How to be happily married to the military

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Remember when you got engaged and people would give you all kinds of unsolicited advice? I remember my aunt telling me that when you marry a man, you don't just marry him ... you marry his whole family. No one ever tells you that when you marry a military man, you don't just marry the man ... you marry the military as well.

It's a huge challenge to have a happy marriage. It takes a lot of sacrifice and it's hard work. But when you marry an Airman, there's a third wheel in the marriage and that's the Air Force. At the beginning of my journey as a military spouse, there were times that I really resented that third wheel. 

Over the course of the past seventeen years, that resentment gradually grew into acceptance and amazingly enough, now I can say that I really do love and appreciate the Air Force. Our marriage is stronger and happier-not despite the Air Force - but in many ways because of the Air Force and the challenges faced along the way. I'd like to share with you a few things that I have found that have helped our marriage during our Air Force journey. 

First, be flexible. I'm sure many of you have had this experience: You've arranged to have a special meal for your family at 6 p.m. Your spouse had said he was planning on being home on time. The clock strikes 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:00 p.m. The food is now cold and you are really frustrated. Your spouse walks in the door more than an hour later and he explains that there was a situation at work that simply had to be dealt with before he could come home. I went through this frustrating scenario dozens of times during our first couple of years in the Air Force. I finally realized that my husband's job in the Air Force was never going to be a "nine-to-five" (or even a seven-to-six for that matter!). He just has to stay until the work gets done. I came to the realization that I needed to plan as if he probably wouldn't be home for dinner, and then if he did get home in time, it was a pleasant surprise! Most days he does make his family engagements on time; but remembering to be flexible has made me so much happier.

Second, be a friend. There will be times when you are "holding down the fort" while your spouse is deployed or on temporary duty (TDY). You need a support system to help you through those times. There are lots of places to meet good friends: your church, squadron functions, your community, spouse organizations, PTA, etc. A good friend of mine here at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., always says, "It's not the base that makes an assignment enjoyable, it's the people you meet and connect with that make the assignment." There will be times when you are in need of help and there will be times when your friends really need your help. I have found so much joy through opportunities to serve others in our Air Force family.  When my spouse is TDY or deployed, he knows I will be okay because I have a healthy support system of good friends. This knowledge makes it much easier for him to leave our family and focus on his job while he is away.

Third, be positive. Another scenario: Your family has waited with anticipation for permanent change of station orders. Where will you go next? Germany? Hawaii? Florida? Your spouse comes home and ... drum roll please... he announces that your family will be headed to the frozen tundra of Keflavik, Iceland for the next three years.
This is not the dream assignment you had in mind! 
I've learned that my children and my spouse are watching my reactions in moments like this, and they take their cues from me. If I try to put my best foot forward when preparing for a new location, then my family will follow suit. A positive attitude is huge when it comes to helping your family transition to a new base and community.

I am so grateful for this Air Force journey and how it has strengthened our marriage. As I've tried to be flexible, to build a strong support system, and to be positive on this journey, our marriage and family has become stronger and happier.  Our children are building character and becoming more resilient and the Air Force has progressed from being a third wheel to being a special part of our family.