Apr 25

Military Spouses: Prepare for Transition to Civilian Life

Military spouses are some of the most resilient and flexible human beings on the planet. They have to learn very early on in military life to cope with stress, frequent professional and personal change and loss. Spouses of senior military leaders may find themselves in leadership roles of their own, both inside and outside the military community, often with minimal preparation or training.

When the time comes to separate from military life, senior military spouses can expect to face new challenges and opportunities. Spouses may decide to return to school or perhaps launch a new career. There are many resources available to military spouses, some of whom also may be veterans, to help jumpstart their personal and professional post-military lives.

Female veterans or military spouses seeking free mentoring advice may wish to check out: www.joiningforcesmentoringplus.org

Spouses who have been stay-at-home parents now seeking to return to the workforce can find some great information at www.irelaunch.com

The following is the first of several conversations I want to share with you about individuals and organizations with expertise and insights to share with senior military spouses preparing for transition back to civilian life. If you are a senior military spouse who has transitioned, I hope you will share your own perspectives so that others can learn from your experiences.

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Recently, I spoke with Aggie Byers, Director, Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense:

VSB: What do you see as the key priorities for spouses of senior military leaders as they and their active duty members prepare for separation from military life? 

Byers: Spouses of senior leaders, whether having worked inside or outside the home, should give themselves credit for the concrete skills they have developed and practiced over many years in military life. Team-building, adaptive, resilient, organizational talents – these are skills that are equally valued and appreciated in civilian life, both in the community and in the workforce. 

These days, people are taking better care of themselves, exercising more and living longer, so couples leaving the military have more time in their lives to explore and grow, both professionally and personally. One or both individuals may be interested in launching a new 20-year career. Some spouses may prefer to continue to volunteer their time with one of the many community organizations that greatly value the skill sets former military spouses bring to their agencies.  Spouses should take time to consider their goals, interests and passions and the path they would like to pursue in civilian life.

VSB: How is the transition for spouses from military to civilian life different than the adjustments they have made during their active duty members’ military service, including frequent relocations, deployments and career changes?

Byers: I think the biggest difference is that when you relocate within the military, you know what you are going to experience. The culture will generally be the same throughout the military and with a tradition of welcoming newcomers in an organized manner. In civilian life, the culture is diffuse, less tight, and the support structure is less solid.  The emotional sense of community that exists within the military — sharing a common mission and common sense of purpose – is often missing in civilian life. One needs to be prepared for that loss of community, be able to grieve that loss and ultimately accept it, in order to move forward.

VSB: How can spouses best prepare themselves for that adjustment?

Byers: Spouses will need to decide for themselves how best to walk the fine line of remaining connected to friends and accomplishments associated with their military lives and focusing energies on building new relationships and opportunities as they look ahead to their civilian lives. Here is some food for thought: 

* Reach out to military friends with whom you’d like to remain in touch; while your lifestyle will be different, with extra effort, you can still remain in touch.

* Try not to get lost in the past or dwell on what is missing. Focus your efforts on planning and looking ahead to adventure and opportunity in your new life. Think about what you are retiring to, not what you are retiring from.

* Just as you were able to achieve successes of your own while living a military life, you will continue to be able to apply the great skills you developed over the years as you transition into civilian life. You achieved success in your own right because of who you are and you can use those talents to seek out new successes in your civilian life, if you so choose.

VSB: How can spouses best take forward the leadership skills they developed during military life?

Byers: Spouses should conduct a frank self-assessment and recognize their extensive capabilities. They have not just supported their active duty members; they have developed leadership, teamwork, organization and resilience skills of their own. We shouldn’t downplay the importance of that accomplishment.

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Military Spouse Blog readers: How was your transition to civilian life? Did you find it easier or harder than other transitions you made during your family’s time living a military life?  How have you reinvented yourself in civilian life?  Leave us a comment and let us know!

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