I like to say that my spouse and I have stayed married nearly 28 years because he was gone half of that time, thanks to the military.
I’m never really sure if I’m kidding or not when I make that statement.
The reality is that, two years into retirement, we’re still learning how to live together, what our roles are, and where we go from here.
The thrill of retirement when he dropped his paperwork was quickly tempered by the reality of a new life, completely foreign to both of us. We got married a month after he went on active duty. He served for 26 years. We each knew where we stood in military life.
I was the parent, the financial planner, the housekeeper, the cook, the driver, the travel agent, the handyman, the nurse, the counselor, the friend, the professional journalist who worked on my own career when I had time.
He was the warrior.
As a military spouse, my life went in a million different directions at once. His was laser-focused on his job and his soldiers.
Occasionally over the years we talked about retirement – where we thought we might want to live, what jobs we would do, how we would raise our kids in a post-military world. But mostly we just went with the flow.
Until that day that he came home and said, “I’m ready. I’m going to tell the boss I’m retiring.”
Reality hit like a ton of bricks. Over the next several months we both realized that our vague plan to move back near our hometown in Florida was not really what either of us wanted to do.
Suddenly we had no idea where we would go or what we would do. The anxiety levels went through the roof.
Surviving military retirement as a couple takes one very important skill: Communication, the one thing we had never been great at. Suddenly, almost instinctively, we started talking about everything. What did we each want our future life to look like? What were our goals and dreams? What would our finances look like?
We brought our kids, then ages 12 and 14, into it, too. We asked them what they wanted in a school, in a community, what type of place they would like to call home.
We made a plan that included budgeting our money and doing tireless research on every facet of retirement.
Nov. 30 will mark two years since we started this journey. Where we are now looks like nothing like we originally thought it would until we actually started talking.
And where we are now is pretty darn great.
How do you open those lines of communication and keep them going? Here are five tips to surviving military retirement with your spouse, starting at the very beginning:
1. Don’t push your service member to retire.
Let him or her come to the realization that they are “ready.” Otherwise, they’ll have a much harder time transitioning – and so will you.
2. Set aside time each week or each month for a “meeting.”
That could be at the kitchen table, on a walk through the neighborhood, or during a date night out. Use that time to set goals, and to talk honestly about finances and priorities.
3. Conflicts will happen, but when they do, look at the real reason behind them.
Step back and ask yourself if what is really bothering you. Hint: Getting mad at your spouse for loading the dishwasher the “wrong” way isn’t a healthy response. Telling him or her what’s really bothering you, and vice versa, is. Another hint: In our house, those kinds of arguments are nearly always about control.
4. Be careful about too much outside advice.
It’s great to talk to friends and family, especially those who have been through similar life transitions. But only you and your spouse can make the best decisions for you.
5. Most importantly…have fun and enjoy each other.
Marriage takes work, no matter what stage you’re at in life. And that work changes as we both evolve. But the return – seeing my spouse every day being involved as a full member of our marriage and our family – is something I never imagined would be so amazing.