5 Things Successful Military Spouses Have in Common (pt 1 of 2)

By Marinelle Reynolds, LCSW

Being a military spouse is hard. It’s often referred to as the “hardest job in the military.” This is not meant to downplay an Active Duty member’s sacrifice. It’s a way to acknowledge and honor the sacrifices that spouses make during a military member’s career.

During an Active Duty career, many spouses have had to navigate the starts and stops of their own career, at times putting their dreams on hold. They’ve had to manage life as a single parent during long deployments. They’ve had to simultaneously help their children and themselves adjust to major life changes like moving to a new state or country while also grieving the relationships and jobs they left behind. Between the frequent moves, deployments and uncertainty that is inherent in military family life, it’s common that many spouses believe that a successful career is out of reach.

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, once said that “The only thing that is constant is change.”

While these challenges can sometimes feel unsurmountable and they are often unique to a military spouse, they are not hard stops. It is possible to have a career and family that thrives while living the active duty life. It doesn’t have to be a choice between your career or your spouses’.

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing about 50 military spouses with successful careers. They’ve each achieved career success while navigating the military family life. I’ve interviewed enlisted and officer spouses across the branches of the military and across different industries to see what common characteristics these spouses have. 

1.      They practice radical acceptance

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, once said that “The only thing that is constant is change.” In my interviews, this was a common philosophy of many spouses. Military life is full of constant change. Changes in duty stations, changes in jobs, and changes in friends and supports are common place. While moving was not always a positive experience, successful military spouses embraced change. Some spouses had children with special needs. Some had executive positions that they had fought hard to achieve. Other spouses had their own medical problems that made moving a bigger challenge. But, no matter the challenge, there was a radical acceptance. There was an acceptance of the inevitable-ness of change.

There was a common desire to focus on the things that are within a span of control instead of on how things “should” be.

Fighting reality creates suffering. Refusing to accept the truth, doesn’t make the situation go away and it doesn’t change the facts. While pain is an inevitable part of life, suffering is optional.  Moving and starting over is painful and we can feel like things are completely out of our control. But the choice to suffer is completely within our control. Ashley Grubbs, Licensed Professional Counselor and private practice owner points out “Once I accepted that moving doesn’t have to be super terrible and as long as I can be creative, things got easier”.

Accepting reality can be difficult, especially when the reality is painful.  Radical acceptance doesn’t mean that we deny the hardship or the pain of the situation. It means we acknowledge and accept what is. It’s letting go of how we think life “should” be. It’s accepting life as it is,
right now and focusing on the things that we do have control over.

Radical acceptance is a skill that requires practice. Spouses that are successful at balancing their careers with military family life frequently practice radical acceptance. They remind themselves that change is a constant part of reality. They allow themselves to experience disappointment, grief, and sadness without judgment. And, they focus on engaging in behaviors that move them forward such as applying for licensure or certification in a new state, exploring educational opportunities to strengthen job skills or advocating for resources and policies that support military spouse education and employment.

2.      They developed a strong sense of self that includes having a career

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The sense of self is generally defined as the way we view our traits, beliefs and purpose within the world. Of the spouses interviewed, spouses that had successfully navigated careers and military family life had a strong sense of self which included having a career that gave them purpose.

Meghan Joss, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and group practice owner, states “being a working military spouse helps me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself and helps me to focus on what will serve the greater purpose”.

This self- concept is often multi-dimensional and includes careers along with their roles within the family unit. Successful military spouses identified their careers, ability to financially contribute to the household, and their specific roles within a family as integral parts of their identity.

Vicki Batten, a dental hygienist states “I have a strong drive to have something to call my own, to be my own person. I am a wife and a mother and that’s important and I’m proud of my husband but I’m also more than what my husband does”.  

Marissa Lawton, marketing coach and entrepreneur adds “It’s important for me not to be dependent and to feel relevant. I want to be able to financially contribute by making a substantial salary and do it on my own terms. I want to continue doing something I’m passionate about and be an example for my daughters”.  

To be continued, with more spouses and examples at the end of Jan 2019.


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Marinelle Reynolds has been featured in NBC News, Bustle and Elite Daily. Over the last 18 years she’s been a clinician and leader in the non-profit, military and corporate worlds. And has been a speaker for organizations like University of California, Berkeley and the United States Air Force.

She is an entrepreneur, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and unshakable optimist who specializes in helping high achievers let go of anxiety and perfectionism. She owns an online private practice that provides services in California, Georgia & Texas.

You can learn more about this military spouse and connect with her here https://eremedycounseling.com/ 

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