When approached to write a piece about how military spouses cope, I immediately began thinking about why we need to cope differently than any other spouse. While it is true that military spouses face challenges many others do not, it is important to remember that the vast majority of these challenges are not exclusive to us. This is not meant to minimize anyone’s difficulties; I am simply challenging you to think about the broader picture. We have all seen the “dependent” jokes – you know the ones. The sad part is that those stereotypes can come from a place of truth.
YOU ARE MORE THAN JUST A SPOUSE
The best advice I have for coping with military life is to make sure you have an identity outside of being a military spouse. More often than not, many military spouses will start to lose their sense of self due to their spouse’s career. They start to use the same acronyms, figures of speech, etc. While this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, it can go too far, especially when someone seemingly bases their entire identity around what their significant other does for a living. One of the biggest drawbacks is limiting your coping outlets. How, you ask? By allowing your life to revolve around “military culture.”
Most humans want to be around people with similar interests and experiences. It has been that way for years. The problem is when there is little diversity in our social circles. If all you hang out with are other military spouses, and that is all you have in common, all you will hear about are things associated with that group, creating echo chambers. We could go into great detail about the toxic side effects, but that should be saved for a different article.
DIVERSIFY YOUR ACTIVITIES AND COMMUNITY
Diversifying your hobbies and interests greatly increases your ability to cope with the stressors you face on a daily basis. Admittedly, sometimes we all need to vent, to just get whatever is bothering us “off our chest.” This really should not be our only way of coping. Why on earth, if I am stressed about “military life,” would I want to be around a bunch of people who remind me of the issues and talk about them ad nauseam? I would rather go to the gym, hiking, swimming, etc. Something NOT associated with the military.
Because the vast majority of male military spouses are not included, we have to do this anyway by default. Most of us have nothing to do with the military, as most women won’t accept us. The other male spouses I know, and many women too, have a wide range of hobbies and interests, most of which involve staying as far away from military culture as possible. Because of this, the conversations I have between those whose identity revolves around being a military spouse and those whose identity does not are wildly different.
You will rarely hear anyone in my circle discuss things concerning the military, and there are military spouses in my circle. This is because we are not in the military. We don’t use acronyms (OCONUS, CONUS, OPSEC, etc.). The subjects of our conversations are often about shared interests, not what our spouses do at work. The reality is that being a military spouse is generally a temporary situation. One day, our loved ones will leave their career in the military, and we will no longer be “milspo’s.” What happens then, if you’ve based your identity around that?
DON’T LET ONE THING DEFINE YOU
Have you ever met someone who couldn’t move on from something? I know I was that person once. Every story I told, I just HAD to let people know about my past because it became so wrapped up in my personality. That was until one day I was called out over it. I was told, “We get it; you used to do that. You don’t anymore. It’s time to move on.” At first, I thought he was being rude. I later realized he was being honest. I was being “that guy.” I then realized that I could not allow something to define me that way ever again.
I share that story to show you that I know it can be hard to not let things define us. But, by diversifying your pursuits and hobbies and allowing all of those things to play a PART in who you are, your ability to overcome adversity grows as your tool belt expands from a single hammer to an array of tools to help you deal with whatever life throws at you. Besides, we’ve all heard the phrase, “Everything looks like a nail if all you have is a hammer.”
Toby Ralph is a military spouse, father, and physical health advocate. As a personal trainer and natural bodybuilding coach, his focus is improving mental wellbeing through physical fitness. Gaining control over your mental and physical health is key to successfully navigating the stressors you face daily. His story was the cover article for Military Families Magazine in December 2022.