What’s the No. 1 rule for military spouses?
Don’t have an answer? That’s good because there are no rules for military spouses. None. Zip. Zero. The military is comprised of guidelines, protocol and SOPs for its service members. Military spouses may recite those rules, but we aren’t listed in those manuals.
We write our rules.
This month at NextGen MilSpouse we’re taking off the mask, debunking myths (including the widely held myth of the “good” military spouse) and tapping into our alter egos of awesomeness through a journey we are calling “Unmasking Your Potential.” In this month-long conversation, we are inviting our readers to be true to themselves in order to reach their full potential.
Finding our potential may be hard because frankly as military spouses, we frequently wear masks or personas to hide our true feelings, our dreams and our disappointments.
Our emotional masks are our battle armor in military life.
They protect us … but they can also harm us. Through the years as a military spouse, I’ve tried many different masks in attempts to make life easier. Here’s the truth: it’s easy to wear a mask, but it’s not healthy. It’s not productive.
A mask is keeping you–like my mask kept me– from reaching my full potential. There’s no denying that.
5 Masks I’ve Worn During My 10 Years as a Military Spouse
Stay Mum Mask
When I’m wearing this mask, I’m silent about my partner’s military service. I actively try to hide the fact that I’m a military spouse. I don’t want to rehash our list of 5 duty stations and answer the question of “when are you moving?” I peel off the label of military spouse and refuse to affix it to my chest.
Asset of the Stay Mum Mask: When I introduce myself to potential friends they don’t categorize me with a specific label. They don’t lump me into the stereotypes they’ve developed over years. I’m seen as a woman of mystery with an absent husband.
Liability of the Stay Mum Mask: I can’t be the woman of mystery forever. As this friendship or professional relationship develops, at some point, my husband’s job will be discovered (like when we have PCS orders) and then I look like a liar.
Service to Our Country Sainthood Mask
When I’m wearing this mask, my professional ambitions are swept under my white IKEA rug. There they stay until we unpack for the final time and I realize that I had aspirations too. But my dreams were put on hold because my sole purpose is to serve my country by being a martyr. My every action is to make life easy for my husband, my children, my parents, my neighbors, my husband’s command and my friends. I never ask for help because I don’t need help. I can do it all by myself. And I will until I collapse on to my bed from exhaustion.
Asset of the Service to Our Country Sainthood Mask: There isn’t any conflict in my home life because I accept without question our military life. I pat myself on the back because I’m giving everything to be the “good” military spouse.
Liability of the Service to Our Country Sainthood Mask: No one likes a martyr. Not even priests. What starts out as a simple act of service can become a bitter seed planted in my heart if I’m not careful. When I put everyone else’s needs before my own needs, my health and wellness suffers greatly.
Not the Normal MilSpouse Mask
“I’ll never fit in so I’m not even going to try,” is my mantra when I’m donning this mask. No one likes me because I’m not the same as them. I’m not enough of (fill in the blank) and I’m too much of (fill in the blank) to be a good military spouse. So I’ll avoid FRG meetings, birthday balls, the commissary, base housing and promotion ceremonies. It’s my service member’s career. It’s just not my thing.
Asset of the Not the Normal MilSpouse Mask: I can be a hermit. I don’t feel pressured to volunteer for bake sales or attend social events. I have an excuse. It’s written on my mask: I’m not the not normal military spouse.
Liability of the Not the Normal MilSpouse Mask: When I tell myself that I don’t fit in with the military community, I risk not experiencing one of the benefits of the military: the community. Call it insta-friends. Call it the secret sisterhood. Call it the military spouse mafia. When I refuse to participate because of my insecurities, I sever ties with a community that wants me, my opinions and my involvement.
No Emotion Mask
I want to cry, but I can’t cry. I must be strong…and resilient…and positive for my children. I don’t want them to know that mommy doesn’t love everything about military life. If I’m positive, they’ll be positive about the move, right? When I’m wearing this mask, I don’t show any weaknesses. I always look forward and refuse to reflect on the challenges of military life.
Asset of the No Emotion Mask: I don’t have to stop to process my emotions. I don’t have to admit to my children that I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have to feel or reflect. I stay numb and I tell myself that I’ll deal with that later.
Liability of the No Emotion Mask: The liability of the No Emotion Mask hits the fan when “later” comes. It’s that moment when I have to deal with my emotions and when the turmoil churning inside me refuses to be contained any longer. Wearing this mask leaves me mean-spirited and unsympathetic toward newbie military spouses. I keep an internal scorecard of military life (deployments, hardship tours, PCS) and constantly compare myself to others.
I Hate Military Life Mask
When I wear this mask, I complain to anyone who will listen via Facebook, Twitter, at the coffee shop, at my workplace and at my church group about “HOW MUCH I HATE MILITARY LIFE.” The root of my problems is the Department of Defense. No bread? Stupid commissary is closed on Mondays. Scratched furniture? Stupid movers can’t do anything right. Alone on my birthday? Stupid field exercise. I daydream about civilian life. In civilian life, there is nothing to hate.
Asset of the I Hate Military Life Mask: I have thousands of followers on Twitter who RT my rants. I have a clear exit strategy outlined to my envisioned civilian world.
Liability of the I Hate Military Life Mask: I spend so much mental energy planning for my future without a military ID that I’m too tired to live in the present. I’m not taking advantages of the perks that I’ll complain about not having once my sponsor trades in the title of “service member” for “veteran.” I’m lonely. No one wants be friends with Debbie Downer.