For those who have been married, do you remember when you got engaged and people would give you all kinds of unsolicited advice? I remember my aunt telling me that when you marry a man, you don’t just marry him … you marry his whole family. No one ever tells you that when you marry a military man, you don’t just marry the man … you marry the military as well.
It’s a huge challenge to have a happy marriage. It takes a lot of sacrifice and it’s hard work. But when you marry an Airman, there’s a third wheel in the marriage and that’s the Air Force. At the beginning of my journey as a military spouse, there were times I really resented that third wheel.
Over the course of the past 17 years, that resentment gradually grew into acceptance, and now I can say I really do love and appreciate the Air Force. Our marriage is stronger and happier, not despite the Air Force, but, in many ways, because of the Air Force and the challenges faced along the way. I’d like to share with you a few things I’ve found that have helped our marriage during our Air Force journey.
First, be flexible. I’m sure many of you have had this experience: You’ve arranged to have a special meal for your family at 6 p.m. Your spouse said he would be home on time. The clock strikes 6, 6:30, 7 p.m. The food is now cold, and you are really frustrated. Your spouse walks in the door an hour later and explains there was a situation at work that had to be dealt with before he could come home.
I went through this frustrating scenario dozens of times during our first years in the Air Force. I finally realized my husband’s job was never going to be a “nine-to-five” (or even a seven-to-six for that matter). He has to stay until the work gets done. I came to the realization I needed to plan as if he wouldn’t be home for dinner, and then if he did get home in time, it was a pleasant surprise. Most days he does make his family engagements on time but remembering to be flexible has made me so much happier.
Second, be a friend. There will be times when you’re “holding down the fort” while your spouse is deployed or on temporary duty. You need a support system to help you through those times. There are lots of places to meet good friends: church, squadron functions, the community, spouse organizations, PTA, etc.
A good friend of mine here at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, always says, “It’s not the base that makes an assignment enjoyable, it’s the people you meet and connect with.”
There will be times when you are in need of help, and there will be times when your friends really need your help. I’ve found so much joy through opportunities to serve others in our Air Force family. When my spouse is TDY or deployed, he knows I will be OK because I have a healthy support system of good friends. This knowledge makes it much easier for him to leave our family and focus on his job while he is away.
Third, be positive. Your family has waited with anticipation for permanent change of station orders. Where will you go next? Germany? Hawaii? Florida? Your spouse comes home and … drum roll please… he announces that your family will be headed to the frozen tundra of Keflavik, Iceland, for the next three years. This is not the dream assignment you had in mind.
I’ve learned my children and spouse are watching my reactions in moments like this, and they take their cues from me. If I try to put my best foot forward when preparing for a new location, my family will follow suit. A positive attitude is huge when it comes to helping your family transition to a new base and community.
I am so grateful for this Air Force journey and how it has strengthened our marriage. As I’ve tried to be flexible, to build a strong support system, and to be positive on this journey, our marriage and family has become stronger and happier. Our children are building character and becoming more resilient and the Air Force has progressed from being a third wheel to being a special part of our family.