You know the verse—“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This is never truer than in a military marriage. Before you tie the knot with a member of the armed services, learn what you need to know about marrying into the military.
The Only Plans That Matter Are the Military’s Plans
If you are a civilian marrying a military service member, you’ll learn to accept that your plans come second. This may include everything from being together for the birth of your children to their birthdays and your anniversary, not to mention the major annual holidays.
When you marry into the military, plans can be upended on a moment’s notice. When orders arrive, they must be obeyed, regardless of your hopes for date nights, weekend getaways, vacations, or even your own marriage ceremony.
Being married in the military means being apart—sometimes more than being together. This presents a challenge to young spouses who thought marriage was going to be about togetherness. Learn to be together when you’re apart by calling one another to say “good morning” and “good night,” and sending letters and care packages.
If you had to cancel wedding plans, it doesn’t mean you have to cancel being married. Deployment marriage is possible, even if one partner (or both, if they’re in Montana) can’t be physically present. If your intended is an active-duty member of the US armed forces, you are eligible for double proxy marriage in the state of Montana.
This means you can still get married by having a stand-in say the vows and sign the certificate on your behalf. Once the certificate is filed and accepted by the county clerk’s office, the marriage is legal and official. You can reschedule the big wedding and reception when you’re both back in the same place.
It’s not just deployments that can separate you. Service members are subject to temporary assignments, shift work, and training that require them to be away from home. This means that military spouses must be resilient, independent, and self-sufficient. If you have children, it can mean living like a single parent for much of the year. Make sure you’re ready for that before you talk about having kids.
Communication Is 24/7 and Might Be One Way
A service member is never not a service member. That means their phone could, and probably will, ring in the middle of the night. After the call, your military spouse may not be able to tell you a thing about the conversation they just had, and all you might have overheard is “yes, sir,” “yes, ma’am,” “copy that,” or “understood.”
There will be things about your spouse’s service that they are not permitted to share with you. Let it go and be supportive of the person you’re going to marry and their commitment to their service.
Another aspect of communication that civilians who marry into the military must get used to is the profusion of acronyms. It can sometime seem like your spouse and their colleagues are communicating in code. It’s OK to ask what BAH, PCS, or DEERS means; just try to ask once, and remember. There will be so many acronyms to get used to you might want to create a glossary or print out a guide of them from available online sources.
Get Used to Traditions and Rules That Seem Antiquated
You may be excited about buying a new outfit to attend an annual military ball—that is, before you read three or four pages of instructions about what you may not wear, when you may not speak, and how to address someone who outranks your spouse.
All branches of the armed services observe rules and traditions that border on the sacred to them. This is understandable, because some of those rules and traditions could save lives.
If you’ve never lived on a military base before, you may find it bizarre that even civilians are expected to stand at attention when they hear the national anthem—including right before a movie at the on-base theater!
The dress code—yes, dress code—may also come as a surprise. But if you and your spouse choose to live on base, which may offer you free housing, that benefit comes with expectations to follow the rules. Don’t fight it; get used to it. Look at it this way—it makes clothes shopping less complicated!
Get Used to Moving on Short Notice
International Business Machines (“IBM”) workers sometimes said their company’s acronym stood for “I’ve been moved.” In the military, a PCS (“permanent change of station”) can come out of the blue, uprooting you from a home you’ve carefully decorated, pulling your kids out of their schools and plunking them in a district far away, and separating you by thousands of miles from friends and family.
Well, tough. Moving is part of the package. Learn to view it as an adventure. You’ll get to pare down your possessions when you pack up, meet new friends, and experience a new community, right up until you get moved again.
And Now for the Good News
This list of what you need to know before marrying into the military can seem off-putting, even scary. It doesn’t have to be.
Marrying into the military comes with many benefits for you and your military spouse. If you decide to live off-base, you benefit from a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) that can reduce your costs. If you’re ordered to move, the military may cover the cost and provide movers.
When your military spouse signs you up with DEERS (“Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System”), you can then get your military spouse ID, which allows you to enroll in military health insurance, provides access to the base and commissary, may get you military discounts from local merchants, as well as counseling services, tax help, and support for education and career goals.
Marrying into the military opens a world of new experiences and a ready-made community of support. Make it a priority to get to know other military spouses. They can help you by sharing their experiences and ease your way into the sometimes weird, often wonderful community of military marriages.