MilSuccessNet Welcome Jocelyn Green, accomplished author and new guest blogger, on help for military spouses when their life partners return permanently to the ‘home front.’ She shares valuable lessons learned in the transition of her Coast Guard husband back to full time family and civilian life…..in her own words….
Truths and Tips for the Spouse of a Transitioning Service Member
By Jocelyn Green
When my husband transitioned out of active-duty Coast Guard—a decision he had made freely, on his own—I was thrilled.
Yes, we took a 66 percent pay cut when exiting the military, but we moved closer to my family, he found a job, we bought a house, and put down roots. Who needs lots of money when we have each other? I thought. This is enough. This is all I need.
Soon, it became apparent that Rob was not as happy in our new civilian lifestyle as I was. He was moody, distant, and anxious. I was baffled. We argued more in those first six months of transition than we had since we had met.
If I had grasped then what I do now, I would have stopped taking his personal struggle so personally. I could have supported him better. Eventually, though, the pieces fell together.
What I Grew to Understand
1) His identity had been ruptured. Much more than a job, the military is a lifestyle, a mindset, a code of behavior. When one is removed from that, it’s like taking a star quarterback out of his team. He now has to find something else to place his identity in. Would it be family? His new job? Faith? Something else? These are soul-searching questions.
2) He felt isolated. The camaraderie found among military service members is unmatched. To be removed from such a brotherhood leaves a gaping hole in one’s sense of belonging and connectedness. Rob quietly mourned this loss.
3) He wasn’t doing what he had been trained to do. As Rob looked for a brand new career, he had to wonder if his years of schooling, training, and experience as a Coast Guard officer were a waste. Second-guessing his life choices was sobering, and learning a new trade could be overwhelming at times.
4) He experienced culture shock. As an officer, Rob’s orders were obeyed. When he supervised civilians in his new job, many of them were sloppy, disrespectful, and undisciplined. I bristled at his disgust with “civilians,” reminding him he was married to one. But now I understand what a shock it must be to go from military to civilian culture.
5) He wondered if his work mattered. Serving a higher purpose than oneself is important to service members. Whereas I was happy that Rob had a civilian job that paid the bills, he struggled to find a higher purpose in his work.
What Spouses Can Do
Though much of the work of transitioning must be done by the veteran himself, spouses have a vital supportive role to play.
1) Allow him time to grieve his losses and sort through questions about his identity. Don’t expect him to be happy all the time.
2) Plug into community as quickly as you can. Attend church, get him a gym membership, invite people over for dinner, encourage him to spend time with other men, especially veterans. As much as he loves you, he needs to connect with others as well.
3) Encourage him as he is learning a new vocation, and remind him how his previous time in the military is of tremendous value. Support him as he explores various jobs or opportunities to further his education. Realize it may take some trial and error to find a good fit.
4) Create your own family culture. Routines, traditions, and values are important in military culture. Establish your own for your own household, such as weekly Family Movie Nights, or an annual neighborhood picnic for Memorial Day. Decide as a family what your guiding principles are, and post them.
5) Assure him that what he does now matters. Point out his value to your family, your community, his new employer, etc. Encourage him to find new ways to give back to society, whether it’s by volunteering at a nonprofit, getting involved in local government, or mentoring children. Veterans find purpose and joy in helping others.
Your transitioning spouse may not even realize all that he is processing (Rob didn’t), but your patience and encouragement in these areas can help smooth his path.
Jocelyn Green is an award-winning author of multiple books, including Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives, and Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front, which inspired her Civil War novels Wedded to War and Widow of Gettysburg.
She is also general editor of the newly released Military Wives’ New Testament with Psalms & Proverbs. Jocelyn lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, with her incredibly supportive husband and two adorable children. Visit her at her website, or at her site for military wives .
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