the first nine years and four duty stations as a military spouse were the most challenging.
I created a lot of suffering for myself and my husband by fighting against the uncertainty, arguing with reality, giving my emotional power to external circumstances and refusing to ask for help.
(I’m not trying to say that the challenges I experienced as a military spouse are unique. It just seems that military life amplifies the challenge and uncertainties, often making them more frequent than civilian life).
Gave Me Unexpected Gifts.
Little did I know that through the greatest of struggles, I would also be blessed with the greatest of gifts.
Because I was open to learning, exploration, and growth through the challenge, I was able to learn these four mindset lessons as a military spouse:
- Accepting What Is / Presence
- How You Feel is a Choice
- Asking For + Accepting Help
I realized that military spouse life gave me a crash course in figuring them out, long before many of my peers, and tons of opportunities to practice them along the way.
We trick ourselves into thinking that we control our lives.
We think that if we can just plan for every detail, pick the safest and most secure option that we are in control and the outcome will be certain.
Thankfully, military life taught me that certainty and control are all but an illusion.
We never know when we are going to move next, let alone where it will be.
We rarely know with much advance notice when he will be deployed or on temporary duty, gone for months at a time.
So many aspects of family planning that most people take for granted are big, huge uncertainties in our lives.
Which makes planning more than a few months in advance a challenge. (We wanted to take a trip for our 15 year wedding anniversary but didn’t even feel secure enough for that…which is good because it fell during an international move!).
Which always makes you wonder if the couch you want to buy now will fit in the next place.
Which makes you question keeping the extra jackets or if you only be wearing flip flops at the next duty station. (No joke, we moved from Alaska to Arizona, thanks Air Force!).
We have always had to actively manage the uncertainty, or at least our emotions in reaction to not knowing or being in control of so many of the variables of our lives.
Even after 15 years my family still asks me if we know when we are going to move next, where we are moving, when he will be promoted to the next rank… and I always have to remind them that we just don’t know and won’t know until it happens.
But it’s from this place surrendering to radical uncertainty that I have realized just how much certainty is an illusion in life.
That secure job that you were downsized from?
That perfectly planned out career path that you ended up hating?
That perfectly healthy person who found out they have inoperable cancer?
That young mother who died in a car accident on her way home from the grocery store?
There’s so many things in our lives that we take for granted that aren’t promised and are far from certain, no matter how much our brain tries to lie to us otherwise.
The best practice is to decide WHAT you want in life, WHY you want it and surrender the HOW.
Rarely does anything go according to plan, in the exact sequence you dream up.
But if you know what you want and why you want it you can start moving toward it and be flexible and adaptable along the way.
Accepting What Is / Presence.
Byron Katie teaches “When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.”
There’s so many parts to military life that I could argue with (and did in the beginning!) only to create a ton of suffering in my mental and emotional space.
And it kept me from truly living in the present moment – I was arguing with the past and the future and all the ways I thought things should be.
We shouldn’t have to spend our first year of marriage in different countries.
Well, we did.
He was in Korea on an unaccompanied short tour and I was in the US.
We were honeymooners with a 17 hour time difference before there were so many free video and voice communication options on the internet.
It was hard, and I spent a lot of time arguing with how hard it was and how unfair it was when I saw other couples spending time together.
How dare he leave me, again, in a different continent than all my friends and family.
Well, he did, and not by choice, but because he was told to.
I was lonely.
Yet I made it worse by resisting feeling sad and alone.
I choose indignation and anger instead.
I was blaming him when he had absolutely no say in the decision.
It’s not fair that I always have to give up my career aspirations to be the trailing spouse.
It seemed like every time I had a good thing going, making progress, we would get notice of another move.
Which often meant more than six months of lost wages and me feeling like an absolute loser because I wasn’t contributing and I had too much of my self-worth wrapped up in my career and job title.
We spend so much time arguing with what is rather than accepting it.
It creates so much extra mental chaos and emotional drama.
Rarely do we argue with things that we can change or control, when the solution is to choose and control the thoughts and story we create about the circumstance.
Instead we play the victim and give away our emotional power, expecting everyone and everything outside of us to make us feel better.
How You Feel is a Choice.
How we feel is a state of mind, not a destination.
So often I hear people say things like “I’ll be happy when…” followed by new cars, homes, jobs, relationships, income, and a whole mess of other external measures.
Being stationed in Italy helped me realize that our emotional space has nothing to do with external circumstances.
Here we were in Europe, in the Italian countryside, where so many Americans save up often for their whole lives to visit, and fellow service members and their families were miserable.
Many of our friends we were stationed with still found plenty to complain about, would stay close to base and not adventure around Europe.
Here we were, given this incredible opportunity to see the world, and some people couldn’t even see what was right in front of them because they decided to be miserable instead.
Our emotions don’t happen to us, we choose them with the thoughts we think.
Happiness is an inside job.
This is replicated in so many research studies, where happiness isn’t correlated with income after basic subsistence level is reached.
Once people reach poverty level, happiness is no longer correlated with income.
It doesn’t matter what you achieve, what you earn, what you experience. It matters what you think and believe about those things, and the stories you make them mean.
A moment I felt the most achievement was when someone said to me “It doesn’t seem to matter where you and Jason live, you always find a way to have fun.”
I joke that if we get stationed in a few places he can have fun there without me. (I’ll leave them unnamed so as to not get hate mail from the locals LOL).
But in all reality I would follow him and we WOULD have fun.
We would be happy.
We would have a good time.
Because that’s what is important to us and we know that it’s an inside job and not contingent upon what our zip code happens to be.
Asking For AND Accepting Help.
This was probably the hardest for me to learn…I am such an independent person.
I pride myself on being able to take care of myself.
To be the person who always gives and cares for others.
Until I found myself struggling with a once-debilitating chronic illness, my husband deployed, and being new to the base without any close friends to rely on.
I was accustomed to getting frequent headaches.
But one day I had the worst I had ever experienced, a migraine to end all migraines.
I left work after only an hour, went home and spent the next 8 hours on the bathroom floor.
Nauseated, confused, and completely disoriented.
I was too weak to know what was happening, let alone pick myself off the floor.
Luckily I had my cell phone with me.
The doggy day care place was about to close. My puppy needed to be picked up. And I was in no condition to drive.
I knew the only option I had was to ask for help. I called my neighbor, a new acquaintance, in a moment of complete vulnerability and weakness.
I told her I didn’t know what was wrong with me (because honestly in that moment I didn’t know).
She came over, picked me off the floor, got me to bed, and made sure I had what I needed before she left.
She picked my dog up, got him home, fed, and taken care of.
She checked in on me multiple times (and make sure that I didn’t need the hospital and to let the dog out).
I was embarrassed to ask, to be seen in that condition, to be perceived as weak or incapable.
But if anyone else had been in that situation I’d be the first to rush in.
I’d be happy to provide assistance and give comfort – without judgment.
To truly be good at giving, we must also be good at receiving.
To know and recognize that we all have hard moments.
To be grateful for those in the military community who are willing to help perfect strangers…
Willing to pick us up in our most painful and weakest moments…
Knowing full well that they might need the same kindness in the future.
I will always be grateful to my neighbor, and now one of my closest friends.
She answered my call and graciously offered more help than I requested.
I now know there’s no shame in asking and receiving help, because giving is one of the very best experiences we can have.
If I fail to ask for help when I truly need it then I rob someone from being able to give with an open heart.
Grateful for the Challenges
Now I’d even say that I’m grateful for our military life because of who I have become because of it.
I welcome each new move, each new deployment and all the uncertainty in between…
Because I know that these are the circumstances that help me grow mental excellence.
It’s not the circumstances that are the problem.
It’s my thoughts and beliefs about them, which create my emotional experience.
Now I know to check my thoughts about my circumstances.
Because that is what helps me surrender…
To accept what is…
To ask for help…
And choose how I want to feel.
Being a military spouse isn’t easy, but I know I’m up for the challenge now.