A Lack of Community Puts Strain on Army Marriages

Each time we see family back home or have friends visit from the U.S., I’m reminded of two things: 1) How blessed I am to have such great friends and family in my life, and 2) How much I miss the sense of community that exists when you live in one place for more than a year or two at a time.

Grandpa-and-Small-Shaw-at-the-Old-Hollow-Cider-Mill-in-Vermont

I’m so thankful for our time with family when we get it. We’re lucky to have family that loves us, invests their time and money in seeing us, and cares for us however they know how; whether through laughter, gifts, or simply showing up when we need them.

Travel always has a way of changing our perspectives, and I think that traveling to see family that you live halfway across the world from makes that shift in perspective even more pronounced. Our most recent trip to the U.S., in particular, reminded me of just how much I miss having a permanent home and community.

Community reinforces who you are and what value you bring to the world around you. Community holds you accountable for being who you say you are and living by the moral code you say you believe in. Community backs you up when you need a hand, and it offers an opportunity to give back when you have a little extra love to give. I miss that.

We have ten more years until Nick retires from the Army and we can settle down into a home we own and a community where we can lay our roots. Until then, our trip to the States made me realize that a lack of community puts strain on Army marriages. It also made me realize that I’m the only one who can change my attitude about that.

Overcoming lack of community

When you let it, the Army lifestyle can drain you. By the fourth house in four years, you can lose the inspiration to make your house feel like home. By the third community in three years, you start to wonder whether it’s worth investing in new friendships — even when you know you need friends other than your spouse.

As mothers and wives, our children and husbands need us to make our house, home. They need us to offer our love, affection, and laughter as unlimited resources. They need to know that when they come home to us, they come home to joyful wives and mommas — even when we don’t feel so joyful. They need us not to lean on them as heavily as we sometimes do.

Happy-Momma-Happy-Baby

Oftentimes, we have to find a way to give these things to our families whether or not we think we have them to offer. Somehow, we have to find a way to be the fuel that feeds our families hearts and souls when our own fuel tanks are empty. Perhaps all of this comes more easiy to some miltary wives than to others, but this charge doesn’t come easily to me all of the time.

By his side

It’s the charge of bringing joy into my home even when I feel joyless. It’s the charge of standing by my husband’s side at a ceremony or event when I really need to be at my desk managing my own work responsibilities. It’s the charge of recharging him when he comes home tired and still distracted by work issues when it’s time to focus on family.

Finally, it’s the charge not to ask him to fill all the roles that would be filled in my heart if we had the community I long for.

Our servicemember might be our best friend, but he can’t be our girl friend. He might be our rock, but he can’t be our church. He might be our whole world, but he can’t be our everything. It’s not healthy for him, it’s not healthy for us, and it’s not healthy for our Army marriages.

We are charged, as Army spouses, to bring joy; to stand by their sides; to recharge him when he’s tired; and to take care of the kids and pets when he’s gone. We’re charged to make our government-leased or on-post housing (or yet another rental house) feel like a home for our kids, and we’re charged to make the most of whatever this moment in time; this duty station; this place has to offer.

Deployment Homecoming

We’re charged to do all of this whether or not we have a community that reinforces the value we bring, holds us accountable for our moral codes, or backs us up when we need support. We’re charged to do this whether or not we have extended family close by for support. We’re charged to do this whether our husbands are home or “away”; whether they’re in an easy job or a demanding one; whether we miss having a local community to weave ourselves into or not.

Family

That last trip we took to the States made me realize that no one can fill the gaps —  specifically, the lack of a permanent, geographic community — that Army families experience except for us. The Army might force our hand on location, and timing, and whether we’re together with our families. But the Army cannot rob us of the things that matter most; bringing joy and energy and love to our Army families. We just can’t let it.

It’s up to me to find my joy, and it’s up to you to find yours. It’s up to me to me to break my isolation. It’s up to me to be who I say I am and live the way I want to live — with or without the community that I hurt for so much some days.

Even if the Army tells me where I have to find that joy, break that isolation, or live that life I want to live, it’s up to me to make the most of wherever the Army sends us. That’s my charge as an Army spouse. That’s my mission.

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12 Comments

  1. This really hit home for me. My sister & her fam recently bought their forever home and welcomed their second daughter. All I could think was, we could be neighbors, it’s a new development with a few houses left, we could literally be neighbors. My niece could come over whenever, we could hang out, have family bbqs…

    Except we can’t. We can’t do any of that. My eldest niece will be a teenager by the time we can, she’ll be getting ready to go to college.

    Like you, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make where we live more a home. We are more or less living like college students, half our stuff still in boxes, not put away. I think our lack of action is an excuse, the cats aren’t here so it will never truly be home. I guess the question is how do you make this nomadic life “home” without relying on things or even people who may not be there? Something interesting to think about, and I think I will explore it further in a blog post instead of rambling in your comments 🙂

  2. To start, I want to say that I agree to all that you included in your post. Secondly I wanted you to know that I have a student who came to my yoga class one day who was new to my class but not to my community. Each day she attends I have a smile upon my face, not because I have higher numbers in my class but because this person is positive and uplifting to the community. I look forward to seeing her and to seeming other students that return. It’s amazing how my perspective on my community has transformed over the last year that I’ve been teaching yoga. Although I don’t always get to chitchat after class I feel a deeper connection to my students. I see their struggles on the mat and see their potential as well as their successes. The choice to go and get involved in something that benefits me and benefits others has made all the difference in my military experience. That said, I cannot make a community. I can only offer a vehicle to bring people together. It’s each persons choice to get up, get out and connect. I long for community as well but for now I’m so grateful to have my yogi’s.

    • Angie, you’re awesome. I think you’ve build more of a community than you realize through teaching yoga. I look forward to class each Tuesday and Thursday, and I look forward to seeing like-minded women and men in class each week. I’ve become friends with at least one brand new person as a result of yoga, and I’ve become closer to others. Our little class is part of my sense of my own community here locally, and that’s in large part a result of you showing up and sharing your heart (and your strength and skills!) with us each class. Thank you for that. You touch more people than you realize, I think.

  3. Oddly enough, after almost 20 years with my sailor it has only been in the past year that I have realized how much my kids have missed out on that community. In June, my five year old got to play with her cousin … first the first time ever! Not only the first time with this cousin but the first time with ANY cousin. My kids have so missed out on weekends with the grands, having a cooling Aunt around, and just really getting to know the members of a community like the grocer or the mechanic I knew growing up. It’s hard.

    • Jodi, it sounds like we grew up in similar environments. My hometown was small when I was a kid, and we knew our local mechanics, our local grocery store owners, and our local pharmacists. I had the same family doctor for most of my life until I got my first real job, and my parents still go to him. My parents go to the same church my grandparents went to, so each time an older member of the church passes away, there’s one less person in my life who knows me and my family beyond my generation. Our kids probably won’t have that, and if they do, it’ll begin when they’re pre-teens, not children. Like you said, it really is hard.

  4. Absolutely! We are currently stationed in Belgium and the lack of community and lack of external support from others stationed was a difficult adjustment. Figuring out what stability looks like for my family and I is the typical experience of Military Families.
    I dare pose the questions: how do Mil Fams create true supportive communities in environments that are negative and dysfunctional? How do we experience and re-experience relationships when they are solely built on surface content?- it is scary and hard saying “bye” to friends that we have formed true relationships with that include depth.
    The environment of the Military illustrates everything that humans aren’t. We are social beings that require community and deep relationships. how we face this adversity is quite telling.

    • Rachel, I love what you say about this environment illustrating everything that humans aren’t. We do require deep relationship and true community, and those things can be so challenging in the military. I’ve heard from other spouses that Belgium is particularly challenging because of the size and dynamic of the community there. All I can say in response to the question you posed is that creating true, supportive communities (even in negative environments) begins with us. How we go about building those communities depends on where our sphere of influence lies. Can we make our Bible study group richer? Can we build a stronger FRG? Can we make a positive impact without our Community & Spouses’ Club? Each of us has the ability to impact our communities differently, so all we can really do is to try our best to leave a positive mark on the lives we touch. One of the upsides to this transient lifestyle is that we have the opportunity to touch SO many lives. It begins with us.

  5. I agree with you 100%. Nothing can replace the joy and experience of being at home surrounded by your extended family and close friends, but this nomadic life is ultimately what each of us makes of it. It took me a couple of moves to finally figure out that the more we get plugged in as a family to the community around us, the happier we are as a whole. It’s not always easy though!

    • You’re so right, Christi. It’s not always easy, but we get out of this life what we put into it. The work it takes to make friends and find our little community each time we move is worth it for however long we’re there. Sometimes we even get lucky and make the kinds of friends at a duty station that stay with us for years to come.

  6. I’ve actually been pretty lucky that I’ve mostly lived in places with a strong community, but part of that is because I went looking for it, seeking out people with similar interests and lifestyles. It is easy to isolate ourselves if we let ourselves be isolated and it takes effort to find communities within our communities, but we can do it. If nothing else, I think blogging is a great way to help build the sense of community as we communicate with others in similar situations even if we’re not in the same place.

    I suppose it’s easier for me since I have long been pretty independent and okay with living far from family and many of my friends and don’t have kids who are missing out on growing up with access to their extended family. I get restless every few years and actually can’t imagine hitting at time when I will look for somewhere to put down permanent roots. I guess I’m well suited to the military lifestyle.

    That said, the lack of control over where the next place is or how long we’re there can be a struggle. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said, and this line stands out in particular: “We’re charged to make the most of whatever this moment in time; this duty station; this place has to offer.” I think this is so true and perhaps the most important thing we can do. I feel like I could have ‘done more’ with my time in some locations but I’m mostly happy with what I did do, and some of the things have been things I couldn’t have done or couldn’t have done as easily if we’d been somewhere else. We give up some things with every new place we go, but we gain some things too. I try to look for the gains. 😀

  7. I’ve felt the SAME way in the Navy, both as a service member and then as a spouse. It’s so hard to be away from family, and to make new friends every couple years!

  8. After 20 years as a Reservist, my husband is serving his first active duty tour and we’re stationed on Long Island. We have no base, there’s no FRG to speak of because it’s a new command. I feel like we’re floating and trying to cobble together something that resembles a community. I’m really hoping that we’ll get a tour somewhere with a strong military presence or an active spouse or family oriented community. I have made a few friends here but it would be nice to have a few who understand the struggles we deal with sometimes.

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