When I started dating my wife, I was swept away into a military world filled with more acronyms than I knew existed, phrases like “I need to go use the head,” and the hassle of whipping out my driver’s license every time we drove onto base. Becoming immersed into the Navy lifestyle was a pretty big shock, but was something that I warmed up to fairly quickly. I had never pictured myself marrying into the military, but could easily see my relationship with my then-girlfriend turning into something more.
Eventually, my prediction came true and Kali and I got hitched in March 2014. When we entered the Pass and I.D. building to get my military ID, we had to sign in on this piece of paper that had a place for the sponsor’s name and the dependent’s name. After a confused hesitation on my part, Kali pointed out that I was her “dependent.” I looked at her with wide angry eyes and began to argue with her about how that was most definitely not true. Kali interjected and explained that it wasn’t her view of me, but was the terminology the Navy uses for spouses and children. Still frustrated, I signed my name under the “dependent” category.
Why on earth am I considered a “dependent” when one of my main strengths is my independence?
After a fair amount of time thinking about the whole situation, I realized that I most definitely do not need to shed my identity just because the woman I married happens to be in the military. Here are some methods I’ve found useful to stay true to who I am, while at the same time being a military spouse.
Remove the Military Spouse Mask: 5 Ways to Maintain Your Identity When You Carry a Military ID
- Develop Your Unique Qualities. Every single person has traits that make them stand out from everyone else. Personally, I love public speaking. It’s somewhat unusual to meet someone who gets an adrenaline rush from addressing a large group of people that they don’t know. But I love it! If I had chosen to conform to the stereotypes of being a military spouse, I would never have enrolled in a public speaking course at the local college where we are stationed. I chose to take one of my qualities that makes me unique and express myself through further cultivation of that trait.
- Fulfill Your Passions. When I first moved on base with my wife Kali, it was June. I work as an English Language Paraeducator for the local school district. But during summer, kids don’t go to school, so I don’t go to work. While my wife went to work everyday, I was at home. I tried to entertain myself as best as I could, but found myself falling into a rut of monotony. All of my passion for life drained out of me, day by day, until I could barely recognize myself.
Luckily, my job started back up in August and I found a new lease for life through my work. I got out of the house, translated for Spanish-speaking families and got to work with kids. I got to do all the things that I love, and it helped me find myself again. Doing work that you love doesn’t necessarily have to involve a paycheck. If you’re passionate about animals, volunteer at your local animal shelter. If you love helping those in need, donate food and your time to a homeless shelter in your area. Being involved in causes that you care about has the same effect as having a paying job that you love.
- Distance Yourself from Toxic Military Spouse Groups. During the summer before I started up the new school year, I had nothing better to do but scroll through Facebook constantly. I ended up getting connected to the local military spouse groups in my area. At first, I was ecstatic. I found other people in the same boat (no pun intended) as me and I figured that I could relate to these people. As time went on, I became immersed into the drama surrounding the groups. Constant bickering, complaining and negativity ended up becoming a daily occurrence on these sites. Eventually, I decided to remove myself from the Facebook groups and immediately found myself feeling more positive and uplifted. Facebook groups and other support networks can be a blessing, but can also be a curse if they tear you down instead of lift you up.
- Schedule Mandatory Me Time. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is essential that you make time for your needs every once in a while. It’s easy to get pulled into the mentality that you have to put yourself last and focus on the needs of everyone else around you first. In the long run, this will burn you out and make you lose sight of who you are. For me, I highly enjoy reading. It’s one of my favorite things to do to relax. However, it’s difficult for me to pick up a book these days with the cooking, cleaning and working I do on a daily basis. All of these chores are things I know are important and make my life easier in the long run. But I’ve realized that giving myself a break to read a good book helps me recharge to keep up with my daily activities. Find something that helps you relax and take a break and block out a certain time each day where you can do it. I guarantee you’ll notice a difference and your spouse will too.
- Explain Yourself to Your Sponsor. Most importantly, GET YOUR SPOUSE ON THE SAME PAGE. If you don’t like jokes directed toward you about stereotypical military spouses, speak up if your spouse slips up. If you find that one activity that helps you recharge, but your spouse doesn’t get why it’s so important, explain your reasoning. Want to take a college class, but your spouse doesn’t want to budget for it? Sit down and talk with him or her about why this is important for you to grow and also to maintain the identity that they fell in love with in the first place. If your spouse isn’t on your side, you will have a very difficult time removing the military spouse mask to be the person you are inside. With time, they’ll realize that getting on board makes for a much happier partner and consequently a much happier self.