This is a question I'm often asked. What part is the hardest about being married to a military man? For whatever reason – probably curiosity – people ask, thinking they can better understand the armed forces (or maybe just me) by hearing my answer.
Meanwhile I feel like a 12 year-old forced to stand in front of the class and give a speech. It's not that I'm talking to so many people, but that the nature feels deeply personal.
On some degree, I shield myself – so when I'm asked to be vulnerable, it's like peeling a layer that I glued down tight. It doesn't want to come up and I don't want to take the effort; I put it there for a reason.
Another reason this is hard to address, however, is because I'm not always sure. Obviously being apart was hard – it still is and always will be. Knowing my husband was living in unsafe conditions and could be threatened at any time? Pretty terrible. Then there is the never knowing when he has to work or when he will be home or the possibility of packing up and moving at any moment.
Do those sound minimal in comparison with war and months of separation? Absolutely. But they're also longer term. While deployment lasts a few months, uncertainty is our every day. Along with the uncertainty that he could be sent away again.
There are things like a culture I'm still learning – ranks, events to go to and how to act and who to speak with vs. who outranks whom. It's a lifestyle that takes time to grow into. Learning where to go to the grocery store and how to shop there (yes, you have to tip the baggers), how to get dental, or what bases have the best housing and how you even sign up to live there.
Every time we move, it's starting over and making new friends, learning our way around. Where to shop or what to avoid. Or every time a friend gets orders and it's (once again) time to say goodbye, knowing good and well you'll never see that person or their family in person for the rest of your life. It's a strange finality to goodbyes, which were previously "see you laters."
Seemingly small things are often frustrating, too. Like endless lines at the pharmacy or worrying my husband will get in trouble if I get in a hurry and am caught speeding.
All of those things, combined – they are a challenge. Getting used to them and accepting them as normal, that happens over time. You don't realize, it's just something that eases in. It doesn’t mean they're easier, only that they're not a surprise.
All of it is a learning experience.
Not everything in military life is a challenge, of course. Or even if it was at the time, you layer up your inner defenses and look toward better days. Because after all the hardships, you're a stronger person, and you can better take on the good. Your challenges only make them that much easier to enjoy.