“You knew what you signed up for when you married him.” It’s usually some type of attempt “tough love” response when a military spouse is venting about the struggles of being married to someone in the military. Though sometimes it may be meant with malice from a handful of cold-hearted people, usually it’s an attempt to invoke some sort of pick yourself up by the bootstraps type of motivation to keep moving forward. But it’s still a pretty awful thing to say to someone who is struggling. As if they aren’t allowed to feel hurt, tired, or struggle because they brought this upon themselves. There are a lot of things I knew when I said “I do”, but every minute detail of the struggles we would face was not one of them…and I’d say that’s true even in the civilian family world.
I knew I loved this man fiercely and would follow him anywhere.
Though I did know of deployments, I didn’t know how my heart would break when I drove away and watched him shrink in the rearview mirror, fighting every instinct in my heart to follow him there too, no matter how illogical.
I knew he would deploy and we wouldn’t see each other outside of the screens of phones and computer screens for months at a time.
I didn’t know that sometimes his job would mean that even while he was home, the hours demanded of him would make it feel as though he were gone anyway.
I knew the saying “freedom doesn’t come free”.
I didn’t know the feeling of helplessness that would come from watching that price be paid in the brokenness of my husband’s body and mind, hearing him say that another friend was gone from this world too soon…and I (maybe selfishly) pray that I never know the pain of finding that his life was the next in line to pay the price of freedom.
I knew that my kids would miss their dad.
I didn’t know that my three-year-old would say he wanted to run away so he could be with daddy. That my voice would catch in my throat every time my boys and I passed a man in uniform and I had to remind them that it wasn’t their daddy because he was still far away. That I would never feel so inadequate as a parent as the nights I spent holding them as we both cried, wishing I could fill that void we all felt but knowing I never would.
I knew that he would miss some special events, birthdays, and holidays.
I didn’t know I would sit in a hospital alone, watching our two-year-old being hooked up to oxygen and being poked and prodded for days. I didn’t know the bitterness I would feel hearing that because this trip to the hospital fell just short of landing my baby in the ICU, it wasn’t considered serious enough to bring my husband back to us and we would still be apart for another month.
I knew that the military lifestyle was hard on marriages.
I didn’t know the fear and sadness I would feel watching marriages around us crumble. I didn’t know how much this life would magnify and pick at every insecurity and just how much harder we would have to work at keeping our marriage strong.
I could go on for days about the things I thought I knew, and what I never expected to find out about military life. And I’m sure there are more new discoveries to come. But please, stop and think first if you ever consider telling a military spouse that they knew what they were signing up for when they got married. Heck, even my husband, who was literally the one who signed up for it, didn’t know everything that he would face in this job. If you’ve never lived the military family life, never walked in our shoes, you have absolutely zero right to tell us we aren’t allowed to struggle through this and need to vent from time to time. And if you’re a military spouse, you should just know better, because you’ve faced these curveballs yourself and some uniquely your own, and if you haven’t yet…you will. And believe me, you don’t want to eat that humble pie when you need that listening ear, that shoulder to cry on when the life “you knew you signed up for” doesn’t quite play out exactly as you expected.