The Secret Life of a Military Spouse
For four years, I lived the life as a military spouse. It wasn't easy, it was rarely fun, but it was always interesting. Recently, I watched a bit of the TV show, Army Wives, on the Lifetime network. I had heard of the show before, but had never watched it. I figured it would be some weepy show, full of inaccurate stories of what the life of a military spouse is really like.
To my surprise, it was somewhat accurate. My ex-husband was not in the Army, and I will just leave it at that, so I don't really know if the situation is all that different, but for the most part, it was fairly accurate. I was surprised. It is a drama, so there is a lot of good, a lot of bad, and a lot of the normal. But, of course, it's TV, so there is none of the mundane.
The truth is, there is a lot of the mundane, but that is the same with any life. Life is not all just an up and down crazy roller-coaster. There were a lot of ups and downs, scary moments, painful moments, and a lot of really happy times, but TV doesn't show you all that stuff that lies in between the ups and downs. It doesn't show the boredom, the day to day reality.
All good stories should start at the beginning, so that's where we will start. My life as a military wife started the day my husband left for bootcamp. I was pregnant with our first child, and I had a hard time saying goodbye. He headed to training camp, and we weren't even allowed to talk on the phone. Months of loneliness and dozens of letters. Other than two short phone calls on the day our daughter was born, the letters were the only communication we had. It was hard on both of us.
His schooling was only slightly better. I was basically a single mom for the time that he was at school. I got daily phone calls and still more letters. I updated him on how the baby was, and sent him pictures. I cut out a clipping of his picture in the paper and sent it to him. All the while, I kept telling myself that it will be better once we are together. I needed some hope that things would be better. For a while, it was.
A New Home
Stepping off the plane in a new city, in a very different part of the country, far from my family and friends was one of the hardest and most exciting things I had ever done. I had great hopes for starting our life fresh in a new place, with a new life.
Our apartment was small, but efficient; perfect military housing architecture, bland and boring, but it quickly became home. I tried to fill it with things that we both loved. I tried to make it more than what it was. I was the doting wife, who kept the house clean, took care of the baby, and helped out in any way I could to make his life easier. I was bored. I had no friends. I tried to keep busy, but far too often, I would find myself watching and waiting for him to come home. He would be tired and want to rest; I would be stir crazy and want to get out of the house. This quickly put a strain on our relationship.
I found a few friends in the wives of some of the people in his shop. They were a God-send! One lived in the same housing area that I did, and we spent some time together at first, but not a lot. They were both younger than me, and I had a child, while they did not. Being in the isolated housing area that we were in, made it hard to seek out friends whom I might have more in common with. I had a hard time, and turned to my friends and family back home for support.
The First Deployment
The first deployment came too quickly. We had only been at our duty station for four months! We had already spent so much time apart, and were finally together, and the dreaded first deployment was here. My friend who lived in the same housing area, let's call her Kelly. Her husband was deploying with mine. I had someone to turn to. We had each other. We quickly bonded and spent most of that deployment together.
Her mother came to visit, and she would watch my daughter, so Kelly and I could get some time out of the house together. We hit the town, and quickly realized a few things. First, we could have fun, even though we were sad about our husbands being gone. Second, alcohol flows freely in a military town. And third, single men in the military prey on wives of deployed members of the military. These men saw the rings on our fingers, saw something in us that said, "Our husbands are deployed!", and I guess, they figured we were fair game.
I can't count the times I had guys hitting on me, buying me drinks, or making moves on me after they found out my husband was deployed. I was shocked! I can even recall one time, a guy from my husband's own shop tried to kiss me! Someone both my husband and I knew! I look back at how naïve I was back then, and it almost makes me laugh. If I had known then, what I learned later, I would not have been so shocked.
Cheating in the military is more common than most people would realize. Even though it is a chargeable offense in the military, it is very, very common, and in most cases, people just look the other way. Unfortunately, Kelly was the first of us to realize this. Shortly following that first deployment, she discovered that her husband had been cheating. A pattern that would continue until they eventually split up.
My husband's first deployment lasted only a few months, and I was able to stay true to my vows, despite the numerous advances of numerous men. I was so happy to see him get off that bus! I could hardly stand it. I remember that day so well; all the nervous energy, the preperations, the primping, and the seemingly endless wait. It was one of the happier moments.
Clips of "Army Wives" on Lifetime
The Long Stretch
There was a long stretch where he did not get deployed. It was over a year before he got deployed again. That time in between deployments was good and it was also bad. How bad, I would not know until much later.
We had a lot of fun, spending time with our friends, and having parties for one thing or another, hitting the bars when we could find a sitter, and just enjoying our lives. It wasn't always easy. There were last minute inspections, early mornings every day, and training exercises that would take him away for a couple weeks at a time, but it was tolerable. I was adjusting and making friends. I got a job at a child care center, and I loved it! I made even more friends through my time there. Things were actually going well.
Then more news. My husband was being sent out-of-state for some training exercise. It was him and a couple others. He said it would be fine, and he would be back in no time. It was only two weeks, after all. No different than other training exercises in the past, this one was just out-of-state, so he would not be able to come home at all, not even for an afternoon. Like most things, this came up at the last minute, and we had to rush around to prepare. I helped him get his gear ready, and gave him a big hug and kiss goodbye, and tried to explain to our daughter why daddy had to leave again. She was so young. It was hard for her.
This was not like every other training exercise. They were in a hotel instead of in the field, and he was able to go out to the bars at the end of the day, instead of hanging out in his tent, playing cards with the guys. He came home, and he seemed strange. I asked him about it, and he said that he was only tired. Days went by with him acting stranger and stranger, sitting on the computer all the time, looking at me weird. I knew something was up, but every attempt at getting anything out of him, only resulted in more of nothing.
I got nosey, hacked into his email, and there was all the answer I needed. Emails to and from a woman, with intimate details, and more than I ever wanted to see. As I said, cheating is a very common thing in the military, and I had never really believed he could do it. But, here it was in full color, ripping my heart out of my chest. I called him at the shop and screamed at him, hoping his CO would hear me. I wanted him to pay. I wanted him to hurt the way I hurt.
He promised me that this was the only time, that it would never happen again, and that he would never see or talk to her again. Lies, lies, lies...that's all it was. It was not the first time, it did happened again, and he did talk to her again. We attempted counceling, but he could never get out of work to go. The military doesn't care if you and your spouse are happy. An old joke says, "If the military wanted you to have a spouse and children, they would have issued them to you." It is a bad joke, mostly because it is mostly true.
I don't want to turn this into just a session of bashing the military and bashing my ex. That isn't what this is about. This is a cautionary tale for anyone contemplating a life as a member of the military or as a military spouse. But, in the course of doing that, I have to be honest.
Revelations: The Second Deployment
Things never really got better. There was never enough time. Between training, his work schedule, my job, our daughter, and just making it through each day, we grew further apart. The damage that was done, was never repaired, and we only ever made it to two counceling sessions. And then, the second deployment came. A seven month stint in Iraq this time. I was terrified. I knew our relationship was rocky, at best, and being separated for such a long time could only make it worse. My friend Kelly and her husband had already gotten divorced the year before, so I knew it could happen.
I had learned a lot by then. I had learned what life as a military spouse was really like. The way you were treated by other military members, by other spouses. My friend Kelly was looked at as a whore. After repeatedly cheating on her, and then a messy divorce, her husband, and other men spread lies about her, and a lot of times, it's a guilt by association thing. My other friend, Rachel and I were seen in much the same way. If only because of who we were friends with, and the lies that were spread. We were seen as easy prey.
Rachel's husband was already overseas. She had a harder time than either Kelly or I dealing with the deployments. She seems to feel things more deeply than Kelly or I do. She is a strong, smart woman, and still she had already succumbed to the advances of a couple of men in the short time her husband was gone. Was I going to fall that easily? Was my marriage even worth saving at that point?
I shared my fears with my husband. He tried to ease my fears, but I saw in his eyes something that scared me. He doubted me, but there was more. Something else hiding behind the concern. The day he left was bright and sunny, but storms were churning deep inside me. I had so many questions, but there was no time to ask them. It was once again, time to say goodbye. My daughter kissed her father, I gave him a hug and a kiss, and off he went. Off to danger and adventure, and more boredom that I could have imagined.
A short time later, I confronted a few friends of mine on something that had happened a year before, shortly before the time he cheated on me, in fact. I had ventured home for the wedding of my sister, and on one night, I could not reach him. I called and called, I even called Kelly and Rachel. No one knew where he was, no one would tell me anything. It seemed odd, and I was really upset. He told me later that he had been babysitting for a friend of Kelly's, and that he had fallen asleep, woke up later, and gone home.
I confronted my friends about this after my husband had left for Iraq. Something about the way he was looking at me in the days before he left was bugging me. They told me what they knew. He had been at this person's house, helping with the kids, and Kelly and Rachel had gone to Kelly's house, right next door. His car never left the parking lot, and my husband and this woman had been acting weird all day that day and the next.
I decided to call this woman's ex-husband,Dustin, who strangly enough, was the man that Rachel was currently dating. Dustin told me what his ex had told him. That she and my husband had done everything except the actual act itself. That she had stopped him at the last minute and told him no. Neither I nor Dustin believed this for a second. I could not call mu husband this time and yell at him. I had to wait for a call from him.
It was a long two days before I heard from him. I told him I wanted a divorce. I had to wait months for him to return from Iraq so we could start the process, but in my mind, our marriage ended that day on the phone. I wanted nothing more to do with him, or his lies. I was a much wiser woman that I had been when I first stepped off that plane, and knew I could get pretty much anything or anyone that I wanted if I really wanted to.
My wedding ring came off, the high heels went on, and I went a little crazy. We spent a lot of nights out, a lot of nights having huge parties, and a lot of nights are still a bit of a blur. I had a great babysitter who lived right next door to Kelly and her boyfriend. It made the life I was leading very easy. I spent most of my time with my daughter, but spent quite a few nights out with my friends. I'm not saying that what I did was a good thing. I was hurting, and in a lot of pain. I was careful and responsible, but he still found out. He had me followed. For all I knew, he had been having me followed from the get go. I have no idea. I don't really care. Fact is, he found out. He threw it in my face. He tried to use it against me, threatened me and threatened to get the person I had been seeing into trouble.
It became very messy. He tried to win me back, tried to bribe me, blackmail me, you name it. I had no one to turn to except my friends. Kelly and Rachel were still there, we had managed to stay together this entire time. Through Kelly's divorce and another bad relationship and Rachel having a baby and an affair, to my own affair, we were still together. It was amazing, and I relied on them to help me through it all. I spent a lot of time with Kelly and her current boyfriend, and even had the help of a couple of the guys that worked with my husband. I of course, had the support of my friends and family back home, but they were so far away.
He returned from Iraq, and we started the divorce process. The whole time, he is trying to win me back, telling me he can change, etc, etc. He also wanted me to change. I could not be friends with Kelly and Rachel anymore, I could not go out. It was as if I was the one who had ruined our marriage and not the other way around. Our divorce was finalized six months after he got back, and I moved back home.
My story is not all that uncommon. Out of everyone I met during my time as a military wife, I can't remember one single married couple who had survived the military without someone cheating at some point. A lot of times, it ended up being someone the other person was close with, a friend, a friend of the spouse, someone they saw at work, but once in a while, it was just a random someone they met at a bar in another city, where they didn't think anyone would ever find out. Everyone is very close-mouthed about it. Kind of like "don't ask, don't tell." If you don't ask for the information, no one is going to tell you. Sometimes, even if you ask, they won't tell you.
Life is better for me and for my two friends. Kelly is still with the guy she was dating during my ex's last deployment. They are engaged and moving away from the area we all lived. Rachel is still married, and is expecting her second child. They are stationed at a training base, and he isn't expected to deploy again anytime soon. I am doing well. I have reconnected with my first love, my high school sweetheart. We are both divorced, both have kids and both are astoundingly happy. I can't remember being this happy. Kelly and I will be living few short hours from each other, and are looking forward to hanging out together, and planning her wedding. Life has moved on.
I doubt things will ever change in the military as long as too many people look the other way. Cheating is commonplace. It seemed to me, that it became an accepted part of the military life. It may be considered a crime in the military, but it is one that is often ignored, or overlooked. I am not saying every married person in the military cheats, or that every spouse cheats. I am only sharing my experience and what I saw and dealt with. I have a great love for the members of the military, and a great respect for what they do. I have made many friends from my time as a military wife, and I love and respect them dearly. I don't wish to talk ill of them in any way. The people that I met, for the most part, were great people. Even good people are flawed.
© 2008 Anna Marie Bowman