Remembrance (Canada) /Veterans Day (USA) just passed, and for many in these countries, we took a moment of silence to commemorate the men and women who keep us safe. Today, we wanted to feature some of the unsung heroes of the forces: military spouses.
We were lucky enough to speak to four ‘super-women’ whose husbands have been in the military between 13 – 23 years and who are left to run it all while their men are gone for months at a time. We wanted to give them a voice as we can always learn so much from them.
Here is what four strong, opinionated and resourceful Canadian military wives share about coping with long distance relationships, loneliness, communication, careers, kids and running it all:
1. “Hard truth: We are all mistresses with wedding bands on our fingers. Prepare to be alone. He is married to the military; “
Separation is never easy but wives of military men deal with deployments for months at a time, taking care of everything from finances, to childcare, to household repairs and snow shovelling. Although they all admit that it can be exhausting, they have come to rely on neighbours, family, and friends to help make it work. Asking for help when you just can’t do it yourself is a difficult thing to do for a strong, independent woman, but it is something that all of these wives have learned is important in coping and thriving.
The other truth is that military families can also move around a tremendous amount which adds to the stress on relationships with family and friends who are left behind. One woman admits, “Intimacy can become collateral damage of friendship. I can only share so much online or through email and phone calls. It’s not the same as sitting in your kitchen sharing over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.”
2. “Making connections with other women in similar circumstances is key.”
Nobody is going to understand the life more than another military wife. The connections these women make are critical to helping them cope. It means putting yourself out there with every new location, learning to meet new neighbours, joining new support groups, putting trust in people you have just met. These women simply don’t have the option to be wall flowers and have to push past any reservations they have to go out there and make friends and connections in each new place they are stationed.
3. “You try to set up a schedule for communication but it doesn’t always work out.”
With today’s technology where most of us rely on email, smart phones, or skype to keep in touch, these women deal with frequent or extended lack of communication from their men. Imagine having to schedule phone calls and skype sessions, but then having to cancel for reasons that you are not even allowed to know or question. A ‘communication lockdown’ happens when troops are overseas and these wives must sit and wait, maybe never knowing what has happened. Which leads to the next point our military wives wanted to make…
4. “Do you completely trust your man?”
Trust is a fundamental issue for military couples. The men are gone for long stretches, the women are at home to keep everything going. There has to be absolute trust from both sides, particularly when communication is impossible. One wife admits, “I’ve seen time and again that marriages just aren’t strong enough to get through the military lifestyle.”
Hand in hand with that trust is communication. Keeping in touch is one thing, but actually learning to communicate and listen to each other is a skill that many couples lack. When your partner in life is gone for such long periods of time, life goes on at home without him and the wives need to keep a dialogue going, no matter how difficult it can be. “It’s important to talk about everything as it arises because one never know when they will be gone again or for how long. Yet you don’t want to distract them from the job as well. It’s a delicate balance.”
5. “I go where he goes. I take second chair.”
Sometimes the levels of sacrifice these women make are something that very few would ever be capable of. All four of our military wives admit that demanding careers are something that are either put on hold or simply not achievable for women in their position. The frequent movement and the demands of being a single parent usually mean that priorities shift elsewhere.
While one woman maintains “You can have a ‘career’, but you need to learn boundaries and have different priorities” (including part-time work or shortened hours), another believes “I don’t think it’s impossible but highly improbable for a military wife to have a career. It would take two very special people; highly driven, resilient individuals.”
All four women believe that “someone has to keep the home fires burning, and be the constant for the children when your spouse is away that much. Children need stability. They need a soft place to land at the end of the day, or the end of a deployment. It takes a full time job at home to make that happen.”
One of our ladies summed it up best when she said “Every hardship I felt along the way prepared me and made me the person and the woman I am today. All the years of ups and downs have gotten me to the place I am in now: confident, capable, courageous, strong. For me, I wouldn’t want to see into the future because if I had all those many years ago, I may not have wanted to take the journey, but I am sure as hell glad I did.”
We would very much like to thank the four amazing women who opened up to us for this article. Through their honesty and candour, we not only learned what kind of sacrifices and concessions are made by military wives, but are reminded that strong, capable, ‘alpha’ women are in all walks of life and for that, we are grateful.