Bouncing a baby on her right hip, she looked away from me and stared out the window. Then slowly and carefully—sentence by sentence—she revealed what was haunting her as a military spouse.
“I was 19 when I quit college to elope with my husband. I was 20 when I got pregnant with my daughter. It wasn’t planned. It just happened. I mean, I’m happy, but this isn’t where I thought I would be right now. I thought I would be a college graduate with a promising career growing and developing beside me.”
She continued revealing more of her darkest secrets as a military spouse. It was as if she needed to purge all of the weight military life brought into her life.
“I thought I would have all these friends and we’d go out after work for happy hour. We’d muck it up about this and that going on at the office. I thought I would go home after work and my husband would be there. Despite everything in my life going in a different direction, I feel like if he was at least here—not always deployed or training or something else—it would make a difference.”
I cocked my head to the side, nodding in agreement. “It’s hard,” I said.
She laid her burden down and I desperately wanted to pick it up for her. I reached my hand out, touched her shoulder and told her what I think every military spouse needs to hear about mistakes.
The biggest mistake a military spouse can make.
This isn’t about quitting college versus staying in college. This isn’t about getting married young or getting married “old.” And this certainly isn’t about having babies or not having babies.
This is about remembering who you are. This is about remembering to take care of yourself. This is about nurturing yourself as a person despite the uphill battle of military life.
You see, your life as a military spouse revolves around deployment and PCS moves and supporting your service member’s career. Your life revolves around managing your household and taking care of the kids and making sure you don’t misplace your power of attorney for the seventh time.
But in that equation, we are all forgetting one thing.
Because when we forget self-care, we lose ourselves somewhere in the vast endless space of military life nowheresville. The years pass us by. The deployments, homecomings and duty stations all become a blur. Before you know it, you don’t even know who you are anymore beyond “military spouse.”
All of your career aspirations, creative hobbies, and close friendships got left behind in your original hometown.
It’s empty. It’s sobering. It’s a sucker punch straight to the gut.
Self-care for military spouses.
Not taking care of yourself is the biggest mistake you can make as a military spouse. All of us—me and you included—need to take care of ourselves. We have to do things that are important to us. We can’t allow military life to swallow us whole.
How military spouses can implement self-care starting today:
1. List 3 things that are important to you right now—this year. That make you happy. That nourish your soul. It doesn’t matter how selfish or wishful they are. Write them down. This could be putting together an awesome Pond’s skin care routine, taking a class, visiting friends, or going to a coffee shop. Anything at all.
2. List 3 things that are important to you in the next 5 years. The goals that you want to accomplish in that time frame. The things that will nourish your soul and make you happy in the next 5 years. It doesn’t matter what they are. Write them down. This could be finishing your degree, learning to scuba dive, or saving money with military deals and coupons so you can travel to Spain. Anything at all.
3. Talk to your spouse. Military marriage is hard. Communication is hard. But we have to do it. Tell your spouse what’s important to you right now and in 5 years. Then talk about how together you can make those goals come to fruition.
4. Stay accountable. It’s so easy to scrap our goals and let them fall by the wayside. Stay accountable to your goals by writing them down, sharing them with others and asking them to help keep you on track.
She isn’t a military spouse anymore.
Sadly, she left her husband and moved back to Connecticut. Maybe she was hoping to find her 19-year-old-career-aspiring-fun-loving-self back there. I’m not sure. Only she knows.
This is something I think about when I try to cut corners and not take care of me. I can’t allow myself to get left behind. I’m in this for the long haul. My military marriage is too important.
The work we do as military spouses to keep our military families strong is a function of self-care.
And it’s the most important action a military spouse takes to grow her marriage, care for her kids and thrive in military life. Together, let’s nourish it.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of MSB New Media & Unilever. The opinions and text are all mine.