Military spouses don’t get to have a 5-year plan. Most of the time that’s ok with me, because you know who else had a 5-year plan? Stalin. And that didn’t go so well.
So I like to think that I am a flexible military spouse who has become comfortable with having a 1-3 year plan. I’ve had my fair share of surprises and bad news, but after the initial shock I can shake it off and start cleaning out closets or making deployment preparations like a boss.
But sometimes, even a “Seasoned Spouse” is shaken by the uncertain future and constant changes in military life. Right now, for example, I have no idea where we will be living next year. There are about ten different potential scenarios. At least two involve a deployment, and only three possible outcomes allow us to continue living in this house. The rest of the possibilities could send us literally all over the world.
Uncertainty is part of military life. That doesn’t make it easy.
It’s normal when military life is uncertain. After 10 years as a military spouse, I have gotten used to deployments, PCSing, and writing everything down in pencil. Nevertheless, this recent change caught be by surprise. After living at our current duty station for a little over a year, we were supposed to have about two years left before we would move again. So I was relaxed, feeling settled, enjoying our routines. Ha! Being comfortable is practically a fatal error for military spouses.
So, out of nowhere we got the news that we might be moving, possibly within a few months. Or, on the other hand, we might stay put and do a deployment. Usually, I spend months in advance planning for either a PCS or a deployment. I’m a planner. Any major life event like a PCS or a deployment requires lots of checklists, a binder full of tabs to keep everything organized, and the coordinated help of lots of friends. (Right? I know I’m not the only one who loves checklists!) There are closets to clean out or freezer meals to prepare. But until we know what we are doing, I feel helplessly frozen.
Sometimes, when the military gives your two or three possibilities, you can just prepare for all of them. If it was “We will either move to Virginia or Georgia” then I would start researching schools and housing at both locations. Or if it was “We will either deploy in June or in December” then I would go ahead and get invested in our unit, making friends and planning events. But when the possibilities are completely open, it’s a little more difficult. One person simply cannot simultaneously plan for ten different outcomes. I do not have the time or the energy to worry about every possible scenario.
What can you do when military life is uncertain?
How can you handle NOT knowing anything for sure about next year? It isn’t easy, and there is sure to be stress any way you approach it, but here are some things that are working for me right now:
- Don’t believe anything until it’s official. My husband likes to inform me of all possible scenarios, so I won’t be too surprised by things. I appreciate it, but that means about 75% of the things he says might happen end up changing, or never happen at all. I have learned not to get too worked up by possibilities. I say “I’ll believe it when I see the orders.”
- Stay the course. When you don’t know what the future holds, focus on the present. Don’t quit looking for a job or drop out of a college class just because you might be moving next year. Also, don’t mentally check out of friendships or social obligations. You are still part of your community until you leave, whenever that might be.
- Enjoy family time. When life is uncertain, my go-to action is to plan more family time. No matter what happens, we will be facing it together and supporting each other. Whether my husband deploys this year or next year, we want him to form good memories with the kids. We can do that anytime, even if we don’t have orders.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. When life is uncertain, sometimes I try to cling too tightly to the things I CAN control, like the budget or the housework, or my diet. Usually, this results in me getting grumpy with everyone about the smallest insignificant issues. I don’t want to spend the next few months arguing about every purchase, constantly yelling about dirty laundry, or feeling regret about anything I eat. Instead, I try to make good choices while letting go of the little things that bug me.
How do you handle it when military life is uncertain?