When I first started dating my husband, his military affiliation was the furthest thing from my mind. Eventually, however, the reality of being intimately (ahem) connected to a military man moved into focus. I had questions: How will the military affect your love life? How much time will you be able to spend together?
How The Military Will Affect Your Relationship
I can’t sugar coat this: the military will be a part of your relationship, even if you make valiant attempts to keep it out. My spouse and I have made the conscious choice to separate our personal lives from the military. Still, it creeps in.
Please note that the impact of the military on your romance will be different for every couple. Your reaction to it, positive and negative, will be different.
You’ll find that the military impacts:
- Your time together, when, where and how long
- Where you live, should you choose to move with your partner
- Separations, due to deployment or PCS
- Communication styles
- Social engagements
- Your career, based on other choices you make in your relationship
- How much you know about your partner’s military life
Ultimately, you can take each of these impacts as they come. Some will be harder to swallow than others, perhaps. But, speaking as a military spouse of over 13 years, this life, and how it impacts your relationship, is what you make of it.
The Military As A Career Choice
As you begin your relationship, it’s important to understand how the military factors into your partner’s life. Is this a temporary four-year job or it this a 20+ year career? Perhaps it’s something in between?
Not everyone in the military will want to, or be able to, remain in the armed forces long term. Yes, some service members will stay in for twenty or more years. Others will only stay for one four year enlistment or commission.
No matter how long your partner remains in uniform, military service will be in their blood for life.
There are also many ways to be in the military. Enlisted personnel and commissioned officers is one distinction. Military specialties also require different types of work, none less important than the others. There are also special forces, like Navy SEALS or Army Rangers. Finally, there are different services: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard.
All of these things will factor into your relationship with your military loved one.
How Will You Communicate With Your Loved One?
Personality and your romance languages will play more into communication, on the day-to-day level, than the military.
You will need to determine how you best communicate together. How will you resolve conflicts or voice differing opinions? How will you grow as a couple? None of these things will necessarily change because of military affiliation. However, practical things will be impacted.
Your method of communication might change because of deployments, TDYs or other separations. Today, you have lots of options not available to other military couples. You might be able to video chat, text, use other messaging apps, email or send letters. Depending on your loved one’s specific location, some of these options might be unavailable. If they’re out in a remote region, their tech access will be limited and letters might be best. However, many main military locations provide lots of internet access.
What you can communicate might also be affected. On deployment, your partner will not be able to share specific things with you, like deployment date information or about their missions. In turn, you also cannot share this sensitive information with others. This is called operational security, OPSEC, and it is vital to maintaining safety.
Will Joining The Military Change How Your Partner Views You?
In short, let’s hope not. However, as with all relationships, each partner can grow and change because of life experiences.
I met my husband when we were in college. He had already completed a four year enlistment in the United States Marine Corps. After graduation, and with his four-year degree in hand, he was able to commission as an officer. The things he has seen in his almost twenty-year career have changed him as a person. However, our love has remained constant. By the same token, moving several times and mothering two children has changed me. We have grown together.
Couples do also grow apart. It happens, unfortunately. But it is likely not simply because of their military affiliation. It might be a side effect, due to PTSD or changing personalities following long separations, however.
If you do notice a stark change in your partner’s behavior or attitude to you immediately following their enlistment or commissioning, dig deeper to discover the reason. And should it ever escalates to emotional, verbal or physical abuse, please seek help.
Deployment and Your Military Relationship
Deployments are a major stressor for military relationships, both new and well established. You will be separated for weeks or months, up to and sometimes over a year. Communication will be more limited due to distance, their physical location and different time zones.
At home, you’ll need to continue on with your life as usual, just minus your beloved. You’ll still need to go to work, care for any children or pets, live your life. At the same time, your spouse will be carrying on their mission without the comforts of home.
Living separate lives can be challenging under the best of circumstances. And deployments are not the best circumstances.
Before deployment you will need to make a plan for communication, conflict resolution and how you’ll remain connected despite distances. During deployment, remain transparent with each other and openly communicate about your expectations post-deployment.
Here’s the tricky thing: the military is slow to recognize relationships that are not marriage or familial. Girlfriends and boyfriends may not be kept in the loop automatically. Make sure your partner lists you as an approved contact and ensures that you are on all communications related to deployment.
How Big of an Adjustment Will Being Together and Being Apart Be?
It will be an adjustment, but like all things, it is something you will get used to over time.
I remember the first time that we were separated. It felt like the world was ending and nothing would be right ever again. Now, 13 years later, his departures don’t phase me any more. We, the kids and I, keep calm and just carry on. The world did not, in fact, end. And separations do eventually come to an end.
The first few days of our first deployment together were rough. Let yourself wallow in your emotions for a few days, if you are feeling despondent. You are allowed to feel your feelings.
After that, find ways to make your deployment season normal: work, hobbies, friends–life. Put events on your calendar and create excitement for yourself. Build a routine at home that keeps things steady and calm.
Top 10 Tips for a Strong Military Romance
After over a decade living life as a military spouse, I’ve gained a few tips to keep things rolling along.
- Your relationship is yours and not anyone else’s–especially not the military’s. Keep it that way!
- Communicate openly and honestly. Seek help, from a chaplain or other counselor of your preference, when things get rough.
- Social media does not reflect the truth, especially about relationships or friendships. Limit how much you share there, good or bad. What you post online lives forever!
- Distance can make the heart grow fonder–as long as you both are putting in effort to grow in love together.
- Date your partner because of who they are as a person and not because of military affiliation or perceived military benefits. Doing otherwise is a recipe for disaster.
- You are move than your role as a military girlfriend or boyfriend, husband or wife. Develop your own interests and hobbies that make you happy and fulfilled.
- Stick to OPSEC and PERSEC (personal security) guidelines–like the World War II poster says, “Loose lips sink ships”
- You are allowed to be friends with anyone, regardless of your spouse’s rank or role in the military.
- You, unless you are also in the military, do not wear rank.
- Go slowly and take care of yourself. You are allowed to be your own person, to take time to relax and to stay true to yourself.
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Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!