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Married to the Military: Spouses Need Own Identity

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2006 – Military life is full of ups and downs. But for it to be a more positive experience, military spouses have to know themselves, Amberlynde Graham said.

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Amberlynde Graham has been a Navy wife for nearly six years. She said through six changes of station and her husband's two deployments, her enthusiasm for military life has not been dampened. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
  

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Graham has been a married nearly six years to a Navy fire controlman - he operates, maintains and repairs weapons systems' control mechanisms.

In that time, the couple and their four children -- the youngest is now 22 months old -- have had six changes of station in five states and gone through two deployments. They are currently stationed in San Diego.

Through the moves and separations, her enthusiasm for military life has not been dampened. She attributes this to sense of self beyond her role of military wife, she said.

"If you don't now who you are, you can't be a military wife," Graham said. "Not a happy one anyway."

Those with jobs or volunteer positions are much more likely to successfully weather deployments and separations than those who live only for their husbands, she said.

"If you don't know who you are when your husband's there, what are you going to do when he's gone?" she asked. "You're going to have (periods of separation), ... and you can't sit there eating ice cream and crying the entire time. You have those days, trust me. But you can't do it all the time."

While Graham stays home with her children, she has a clear picture of who she is apart from military life.

Her journalism degree from the University of Texas has served her well as an editor for an outdoor sportsman magazine, a job she does from home. She's also in contract negotiations with a publishing company regarding a novel she's writing.

She also wishes that others knew who she and other military wives are. People often believe that when a woman marries into the military, she's the "little wife" and will never be anything else, Graham said.

"It bothers me, the negative connotation (that) follows all of it: You can't be your own person," she said. "There's no reason why anybody has to let that happen." She suggested spouses seek help from service family assistance centers to further their education or find a fulfilling job.

Higher visibility of spouses satisfied with their military lives would go a long way toward dispelling stereotypes and misperceptions, she said.

"The spouses everybody sees are the housewives dragging four kids to the commissary screaming at them," Graham said. "The reality is that I've met ... literally somebody from every single walk of life."

Just because a military spouse has her own career and identity doesn't mean she doesn't have to deal with issues related to military life, though. Graham has had to answer her children's questions about where Daddy is and when he'll be home. Sometimes the answer isn't what a child wants to hear.

Graham's daughter is in elementary school and had a solo in her school's Christmas program this year. Her father missed it for the second year in a row because he was at sea.

Graham said her husband works to make the time he does spend with the children count.

The children also realize the importance of what their father does, she said. "You take them to the ball games and stuff, and my daughter -- she's 7 -- she'll cry at the national anthem already," Graham said, noting that the children's father, uncle and grandfather have all served in the military. "So, I think, as they've gotten older they've actually had more respect for (military service)."

Graham and her husband recently decided that he would become a career sailor. She said the decision made sense after they compared military and civilian pay and benefits for similar jobs.

"If you look at the cash on the paycheck, it doesn't come out to much," she said. But, after comparing salaries, housing and health insurance costs in the civilian world, it was an easy call, she said. "We actually make more than someone with a degree in his field (in the civilian sector)," she said.

While the majority of her life in the military has been good, there have been some true frustrations for Graham. Getting her degree was a challenge, she said, and her husband's deployments have sometimes made her a single parent.

These frustrations, along with the good times, are all part of military life, Graham said. And with the knowledge that she is more than what her husband does for a living, she is enjoying that life.

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