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How to Have a Happy Mil-Life

June 5, 2013

ETA some initial thoughts:

I don’t know how, but someone on my Twitter feed is pulling a total fucking bait and switch on me. I keep somehow ending up reading Spousebuzz posts lately, and I swear I’mma hulksmash something the next time I end up reading complete and utter bollocks like this.

Don’t get me wrong. Advice columns are a genre all their own, typically full of trite isms and smarm and patronizing suggestions, and that’s why we like reading them. But this particular advice column lit my ass on fire. Why? Because of its condescension, sketchy advice, and assumption that we Navy wives with a happy life share a hivemind and an addiction to pearls and potlucks.

I thought about taking the post down piece by piece and showing why it’s completely ridiculous and should be killed with fire and perhaps a few loads of nitro. But I’d be here all day and for no reason. The people who saw that link either love it (and like the author, will never understand why this piece hit every nerve because of our completely different worldviews) or have devised other ways to kill the post (with a grenade, with an ax-wielding Texan on bath salts, etc.). As much as I want to crack jokes about the advice to “dress your family in anchors” being a great way to teach your kids how to survive a keelhauling, I will refrain. After all, I’m sure showing “spirit” about a service might actually somehow be a vital piece of a milspouse’s happiness…I guess. O.o

Instead, I will provide some of my own advice and an open forum for others to add theirs. I pinky swear, I will do all I can to avoid the isms and smarm. But this amounts to an advice column, so you’ve been warned.

There is no one way to have a happy life when you’re a Navy wife, and advice that assumes all Navy spouses (or even wives specifically) share a pearl-encrusted hivemind is ridonculous. I know, I’ve only been a Navy spouse for 18 years, but I’d like to think I’ve seen a wide variety of my tribe pass through our lives, and I’ve noted that no two will handle the Navy life the same way, much less thrive in it. I’m pretty sure that goes for all branches of the military.

But every spouse has experience and comfort to share, so it’s always helpful when we speak up and offer our own to each other–not as trite generalizations and servings of sugary Kool-Aid, but as real, actual, helpful advice that doesn’t oversimplify or minimize the conflicts and pressures of military life. Maybe something works for you. Maybe it doesn’t. Share your own in the comments, and let’s get a real and helpful list of advice for a happy military life.

Find Your Mil-Bliss. When it comes to getting involved with events and people on base, some love it, some loathe it. Don’t assume that your only outlets will be affiliated with your spouse’s job. When you’re getting your sea legs as a new spouse or even after a recent PCS, test the waters. See how you like it. Don’t pressure yourself to volunteer if it’s not for you. Don’t pressure yourself to get involved if it’s not for you. Just because your husband or wife has joined the military doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. You can be a supportive spouse without involvement. But if it works for you, fabulous! There are tons of opportunities to be involved, so you’re in luck.

Find your Civ-Bliss. The military will fondly remind you constantly–even as it voluntells you otherwise via your spouse–that you are not military. You are a civilian. Be okay with that. In fact, enjoy the freedoms you have that your spouse does not. 😀 When you’re new to the life or new to a duty station, don’t feel pressured to jump into a new life there. If you’re looking for a job, take advantage of both military and civilian help, but do everything you can to ensure that the civilian life you lead makes you happy.

Build Your NetworkWhen underways and deployments and TADs happen, you’re going to need a local network. Not everyone wants a lot of friends, but having even a group of acquaintances you meet with once a month for a book club or a movie night or a moms’ night out event will help you endure the endless parade of separations and stress. Chances are good you won’t be near any friends or family, so put yourself out there and find a local family of your own. Civilian or military or happy mix, it doesn’t matter. What matters is giving and receiving support and a social outlet.

Excercise. Because endorphins.

Find Local Treasures. Your current home has unexplored gems where you can spend time, refuel, recharge. I know it was much easier when we were childfree, but just letting yourself get lost and finding your way home again can result in some amazing discoveries that change your experience–and your stress level–in your town. Is there a really cool spot tucked away on the base where you can sit and meditate? Is there a little shop hidden on a back street that carries the coolest craft supplies? Are there tours and parks where you can learn history or sample local wares (mmm wine)? Don’t let xenophobic tendencies hold you back. The military might send us to some truly armpit cities, but boobs are just around the corner, and who doesn’t love boobs? They’re totally awesome and amazing. They feed babies, after all. All by themselves! Even better, sometimes (particularly after a certain age) boobs are in the armpits. Bladow!

Keep an Open Mind. It’s hard, I know. Even across the US, cultures vary wildly, and the unfamiliar can feel threatening or alien. But remembering that you are just as alien to everyone else should help with that perspective thing.

Vent. Find a venue. Let it out. It’s healthy, and if you drop f-bombs, you’ll feel even better. Science says so, so you know it’s true.

Treat Yourself. Your spouse might be the one in dangerous situations, dealing with long hours and high stress. But don’t downplay the stress that translates to us: the worry on good days, the dread and fear on bad days, the long hours, the additional responsibilities, the lack of outlets, the instability, the inability to build a satisfying career of our own. It’s a lot to deal with, and we deserve time off and away. Find opportunities within your budget or–gasp–take advantage of programs on base that allow you to treat yourself with the things you like or like to do. And no guilt! You’ve earned it.

Manage Your Expectations. Probably the biggest issue I struggled with for the first ten years of this life was expectation management. Every time I was okay with or even excited about a coming PCS or other change, the Navy would yank it away from us and saddle us with something decidedly less awesome. Every time I got my hopes up or made an assumption, we were denied. It’s so important, in a culture where everything changes fast and often at the last minute, to suspend expectations and roll with the punches. After ten years of withstanding some pretty bruising impacts because I refused to roll when the Navy punched, I can say my life is a lot happier now that I have accepted that I don’t have the first frakking clue where we’re going to be this time next year…or next month. Of course, this meant finding workarounds on things that don’t roll when I do–a portable career, the willingness to homeschool until we found an alternative, a family that would happily let me move in during an unexpected surge deployment, independence and a separate civilian tribe with more stability than my military tribe. This takes time, and expectation management must be cultivated, but it’s so worth it not to take the brunt of one crushing blow after another.

What are your suggestions for a happy military life? What has worked for you? Let’s confab and offer each other our perspectives.

(cross-posted with 280% more f-bombs at Snarky Navy Wife)

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