How Military Couples Can Navigate Challenges Together

Written by TeLeah Thurston

When my husband told me he wanted to enroll in the Special Forces Qualifications Course, I knew we would encounter numerous challenges as a military couple. I was told it was a single person’s job and not at all beneficial.

The truth of the matter is that no matter what title a service member holds, their military relationships will face challenges and hardships. While military relationship advice is readily available on social media, I hope that my experiences, gathered over the 13 years my husband and I have spent together (nine of them as a married couple, while raising four children), can assist you in navigating these challenges with hope. Our friendship and commitment to supporting each other in pursuing our goals and dreams have set the foundation for mutual support and resilience in our relationship.

Being a member of the military comes with many challenges for military couples. Frequently moving, sudden schedule changes, deployments, and stressful work tasks are just a few of the challenges military relationships must navigate. Many times the person who is not in the military has to give up their job to support the needs of their military member and family leading to rising unemployment numbers of military spouses.

Having been in the military myself, I had a clear understanding of what to expect based on my own experiences. However, if you haven’t personally experienced military life, gaining insight into its expectations can greatly assist in communicating future goals and devising a plan that enables both parties to support each other effectively.


Communication Is Key

Without communication, your relationship will struggle. Long-distance military relationships are inevitable due to deployments and training throughout one’s military career. Establishing a strong foundation of communication is the biggest military relationship advice I can give you as it is going to be the foundation for navigating challenges together.

For your relationship to be strong you have to be open and willing to be honest and transparent with each other. I had to remind my husband at times that we were in this together and that even though I knew the inconsistencies of military scheduling, I still wanted to know what was coming up on his schedule or workload. It allowed me to mentally and strategically prepare for what was to come even if something did change, as expected, I felt more prepared.

When he was away for training and still had phone access, I made a conscious effort to stay in contact with him, not getting too wrapped up in myself and the kids’ schedules that I would forget to check on him. Sometimes that was as simple as texting him at midday to see how his training was going or calling to say goodnight before bed. When he was called upon for a rapid deployment, I was worried but I still made sure to pause and write him a letter to tuck into his gear. This way, he had something to remind him of home whenever the opportunity arose.


Building a Support Network

Having military spouse support is life-saving to military relationships. The company you keep as an individual and as a military couple matters. No matter where you are in the world, you need a support network that you can lean on in both good and bad times.

When we had our second and third child, my husband was intermittently gone throughout my pregnancy and didn’t get to be present for one of their births. It certainly wasn’t my desire or plan to do life without him but it happens often as a military couple. Because I took the time and effort to put myself out there and get to know other military spouses, I built trustworthy friendships and created a family away from our family. I gave birth to one of our daughters with just my grandma and friend present. Through weekly coffee meetups and playdates, we got to know each other through life challenges and experiences.

Who you surround yourself with matters, especially in adversities. Military marriage help should come from someone who is unbiased and wants to see your military relationship thrive.


Adapting to Change

Change is inevitable in the military. From deployments and training to PCS moves and constant adjustments to work schedules there will always be change. One of the biggest difficulties of military life is the inconsistencies, and if you add on building a family it brings even more challenges.

In our case, we welcomed four children within four years, which naturally brought about changes in our finances and in me as an individual. Through open communication and my husband’s support, we were able to navigate the postpartum changes and develop a strategic plan to address our growing expenses.


Maintaining Individuality

When my husband decided to take his military career further, I knew that I was going to have to take a back seat with my personal goals and plans. It was challenging at times to not feel as though I was losing myself but it’s important to keep communication flowing so as not to allow resentment and bitterness to take root in your military relationship.

I firmly believe that maintaining a sense of individuality as a military couple creates a healthy relationship balance. Each person has passions, hobbies, goals, and dreams they wish to achieve, and when military life overtakes any of those, it taints the relationship.

Remember you’re a team and that it is possible for both of you to see success. My husband and I have to take turns being the achiever in the home. When he’s got an accomplishment on the horizon, I support and encourage him and vice versa. Through this partnership, I found a way to reinvent myself as a military spouse.


Seeking Help When Needed

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. There was a time in our relationship when communication was not working, advice from our friends wasn’t enough, and the end of the road began to look dark.

We chose to seek a professional marriage counselor on Psychology Today. We found a counselor who aligned with our beliefs, could help us navigate our challenges at the time, and understood military life. Finances, new babies, and mental health issues are just some of the things that overtake a military relationship, and there is no shame in seeking professional practical help to overcome those challenges.

Don’t Give Up

I could and probably will one day write a book on everything my husband and I have experienced as a military couple. After being together for 13 years and married for a decade now, there’s nothing we haven’t experienced.

I assure you that you are not alone. If both you and your partner are willing to put in the work, your relationship can overcome any challenges you face. Hard work, faith and practical strategies before the challenges come will help you every time. Remain hopeful in knowing that it is possible to have a joyful relationship as a military couple.


ASYMCA Believes in Military Families

One of the central missions of the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) is to support the resilience of military families. Their ongoing efforts are dedicated to easing financial burdens, providing educational resources, childcare assistance, and more. ASYMCA is dedicated to fostering unity among military families, helping them stay together and thrive together. Learn more about the programs and services ASYMCA offers at little to no cost for military service members and their families.

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