April knew when she received her bachelor’s degree that she wanted to earn a doctorate and teach English one day. Shortly after graduating, however, she met her husband who was attending the Naval Academy. Looking back, she had no idea what it would mean to be a Naval officer’s wife. Maintaining a career, moving every 18 to 24 months, and eight deployments in 12 years have not been easy. She managed to complete her master’s degree during a two-year duty station before they had children, but this heightened her feelings of being left behind in my own career field. As she watched most of her colleagues go onto full-time careers, she had to make a tough decision to stay home in order to be the often ‘single parent’ for their two children. She is grateful to have been able to teach adjunct classes to stay connected to her career as they moved, but she often felt resentment. She felt as if she was wholeheartedly supporting her husband’s career while putting aside her own. She also felt she had to maintain a public image that would benefit his career—that is, no complaining.

Her own research has shown that the no matter how career-oriented they were prior to marriage, most majority of military spouses, both officer and enlisted, have become stay-at-home parents. She believes much of this is due to being placed in duty stations far from family and friends while spouses are away for extended periods of time. Further, the tempo of back-to-back combat deployments in the Special Forces community contributed to additional stress and emotional strain for her family. They have had to adjust non-stop sweeping changes before, during, and after a deployment.

In her words, “it has been a struggle”. April knows she is not alone. She wants a committed marriage, but she realizes it is under very different circumstances than how civilian friends and family are experiencing marriage and life struggles. The added inability of civilian families to relate often brings additional stress and furthers feelings of isolation and anxiety.

Nevertheless, their children are thriving and now that they are in school, she has finally had the opportunity to go back for her doctoral degree. At the same time, her husband’s officer career is still on track. According to April, it has taken lots of patience, lots of tears, and many fights, but what makes it work for her family is daily communication and compromise about what the other person needs to stay emotionally healthy. She is also thankful that unlike the military years ago, even during deployments she and her husband have the opportunity to communicate on a regular basis. This brings a sense of connection whether they are physically in the same location or not. At the same time, she believes maintaining a connection and communication in the midst of busy day-to-day life while married to someone in the military will always be a challenge.

What do you think? Can a dual-career couple really work when one partner is in the military?

About the Author

Michelle L. Kelley, Ph.D.

Michelle L. Kelley, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Old Dominion University. She has conducted research with military members and their families for 25 years.

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