How to Build a Life as a Military Spouse

Written by Valerie McCarley


Step One: Throw out the playbook.
Step Two: Repeat step one.

Just kidding. Kind of. There is no playbook, instruction manual, nor even an emergency guide for your life as a military spouse. Nothing could encompass every gut-wrenching, last-minute turn of events, nor is there a way to predict the joys that come from the small moments.

Friends you’ve known for only a few months become closer than others you’ve known for a lifetime. You may explore destinations you never imagined or find yourself at one never-ending duty station. Whether your time as a military spouse is short or long, there are ways to build a life you love.


Let Your Priorities Be Your Guide

It’s hard to know if you’ve been successful without having something to measure your progress against. That’s where your priorities come in. Knowing exactly what is most important to you will help you to make decisions that align with your values. For example, my current priorities are family, personal growth, and balance. I weigh every decision I make against those values:

Does this support the life I want?
Does it resonate with who I want to be?

Your priorities will likely look different now than in another season of life. Work may be a priority at one duty station but a remote post could shift your priority to skill-building, education, volunteer work, or family life. Focusing on your priorities will help you to find joy in the things that matter most.


Control What You Can, Let Everything Else Go

Sometimes it seems as if there’s very little we can control in military family life. Decisions big and small (such as deployments, Permanent Change of Station [PCS] moves, and even family dinner time) are decided by others. It can be difficult to plan, not knowing when or if your service member will be home. In these moments, it’s important to remember that although we can’t control everything, there are certain things within our influence, such as planning and organization as well as changing our mindset.


Planning and Organization

Planning and organization can provide a sense of stability in a world that changes frequently. Helping to decide where you live, what school your children attend, and even your day-to-day routine, are examples of decisions that give you agency in your own life. For every upcoming move, I make a PCS binder filled with all the important documents and checklists I’ll need to make the transition easier. You can create a binder on your own or order pre-printed binder inserts from the military spouse-owned company, List & File.



Your mindset may be both the thing you have the most power over and also one of the hardest things to change, but it can make a huge difference in your overall satisfaction. Train yourself to look for positives in every situation, while also being realistic. Do you love your current duty station? Why? What makes it so special? Or are you counting down the minutes until you receive PCS orders?

If you find yourself in the second category, look for things you do enjoy where you are. Do you have a favorite restaurant? Are you so far from other cities and extended family that you’ve formed the tightest friendships of your life? Celebrate the wins, focus on what you can control, and let everything else go.


Find Your Path

Aside from adjusting your mindset and adopting good planning, finding your path is one of the greatest game changers in creating a sense of direction in your life. What do you love to do? How can you contribute? Whether your contributions are at home, school, or in the workplace, they are all equally valuable and important.

Spouses who choose to seek employment may find the path to be more difficult than expected, but will find both support and guidance along the way. Facing challenges that range from lack of childcare to discrimination in the hiring process to geographic limitations, military spouses experience unemployment six times the rate of their civilian counterparts. But, there are ways to overcome these obstacles.

Start untangling the words ‘military spouse’ and ‘unemployment’ with the following tips:

  • Be flexible with your employment options. Don’t be afraid to try something new!
  • Apply for jobs even if you don’t meet every requirement. Imposter syndrome can cheat even the most experienced applicant into thinking they’re not qualified. Let the hiring manager determine if you’re a good fit.
  • Utilize programs offering career training for military spouses. There are tons of opportunities out there! Start with the Department of Labor’s one-stop hub for Employment Resources for Military Spouses and go from there!
  • Seek military spouse job assistance from your local installation or through vetted employment funnels specifically designed to meet the unique needs of the military community.

I recently shared the ups and downs of my career journey here.


Ask for Help

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
—Brené Brown

You cannot do this alone. It truly takes a village to thrive in the military community. Seek out resources tailored to your needs. If financially able, outsource tasks. While working full-time with a one-hour commute some years back, I hired a bi-weekly cleaning service, allowing me to spend my precious ‘at-home’ hours doing things I loved rather than focusing on my growing to-do list.

Order meal prep kits or eat cereal for dinner. Swap babysitting with a fellow military spouse, allowing you a few blissful kid-free hours. Seriously. No one is judging. We’re all doing the best we can. Building a life you love will require you to be vulnerable. It can be scary, but it’s totally worth it!


The ASYMCA Is Here Through It All

Military family life is hard. That’s why the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) is a constant in our messy, chaotic world. Providing youth development, family support, and food assistance, the ASYMCA ensures no military family is left behind.


Learn More About ASYMCA