• Erika Dowell

How I approach Military life as a new-ish Military spouse


As you’ll read, the key part of my relationship and friendships is communication. Something that I’ve had to re-learn and continue to learn is how best to communicate with my partner, my friends, and my family.

Early in our relationship, my husband and I spent a lot of time learning about each other’s love languages and communication styles. It is important to me to be ‘in the loop’ and know what’s going on in his world and it’s important for him to know that I’m happy and doing things I like to do. By learning and communicating what’s important to us, we’ve been able to navigate challenges and concerns with very little stress.

Communicating when your partner is away is hard. Don’t forget to remember that even if your loved one isn’t calling, writing, texting, emailing, snail mail, smoke signaling, doesn’t mean that they don’t miss you and don’t want to come home. They are busy. Deployments have a way of keeping our loved ones busy almost every hour of the day with important work. When they do have time, they might not have access to send a message. Be patient. They will get back to you. They are thinking of you and wish they could be closer.

I like to use the time apart to learn about new ways we can communicate together, care for each other, and ensure that our relationship isn’t caught up in the same old routine. Trust me, we hate being away from each other for such an extended period of time but making the best of the time apart can has helped us forge a stronger bond.

You can pick your ‘family’

I’ve learned over the last few years that home is truly where the heart is. Home isn’t a house, but rather a feeling. Following that same thought, I think it’s important to address that you can pick your family. The military family is strong, supportive, and around when you need. Even when it’s hard to get back to be with our respective childhood family, we are able to spend important days or holidays with our chosen family for similar special memories.

The beautiful thing about the military family is that you’re never alone. In times when your partner is away on a deployment or tasking, you still have support through those lonely times. You have people who just get it and know what you mean when you say ‘this sucks’ and you don’t need to elaborate.

Setting and managing expectations

William Shakespeare once said that ‘Expectation is the root of all heartache.’ This is absolutely true. When you set unrealistic goals or expectations, you will ultimately be disappointed and let down. As a spouse, I’ve had to learn to go with the flow and manage my expectations around certain things. I know that I can’t plan anything big during a posting year and I definitely can’t plan anything too close to deployment/tasking dates. The joke is it’s always a hurry up and wait game, but this is true.

The best way that I’ve been able to work through this is to start making the most of the situation. Plan for the worst, prepare for the best. I’ve started looking at it like an adventure and a really fun way to see Canada. Not every day is like this, but when I try to see the positive, the expectations can be met.

My goal here is to remind you to try to set expectations that are manageable and attainable. If you or your partner are new to deployments or taskings, you can only make a guess at what will work. Don’t be afraid to reach out to resources that can help set and manage these expectations. One of my best resources have been other military partners or spouses in a similar lifestyle as me; working full time, no kids, and nowhere close to family. Together we can support each other and be the grounding that we each may need from time to time.

Comparison is the thief of joy

I have been a member of several military spouse groups and the one thing I learned in these groups is that comparison is the thief of joy. If you are constantly comparing your relationship to others, you’ll never be happy with your own. If someone’s spouse called them, emailed them, and so on, but your spouse isn’t able to get to a computer or phone, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and a fight that is unnecessary to have.

Rather than thinking that someone got the dream posting, don’t forget that your dream posting might not be their dream posting and vice versa. Someone’s spouse might not deploy for years, and another might deploy every year. Each role, from what I’ve learned, is different and requires different needs.

One way that I’ve navigated this area is to circle back to communication and expectations.

Separate but together (Sherwood, 2009)

Being a military spouse isn’t without its challenges, of course. More and more, I’m learning that military couples work out because they’ve learned how to be independent while being together. Even before I met my husband, I knew I am fiercely independent, passionate about relying on only myself for what I need and being equal to everyone. Similarly, he is all of those things not only because of his personality, but also his job. You probably have noticed a theme throughout this whole discussion around being independent and finding ways to be without your person, whether a spouse or friend. That isn’t by accident. I think that the reason that one of the more important lessons I’ve learned in the last 3.5 years is that you can be your own person while celebrating and supporting someone else. It isn’t that simple, but I think some of the most successful relationships have been able to build upon each other’s strengths and independence to create one hell of a kick ass relationship.

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