Thursday, July 3, 2014

5 Pitfalls for New Navy Wives, Fiances, and Girlfriends to Avoid

By Stephanie Carroll
Author of A White Room
The Tigers Parachute Display Team
by Vicki Burton via Flickr cc

The following pitfalls are things that I have seen happen over and over with Navy couples. Some of these things are things you could say every new couple has to deal with, but Navy couples have some unique challenges.

     1.     Cattiness and Drama
It’s difficult living in close proximity with people. We see it all the time in reality television shows. Most people who marry a service member find themselves living in base housing. This is where things can get really out of control. Base houses are duplexes, so you are very, very close to your neighbors. Furthermore, all the service members generally know or work with each other. Basically, all your neighbors will become the people you hang out with regularly and who also work with your spouse. Even if you have established friendships off base, you would have to go out of your way to not end up socializing regularly with the people who live around you in these tightly knit base communities. Don't even get me started about the messes made on social media.

Cliques, gossip, cattiness, and drama are just unavoidable. Its human nature, and it’s easy to get caught up in it. This puts stress on both husband and wife, service member and spouse. In addition to the stress of drama in general, drama makes both you and your Sailor look bad on a professional level. When you live on base, any dramatic home life issues automatically become the Sailor’s work issues. This can even affect long term careers. People will get passed up for a promotion if their spouses are trouble makers.

Drama will happen regardless. The best thing to do is to stay positive, stay out of it, and be the bigger person even when people are being overtly rude. Think of the role of Navy Wife/Girlfriend/Fiance as comparable to being a First Lady of sorts. You are also a representative of the U.S. Navy and of your service member, so behave as you would if his boss were watching. 

2.     Money, Money, Money … No More Money
When young men enter the military, they often know nothing about money management simply because no one knows anything about money management when they are 18. Then the military gives them everything they need: food, housing, transportation, medical, dental, plus a paycheck. It’s not much more pay than what most people get from their first job, but with everything else covered, a lot of Sailors only need to pay their cell phone bills and everything else is free game. When I met my husband, he actually had a goal to spend all of his pay check every month. He was living paycheck to paycheck on purpose!

This mentality of frivolous spending runs rampid in the military, so even those who are not prone to it can become encouraged by others. Then the habit will continue into a relationship and can easily spread to the spouse because when you get married, the Navy provides housing, medical, dental, a pay raise to accommodate the spouse, and free utilities. Plus, tax-free shopping at the Nex (department store), Commissary (grocery store), and base gas station. 

The group mentality issues with money also gets worse with everyone living so close to everyone in base housing. Boys see their buddies’ toys all the time and naturally end up wanting one themselves. This leads to the common and, in my opinion, creepy thing where everyone in base housing has the same stuff, i.e. same types of cars, video games systems, furniture, etc. I’m sorry it’s kind of Stepford.

My point is that a huge percentage of couples in the military suffer from debt and money emergencies because of poor money management. Tackle this immediately. Don’t wait until you are thigh deep in debt. The local Navy Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) has classes and financial counseling to help you if you need it. Or pick up Money before Marriage: A Financial Workbook for Engaged Couples by Larry Burckett and Michael Taylor. Or check out Couples Money: What Every Couple Should Know About Money and Relationships by Chris and Marlow Felton.

3.     Wearing Your Sailor’s Rank
Some wives will act as though they are superior to others because their husbands are of a higher rank. This is known as wearing your husband’s rank, and it’s looked down upon by most military people and on a professional level as well. I’m under the impression that those who do this do it because they encountered somebody else who did it and are under the impression that it’s acceptable, or they just can’t help themselves to the temptation of feeling superior.

Just don't copy this behavior if you see it and remember to be modest and kind to others. Remember, you are a representative. 

(This is more of a general pitfall as opposed to being a relationship one, but again causing problems for your Sailor professionally will always put strain on a relationship.)

4.     Jealousy, Mistrust
I’m not going to lie. Cheating is a huge problem in the military but the fear of someone cheating can cause just as much damage. I know from my own experience. I’m not a super jealous person, but having my husband cheat on me during a deployment was my top fear. It caused problems in our relationship that eventually exploded even though he never cheated.

It’s helpful to recognize that cheating is not something that people do on accident. Psychologists agree that cheating is a symptom of a problem in a relationship that the individual feels he or she cannot resolve. Unfortunately, that problem can be the fact that one person cannot trust the other or uses intrusive jealousy. For more on what psychologists say on this, check out Eight Reasons Why People Cheat on Psychology Today’s Website.

Do not become obsessed with the possibility that your Sailor may cheat. Instead become well informed about how to have a healthy relationship. That’s the best way to prevent cheating. The military actually provides free marriage counseling (learn more on Military OneSource), many churches offer pre-marriage orientation classes, or you could start with a book about relationships. I highly recommend Time for a Better Marriage by Dr. Jon Carlson and Dr. Don Dinkmeyer Sr., and The Seven Principals to Making Marriage Work by Dr. John M. Gottman. These are two books I've read and learned from and they were very useful.

5.     Failure to Communicate
Communication is the key to having a healthy relationship period, but for a military relationship, it is even more crucial. Communication sounds easy right—isn’t it just talking? Actually, communication can be complicated and it’s even more complicated when half of the time you are talking only once a day by email (a common situation during deployments) or not talking for weeks or months (common for submarine deployments). 

I recommend learning about communication during detachments and deployments by utilizing all the resources the military offers and they do offer a lot. Unfortunately, people can go years without knowing about the resources available. There are manuals, books, websites, Family Readiness Groups (FRGs) and much more.

Of course before you can effectively communicate under these extra challenging circumstances, you need to know how to communicate in general. Again I recommend using marriage counseling, relationship classes, or books to help you and your Sailor avoid this pitfall. 

Some people think that relationship coaching or counseling is something to be ashamed of, but ask yourself how many things you have done in this life without learning how to first? Did you just wake up potty trained? Did you master your childhood hobby after one try? Did you jump in the driving instructor’s car and pass the test without ever driving before? Did you turn 18 and just poof have a degree? Even Neo fell on the first jump.

Relationships are one of those things that encompass the majority of our lives and yet no one ever teaches us how to be successful in them. Do yourself a favor and find a way to learn because trial and error will not always lead to happy matrimony.  

I hope by discussing these pitfalls, you will be prepared for them. Some are not completely avoidable, but everyone struggles them, especially something like communication, especially during a deployment, so don't worry when you struggle too. That's just a part of being a Navy Wife, Girlfriend, or Fiance. Even if you find yourself having fallen into one of these pitfalls, know you can overcome them, climb your way out.

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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Buy Her Book A White Room!
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

Learn more at and connect with me @CarrollBooks on Twitter, Facebook, or on Pinterest!

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1 comment:

I love, love your comments and questions! Just remember to not mention any security info about your Sailor! Thank you!

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