To the military spouse still waiting for normal military life…
My husband is always packing bags, but he never quite unpacks them.
A few weeks ago, my husband returned from a month-long training mission. Each month before that, he was gone for a week to train. A year ago, he had just returned from a seven-month deployment. Soon, he will be leaving for another long deployment. We will spend at least three years living in this house. But during all that time, I’m not sure my husband will ever spend a complete month sleeping at home. It’s a mind-boggling way to live.
Military life has many frustrations. High among the list of complaints from military spouses is that the service member is always coming or going, which makes it difficult to settle into any regular household routine. When he is home, there are certain constants in home life–cooking dinner, bedtime for children, watching a show together, family time on weekends, etc. When the service member is gone for deployments, training, or any TDY assignment, then those routines change. The solo parent has a harder time cooking dinner. Bedtime routines take longer with only one adult juggling all the responsibilities. Weekends are no fun when you are missing part of the family. And the evening silence when your spouse is away can be deafening.
“When your spouse is away, the evening silence can be deafening.” ~The Seasoned Spouse
In ten years of military marriage (and seven years of dating him before that!), my husband and I have experienced plenty of time apart. He is currently preparing for his 7th deployment. Besides that, there have been numerous months away for training or classes. So I should be used to our changing routines. I should be used to managing the house on my own when he is gone. I should be a ‘Seasoned Spouse’ who makes all this look easy, right?
But it isn’t easy.
Every time he leaves, we adjust again. And each time it’s different. The kids are different ages, or there are more of them. (Adding a baby during a deployment is a huge adjustment that I have been through twice now!) We live in a different house, have different friends, or are living farther from family than we were during a previous deployment. The resources available on each military base are different too. So even though we have been through it before, we are about to re-invent the wheel. Again.
Every year is a new kind of ‘Normal’
In between deployments, there are weeks or sometimes months at a time when he is generally home for dinner and seems to have a ‘normal’ job. We can make social plans for the weekend, attend events at the children’s school together, and work on projects around the house together. We plan vacations and spend time with family visitors. But of all my years of experience with military life, those peaceful months would hardly be considered a normal measure of our marriage. Those are the highlights, and sometimes they feel too few and far between.
When he is deployed, my life is quite different. I go into super-productive mode. I workout more. I keep the house cleaner because he isn’t around to throw gear all over the place. I plan things more: I can plan my meals and control my diet. I plan fun events for the kids and hang out with friends. I plan phone dates and Skype dates with family members. I am tired. I am often lonely. But I feel productive, like I am doing my best. That is my ‘normal’ life during deployment. It is NOT the highlight of our military experience, but that feeling of working hard and pushing yourself even when you’re running on empty seems to represent the typical experience of military life. I think most military spouses have experienced that kind of ‘normal.’
When we are in the middle of a PCS move, ‘normal’ is completely different again. We clean out and throw away. We order take-out. We visit family, say goodbye to friends, and Google info about our next home. We live out of suitcases–in hotels, guest rooms, and childhood bedrooms. We are in transition. All we have is our family, so we cling to each other until we are all getting on each other’s nerves. That’s normal too, right?
When we lived overseas, we had a totally different kind of normal. We adjusted to another language and another culture. Restaurants opened at different hours and served different food, but we eventually found that normal. We visited new places, took more plane rides, and went for numerous walks along our town’s beaches. Our normal life overseas was happy, fun, and enriched with great food and cultural activities.
There is no such thing as normal military life
My point here is that there may never be a ‘normal’ to your military life. My mom used to tell me that “Normal is only a setting on your dryer!” Although she wasn’t a military spouse, she was completely right about military life. There is no such thing as normal. Once we get used to one duty station or one stage of life, we start all over again with something new. Military life is full of different stages. Each one is different from the next, but none of them can be considered normal.
“Normal is only a setting on your dryer.” ~The Seasoned Spouse
This is an important lesson for a military marriage. Military life is such a roller coaster ride, full of ups and downs. I often receive questions from readers about how they can survive their current stage of military life. Maybe it is pre-deployment and they are stressed and arguing with their spouse about everything. Or maybe it is during deployment and they feel distant or disconnected, even when they have good communication. Sometimes it is after a deployment, when the service member just doesn’t fit in. People wonder, “How can we make this work?” My response is often the same. I tell them that this is only a stage. Wait a bit, and things will change. Don’t expect your life to be like this forever. Don’t think that this temporary stage will be normal for the rest of your military marriage. Because it won’t be. A year from now, life will be completely different… just wait and see.