Military spouses are entitled to a military dependent identification card. The card gives us the privilege of entering military bases, shopping at base stores, visiting base medical clinics, and attending base events. It’s a handy and necessary card to have if you want to be an active participate in the military lifestyle.
On the other hand, I think it is very easy — too easy — to get caught-up in our spouse’s job. I blame this on 2 things:
1. Many of us prioritize our spouse’s career over our own because we (as a family) made the decision that our spouse will serve until they reach retirement (20 years). Many of us spouses must leave our once-flurishing career in order to follow our loved one around the world. Sometimes we find another job, sometimes we don’t.
2. The military world is all-encompassing and all-engrossing. There are fun events to attend, like military balls. Our spouse sometimes must attend mandatory-fun events, and we are dragged along (or go happily!). There are spouse clubs that provide us an instant social circle with people who share our lifestyle. If we live on base or in military housing, we become isolated in our military-centric bubble. Our husband’s community instantly becomes our own community.
I see the pitfalls of losing personal identity in many forms. Some wives begin wearing their husband’s rank or job. They feel very self-important and like they are owed a certain level of respect based on their husband’s job description. This is the obvious pitfall that people point to, but I think this is a rare pitfall because few wives truly act in this manner; it seems like more do because these wives are VERY loud 😉
A different and much more important pitfall is the feeling of stagnation. Some wives feel trapped in their husband’s career. They gave up a lot when they married him — they left their families, friends, career, and personal achievements behind and moved (and continue to move) where ever the military orders their husband. So, although they’re constantly moving and their life is ever-changing, they don’t feel like they can progress personally or professionally because, just as they begin to establish themselves, they will have to pack-up and start over again. They have no “say” in what is coming next, and that can lead to a feeling of stagnation and a sense of powerlessness.
I think it’s important that military spouses stay true to themselves and maintain their own identity. I advocate that we make the best of our military lifestyles, which includes taking part in the social aspect of the military lifestyle, but I think we need to reserve some part of ourselves FOR ourselves.
I am maintaining my own identity by working on my masters degree, prioritizing my fitness, and writing. Working on my masters and my fitness gives me an outlet where I can excel in something that is not military-related. Also, fitness and medicine were important to me long before I met my husband and they are a part of my identity that is separate from my military lifestyle. I also author this blog. Though this blog is military-related, writing gives me head space because my blog is my place to process what I’m experiencing and how my experiences relate to me. Last, I do personal writing that is not published on my blog. I am working on a fictional story right now. It allows me to use my creative energy in a totally different direction.
My happiest friends maintain their identity in other ways. Some of my friends have careers that are accommodating to a lifestyle that involves moving often. Some had to change career fields to have an accommodating career, and some happened to be in an easily-transferrable career already. Another group of friends do not work outside the home and busy themselves with their kids’ schedules or personal projects. Some of my wife friends maintain their sense of identity by traveling the world when their husband is gone. All of these are ways to maintain one’s own identity. There’s no wrong way to maintain our sense of self. If an activity is important to you – whether it’s career driven or personal in nature – do that thing and lose yourself in that activity once in a while. Stay true to what is important to you.
Having your own sense of identity will help you get through the tough military times. Deployments, extended separations, promotions, accidents, and all manner of military-related events put a lot of stress on us spouses. Having something that you can lose yourself in, that is unrelated to the military, is empowering, calming, and allows us to recharge. If all you have are military-centric friends and activities to rely on, you’ll never escape the stress of this military lifestyle.
Being your own person also adds to those around you. The thing I love most about our command’s wives group is that we are all VERY different. Our husbands come from a variety of military career fields, so there isn’t any kind of homogenous feeling. Because our husbands have different backgrounds, all of us have different backgrounds, too. Some of us work, some of us don’t. Some of us have kids, some of us don’t. Our group of ladies have VERY strong personal identities, and when we are together, we rarely talk about the military because we have other, more interesting things to talk about. That’s a powerful thing.
My last point is this — maintaining a sense of self identity translates into so many areas of life. I think if we are in touch with ourselves and feel fulfilled, we are generally happier. If we are happier, our marriage is healthier and our relationships are better. We are healthier. We have less “drama” and fewer issues with ourselves and others. If we are happy, our spouses will be less stressed when they have to leave us for long periods of time. While they’re gone, our spouses will worry less about home life and be more mission-focused, and, therefore, safe.
Maintaining one’s self identity is very important in this military life. I encourage everyone to find something to do that is personally important.