13 Crucial Things to Discuss Before Marrying Into the Military
There is a lot of advice floating around about what matters you should discuss before marriage, but many of them do not pertain to military relationships.
I’ve been getting a lot of emails from military girlfriends asking for my “professional” opinion as a therapist on whether they are ready to get married. I can’t give personal advice because I don’t know the specifics about their individual relationships, but I can offer some general advice that will ensure you have a solid foundation for a successful military marriage.
Marriage in general is a life-altering, wonderful, exciting decision. It requires patience, love, compromise and continuous effort from both partners. Marrying into the military presents all of the complexities of a typical marriage, with the unique aspect of the military lifestyle tossed in. Usually if you’re planning on getting married, you already share common interests, friends, and values, but you want to ensure you and your partner are on the same page. This doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything, but you do need to talk and know where one another stand.
Discussing these topics helped me connect with my husband before we got married to develop our relationship and establish a steady foundation for a successful marriage. I hope they work for you too!
Finances. Make sure you know everything about one another’s finances. Finances influence your lives on a daily basis. Learn about each other’s spending habits, if either of you have any outstanding debt, whether you will combine bank accounts and if you have plans for saving for the future. Money issues are one of the leading causes of divorce. The multiple stressors that occur in military marriages (fluctuations in income, separations, frequent moves, deployments, etc.) exacerbate this issue. If you’re both in agreement with finances, it’s one less complication to contend with during these stressful times, and allows you to focus your attention on being emotionally available for each other. We are not particularly religious, but we love Dave Ramsey. I highly recommend visiting his website and learning about his financial perspective. His advice has helped us become and remain debt-free which has eliminated any burden of arguments or conflict around money.
Children. Do you both want children? If so, how many? When do you want to start trying? If you’re unable to conceive naturally, are you open to alternatives like in vitro or adoption? Does Tricare cover these medical expenses? If not, how do you plan on financing these options? What parenting styles do you plan on using? Are you mentally prepared to bring children into your military lifestyle? My husband and I had numerous conversations about these things, to ensure we were ready to start a family. A few more specific topics we discussed were opinions on disciplinary style, circumcision, vaccination, and homeschooling v public education.
Your home. Where do you want to put down your roots after the military? Will you move near your family or your partner’s family? This may be a question to discuss down the line, especially if your partner is career military, but is still important to address. My husband has another 9 years left in the Army, but we still talk about our future after he leaves the service. We discuss things like what transition will be like, what kinds of jobs we want to pursue and where we want to raise our children. We also have a slight obsession with HGTV and imagine the type of home we want our “forever home” (the home we will live in once he gets out of the Army) to resemble. It’s a fun way to spend time together and also opens a channel to discuss our individual expectations and what we are willing to compromise on.
Career goals. How committed are each of you to your careers? Are you prepared to sacrifice putting your career on hold in order to support your partner’s military career? Do you have more schooling to accomplish? There are many resources for military spouses to return to school including transfer of the post-9/11 GI Bill (if your spouse agrees), financial scholarships and grants such as My Career Advancement Account Scholarship (MyCAA), Salute to Spouses, Career Step and various other educational assistance programs for military spouses. If you are climbing the ladder in your current career, how does that affect the dynamic of your relationship? Basically, are your career goals compatible with your life goals? I am a clinical social worker, and love my occupation, but have decided to become a stay at home mother while our children are young. We came to the decision that this is what is best for our growing family. You can see the details of this decision in my previous post about maintaining your identity.
Know each other’s past. Do not have any secrets between the two of you. You don’t need to know every exhaustive detail, but it is important to know someone’s past as it helps you to see how he or she got to the present.
Relationships. Be familiar with each other’s immediate family. You’re not only marrying your partner, you are marrying their family too, and you definitely want to know what you’re getting into. In military life, we tend to be separated often and being close to our partners family may help us feel more connected to our partners, and serves as an additional support network, which we could all use. Knowing the family dynamic is also helpful when envisioning how your partner will interact with you and your future family. This goes for close friends as well. If you don’t get along with the people closest to your partner, how is that going to impact your relationship in the long-term? We both lucked out and get along wonderfully with each other’s families. It’s comforting for us to know we have an extended family to rely on in times of need and in times of joy.
Sex and intimacy. What is important to you in the aspect of a sexual relationship? Are you monogamous? What do you consider infidelity? As you know, military life can have an enormous impact on sexual habits. If you’re away from your partner for a significant amount of time, you will become sexually frustrated. It happens. But how you handle it is the key. Are you both strong enough to remain faithful?
Stress test. How do you each respond to stress? Many couples fail to stay together because they haven’t had to face the “real-world” together. Situations that produce stress and anxiety can be a make it or break it for a relationship. I speak from personal experience when I say this is one particular piece of advice that I strongly suggest you consider. I was struggling with mental health issues that I had not fully sorted out, which I brought into our relationship. We had to practice effective communication and learn to work together to surmount these obstacles. If you’ve never had to deal with a stressful situation, then you’re faced with a serious life complication such as injury, TDY, deployment or death, it’s extremely difficult to interact and push through it if you don’t know the communication style of your partner, or how they react under such circumstances.
Communication. No phones, no e-mails, no texts, just good old-fashioned conversation. Do you find it hard to just sit and talk to each other without technology getting in the way? If so, this may expose underlying issues that reflect general incompatibility. If you can’t communicate in person, there’s no way you’re going to be able to endure time apart and successfully keep the lines of communication open and remain connected to your partner. I recommend reading The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman with your partner to help understand your partner’s love language, that is, how they communicate love. Also, take advantage of military-sponsored couples and family retreats as they’re a free, fun and valuable resource. Each branch should have their own particular program. The Army has a program called Strong Bonds that is phenomenal. We thoroughly enjoy attending their retreats and deepening our relationship. Other communication habits my husband and I practice are eating dinner together at the table and going to bed together. Of course this isn’t always achievable, but we do so whenever possible. We treat these as times to reconnect with no distractions, just the two of us. It helps garner feelings of closeness, increased communication and affection. These benefits also spill over into other aspects of the relationship and thus improve our marriage overall.
Cultural differences and similarities. What cultures do you each come from and what type of culture do you want to create for your family? Do you practice a particular faith? If so, how important is it that your partner share or practice the same faith? If you have children, what faith will you raise them in? Another topic to discuss in this realm is political views. You don’t necessarily have to belong to the same political party, but are you both content with accepting this difference of opinion? Is one of you from a military family and the other not? How does this impact your expectations of your partner to be resilient and flexible within the military lifestyle?
Division of household labor. Does your partner expect you to take care of all the household chores or will it be a shared responsibility? My husband and I split duties equally, and just do what needs to be done. I tend to be anal retentive and like things a certain way, so I usually handle cleaning to avoid nagging his methods. My husband usually helps out wherever possible, and thankfully doesn’t complain if I ask him to do something.
Know each other’s worst qualities. Make sure you enhance the positive and accept the negative. The little things do matter. If there are things about your partner that irk the hell out of you, they will only irk you more when you’re married. Talking while eating, smacking, cracking knuckles, leaving the cap off the toothpaste, putting the toilet paper on the roll the wrong way–things like that. The added stressors of military life make it more likely to develop resentment, so it is important to be cognizant of this possibility.
Learn to fight fair. Arguments are inevitable. The difference is how you argue and ensuring that issues get resolved without being destructive. When issues are resolved properly it reduces the likelihood they will resurface in the future. Some dos and don’ts of fair fighting include: No screaming, cursing, name calling, blaming, generalizations (you always, you never), no emotional abuse, stick to the subject, take turns speaking, do not deliver “low blows”, use a cool off period if needed, but never leave an argument unresolved. Couples counseling is also an excellent resource and safe place to discuss such techniques.
These discussions are not meant to be simple, but are necessary to ensure you are prepared for a military marriage. The more open you are communicating about these various issues, the better your chances are of being able to conquer life’s curve balls together as a team.
Do you have any advice that helped you prepare for military marriage?