By Lizann Lightfoot
Every military spouse struggles with the challenges of military life. We all face deployments, moves, unexpected changes, and time apart from our spouse. Yet some spouses seem to handle the military life roller coaster with calm strength that carries them through the toughest challenges. What is their secret? How do they juggle kids, a job, and going back to school. . . all during a deployment while stationed far from family?
Whew, I’m exhausted just reading about that. I’ll have what they’re having, please.
What makes a military spouse highly effective at navigating military life? They are the same character traits that make anyone successful. I actually learned this from my military kids. My children attend a school that promotes the “Seven Habits,” based on the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. After reading some of the worksheets my children brought home, I realized that these same principles apply to military spouses, too.
1. Be proactive
This habit teaches the principle of taking action over the things you can control, instead of sitting back and waiting for things to happen to you. You learn to face your problems and tackle them. We see this in military spouses who are waiting for orders. They may not have any control over where they will go, but they can start to clean out the house, host a garage sale, and research schools. Military spouses who are proactive can handle change because they tackle things one at a time.
2. Begin with the end in mind
Without a goal, life can seem pretty bleak. If you have a plan for the future, you can work towards it. When it comes to deployments, effective military spouses have this down pat. They have countdowns, monthly celebrations, and deployment goals. You don’t need to think about homecoming every day, but realizing that deployment (or PCSing or training. . .) will come to an end eventually makes things a lot more bearable.
3. Put first things first
No one is good at everything, including strong military spouses. Sometimes the list of things to do before a PCS or a deployment seems long and impossible. Effective military spouses learn to face one task at a time. Just do one thing. Then do the next thing. No one has the time or energy to face every challenge at once. If you prioritize your challenges, you can handle them in bite-sized pieces.
4. Think win-win
This habit is about creative solutions where everyone benefits. Military spouses cannot think of their life as being them versus the military. That type of thinking is self-defeating. Instead, effective military spouses brainstorm ways to collaborate with others to solve their problems.
Need help with childcare during a deployment? Maybe I’ll watch your kids and then you can watch mine. Need help mowing the lawn while pregnant? Talk to a teenager in the neighborhood. Maybe they will push the mower for you for a small fee each week. Want to stock up some freezer meals? Gather friends together to help chop and prep food so everyone goes home with a meal. There are many ways to solve the challenges of military life, but the best solutions find ways for everyone to win.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
Military life can be complicated with all those acronyms, changing plans, and undisclosed locations. Some spouses choose to opt out and ignore the military, focusing on their own career or other priorities. However, this becomes problematic when the service members leaves to train and the spouse knows nothing about the unit or the resources on base.
The more you understand about the military lifestyle, the more efficient you will be as a military spouse. Ask your spouse questions about what they do and listen when they explain the details of their job. Then, when you understand how the military works, you can start to ask the unit and FRG leaders to understand your needs.
This habit means working with others to collaborate and make the best use of resources. Effective military spouses become experts at using the resources available on their base. There are companies and churches willing to support military families in tons of different ways: free care packages, baby showers, clothing, diapers, and more. Many military spouses qualify for MyCAA scholarships or WIC vouchers for groceries. Learn to work with the resources in your area and ask for help. You may be surprised what people will offer!
7. Sharpen the saw
Sharpening means continually practicing and honing your skills. Military spouses are forced to constantly improve their ability to handle military life by repeated deployments and PCS moves. You learn more through each experience and become stronger every time. Deployments and goodbyes never become easier, but effective military spouses learn what strategies and routines work for them.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.