Thursday, June 16, 2016

Can a Military Relationship Work? Do I have to Give Everything Up?

Mikinzi asked:
I'll Take Two of What You're Having by Lis Ferla via Flickr cc.

. . . my boyfriend and I have been dating for a little over 3 months. We've known each other since we were 16 (we're 21 now) and we're best friends and only recently decided we would try at a relationship. I haven't seen him in person since I was 19, . . . he is thinking about re-enlisting and I can't help but be a little nervous because as much as I see a future with him,a long term relationship is so unbelievably hard, and to have a "relationship" when you can't be with each other is starting to get to my confidence . . . 

I'm really struggling with how I feel inside about our relationship because we've only physically been with each other as best friends never as a couple. I'm scared that come this Christmas, when we've been with each other for 9 months, that that'll be the first time we see each other as a couple, and it'll just either go way too fast or feel off because for the last (almost) 2 years we weren't with each other. . . . 

I'm not sure if I can be the Navy wife. . . . I'm scared it's not going to work because for me spending 4 years and a million dollars (not really but man does it feel like it) on an education just to get married and become a navy wife and move around - it would've all been for nothing, . . . it's hard to constantly justify my decision to be in a long distance relationship to others with a guy who is on a boat 6 months out of the year with no wi-fi, and with a 14 hour time difference. . . . 

I think I just need some reassurance that I'm not crazy for trying to make a relationship work when getting the physical attention I want can't happen for a while. I want to see him and start a life together but it just feels so far away.

My Response:

Hi Mikinizi, thanks for commenting! You have a couple of different concerns, so I'm going to break this down. 

Is This Relationship Doomed because It's Not Normal?
Couple by Mika Hirronniemi via Flickr cc.
To start, don’t worry! Everything you are feeling is completely reasonable. It’s normal to have fears and concerns, especially when you are doing something that doesn’t follow the norm. However, that doesn’t mean it’s doomed to failure. A lot of people break away from convention and find out that what they try turns out better than the normal way ever could and many others stick with what everyone else does and end up in an unhappy situation just because it’s what people do. Good for you for following your heart instead of the crowd. 

My husband and I have spent our lives breaking away from the norm. We eloped and had a wedding a couple years later. We didn’t have children and plan to adopt. We’ve made unconventional choices regarding our careers, etc. We are going on twelve years, happy as can be, and more so sometimes. We’ve had people question us along the way too, but we knew what we wanted and we went for it.

Unfortunately, a part of doing things differently is having people question you. Dating or marrying someone in the military, you will always have people who don’t understand and who doubt it and doubt you. It's hard hearing that from people who you love and who care about you. All you can do is accept that they are coming from a place of love, but just because others have concerns doesn't mean they know what is right for you. Remember that you still get to have the final say in what you want and what you will do.

Do I Have to Give Up My Education?
Calm Reading by Rob Tolomei via Flickr cc.
It sounds like you think being with a military man means that your education will be a waste and that you won’t be able to pursue a career. This is a common misconception. it's true that a lot of military wives don't work, but that doesn't mean they couldn't. 

I am another example of this. I got married at 19, while I was in college, and I graduated, and went on to work as a reporter and then become a published author. 

I know women who didn’t marry their Sailors right away and continued dating, and I know women who married, had children, and still finished college. I know military wives who didn't go to college but still work and enjoy their jobs. I've met military wives who are nurses, teachers, stand-up comedians, and even military officers themselves. You can do whatever you want to do and don’t let anyone tell you different! You might have to work hard or deal with some challenges that other people don’t, but if go after it, then you can do it. 

Can I Have a Career if I Marry A Military Man?
Also just because you have to move around in the military doesn't mean you can't pursue a career. Lots of people move around while building a career and lots of people move around because of one person's career requires it. This is true for civilians too. 

As a couple you can make decisions about where you are going to live to make sure that you both have equal opportunities for your careers. You get to choose orders. You might only have a couple of options, but if you’re career depends on you working in a city, then you two can choose San Diego over Lemoore or whatever. Also just become you go to a small town doesn't mean you won't find a job.

Some couples pick a place where there will always be orders and just stay. Just because moving is common doesn't mean it's the only option.

Do I have No Say About Where We Live?
Gigi in the city by Paolobarzman via Flickr cc.
Sometimes, I and other military wives talk about having to move to small isolated towns, but it's not like we had no other choice. My husband and I moved to Fallon, Nevada right after I graduated college. We could have tried for somewhere else, but Fallon was the best option for his career and since I was going into journalism and it would be easier to start at a small paper, it didn't affect my career plans as much as his. Now as an author, I work from home, so if his career needed us to move somewhere, that's where we would go, but that doesn't mean that we don't have a choice.

The really important thing is to talk to your Sailor about all of these thoughts and fears in a rational way. I say rational because if you just go on a fear rant, he might get overwhelmed, but if you both communicate, and you make sure he is aware of your wants and needs for the future, there is no reason why you can’t work together to meet those goals. Both of you will have to make some compromises, but it doesn’t mean he gets everything and you get nothing.

Dusty Touchscreen by Francois Schnell via Flickr cc.

Can this Relationship Work When We Never See Each Other?
I also wanted to address your fears about the separation. If you were able to reconnect on a romantic level and start dating when you haven’t seen each other in person for years, then I think you will be fine when it comes to dealing with separation. 

Everyone starts out in a position of not knowing what’s going to happen or how they will make it, but you just keep at it. Over time you gain knowledge and a tolerance to the separation that makes it easier. 

During my first detachment experience, I had so many freak outs, and days where I just screamed and cried with frustration, but now after years of experience, my husband can go away for a month or a couple of months, and it's not really a big deal anymore.

When it comes to when you finally do get to be a couple in person, I think you will be all right. Just keep in mind that even for couples who are married for years, the homecoming comes with a "honeymoon phase," which has that thrill and uncertainty of when you first started dating. Since this is your first homecoming and the first time you seen him in person as a couple, it's probably going to be intense. It's going to feel fast, and crazy, but also awesome! The homecoming honeymoon phase is one of the best experiences, so don't get caught up in whether it's okay to be feeling the way you guys do or whether or not it's normal. Just go with it, enjoy each other, and have fun. After all these years, you've earned it!

Overall, I want you to know that you have just as much chance of having a successful relationship as anyone else. It’s okay to be afraid and unsure. It’s healthy that you are, but don’t let those thoughts or other people’s doubts prevent you from following your heart. You’ve already been doing that, so you’ve already got what it takes. You are doing good, and you can do this! Be confident and kind to yourself. You deserve it!

With the best of wishes for you and your Sailor,
Stephanie Carroll

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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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