Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Married to the Military – Part II

The following is the second and concluding part of Summer Watson’s guest post about being a military spouse today.

I felt like I was back in the 1950s, where I should have been wearing the dress, pearls (oh yea, I did wear pearls), and the high heels with dinner ready for my husband each evening. Many of the women on the island felt the same way.

Very few of us worked but were involved with the Marine Officers’ Spouses Club. We volunteered for various functions, we played a lot of Bunco, and tried to fill our time with various other things like tennis and lunch. This was nice but it was not overly fulfilling for me.

The second year of our tour in Okinawa the orders came and my husband was going to be sent to Iraq. This was almost too much for me to handle. I thought, “How could this be? I am in a foreign country; I can’t just pick-up and move home.”

My husband was gone for two-three months of training and was in Iraq for seven. I did not want to be in Okinawa without my spouse. I was angry, afraid (not only for myself but more so for my husband). I had to be strong for him but I felt so alone.

He left and I found my way. I pulled from that semi-forgotten independence that was stripped from me when I married a Marine. I say “stripped from me” because I had to somewhat conform and understand the military culture to continue to have a loving relationship with my spouse.

The military culture still idealizes the values of the ‘50s, meaning relationships are more traditional with such expectations like dinner on the table every night, being the supportive stay-home “wife,” and putting your life and many of your own goals aside for the success of your husband’s military career. Remember, “if the military wanted your spouse to have a wife, it would have issued him one.” I was not standard issue but I was willing to give up a lot of what I considered my natural self for the love of a terrific human being!

I pulled myself together, stayed in Okinawa with my dog, got involved, and tried to support my friends. Many of my friends, who were also married to a Marine, were left on the island while their spouse was either in Iraq or Afghanistan. One example of this crazy situation was during my birthday lunch. I was out with 11 girlfriends and eight out of the bunch were without their husbands due to their husbands being deployed. It was a challenging time, a time of growth and reflection, and a time to regain some of my forgotten-self.

I felt a little less camouflaged by the military than I had in years. I may have been one of several wives with a husband at war, but I finally felt somewhat actualized by the experience. It gave me back strength that I had but had forgotten was there. I, again, had balance. I was there for my husband, and the experience helped me develop into a person who was healthier and wiser.

We are back in California. I, again, am ready to conquer some of my goals. However, I have a marriage with a phenomenal bond; I have more of an understanding of how to graciously pick my battles with this military culture; and through it all have regained a fair amount of my independence.

Additionally, I have gained some very valuable knowledge from the Okinawan people, and that is to “live in the present.” I no longer feel so camouflaged by a system I viewed as restrictive and overbearing.

Thanks, Summer, for sharing your military spouse story.

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