Happy military wife, happy military life

Happy military wife, happy military life

by Lisa Smith Molinari
The Meat and Potatoes of Life

“You’re never satisfied!” my husband hurled at me (among other choice phrases) many times throughout his 28-year active-duty Navy career. I catapulted my own cliched insults, too, such as, “It’s always all about you, isn’t it?!”

When conflicts and resentments rose to the surface during our three-decade marriage, I never consciously attributed our relationship strife to my husband’s military service. I always believed we were lucky to be a military family. I blamed other factors — primarily me.

I thought my decision to do extensive home therapy for our son who was diagnosed with autism at age 3 was the main reason my legal career came to a screeching halt. I thought my difficulty in making friends was because I was awkward and insecure. I believed I was supposed to be “resilient.” I thought I needed to rise to every challenge or be branded whiny.

I didn’t blame the fact that we were stationed overseas and moved often to locations where I didn’t have a license to practice law. Nor that Tricare, 25 years ago, didn’t even recognize autism as a coverable diagnosis, forcing me to seek treatments we could afford out-of-pocket or do myself. Nor that finding affordable care for any child, much less one with special needs with two younger sisters, was more difficult for military families who PCS often. Nor that it was hard to create support networks after each PCS move. Nor that my career aspirations and personal interests came second to the practical requirements of my husband’s military service.

On one hand, I was very happy as a military spouse and extremely proud of our life. But on the other hand, I had an underlying sense of shame for having let my law career slip away, for disappointing my parents’ expectations for their daughter, for having trouble finding friends, for not contributing to our household income, and for letting myself be “just a housewife.”

I thought the problem was me, but recent studies show that I was wrong.

I wasn’t the only one feeling dissatisfied. Spouse satisfaction with active-duty military life has reached an all-time low, according to the most recent DoD biennial Active Duty Spouse Survey (ADSS), the results of which were released in February and involved 12,000 active-duty military spouses. Less than half of respondents indicated that they were satisfied with military life, the all-time lowest rating since the survey began in 2012.

ADSS results also showed the chronic military spouse unemployment rate of 21% (six times the national average) has not budged since 2015, and spouses spend an average of 19 weeks looking for employment after each PCS move.

These findings also jumped out at me: 1. Military spouses’ marriage satisfaction is the lowest percentage since the survey began in 2012; 2. Military spouses seeking mental health counseling has reached the highest percentage since 2012; and 3. Fewer military spouses want their member spouse to stay on active duty now than in 2012.

The 2023 Blue Star Families annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (aMFLS) results released in March support the ADSS findings, indicating that unemployment is the top concern for military spouses, followed by the service member’s time away from family, lack of affordable housing, insufficient military pay and relocation/PCS issues. Military spouses who struggle to find employment and childcare and feel financially stressed reported lower “relationship satisfaction.” Sixty-three percent of active-duty spouses would not recommend the military to a young family member due in part to “challenges to families.”

In a military retention study released last August, scientists asked, “Why do service members leave the military while they are still highly qualified?” They found that “milspouse-reported work-life conflict and military satisfaction” were the most likely influences on service members’ decisions to separate from the military voluntarily. Considering that recruiting goals are not being met and half of all active-duty service persons are married, some argue that the best way to improve retention and readiness is to focus on retaining the modern military family by promoting stability and allowing for greater advancement.

In other words, “Happy military wife, happy military life.” And that goes for husbands, too.
Read more at the website and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@gmail.com

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