How To Love A Soldier

Graphic by Rebecca J. Whitman

When you love someone in the military, the thing no one tells you is that you get conscripted too. You are required to move when and where the military dictates. You have to sacrifice your career, family, and friends to keep your marriage together.

In addition, you have to be flexible to enjoy downtime with your service member when they have it–whether scheduled or random. Sometimes you are all alone and feel like you are living single even when you aren’t single at all. If that wasn’t hard enough, you do it in strange places where you have no familiar support to lean on. 

Military life is isolation and trust. It is hardcore faith in someone that you chose to love even when your feelings of love are far from you. If you think it is glamorous, don’t. Being a military spouse is a calling; it is not for the faint of heart. The Military Wife and Mom wrote an insightful article about this with more details about what it takes to date and love a service member. Read her article here.

All branches of the military are different, but I think the Marines say it best concerning the reality of how most military spouses are treated. They say “if the Marines wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one”.

Think about that for a moment. Let it sink in. That statement means that loving someone in the military is an uphill battle because command ALWAYS comes before love and family. Can you respect that? Can you still love and honor someone whose first priority is not you or your kids? Unfortunately, in military life the job and mission come before anything else.

What are the long range payoffs of military service?

Military service is a short-term commitment with a long-term payment. Service members serve a certain number of years, retire with full benefits, and go on to live a whole new life with a pension that carries them for the rest of their lives. Some get out before building up their pension. Others stay in service even longer with contracted work.

But that long-term payment is bittersweet. If you stay long enough for the financial benefits, you get a lot more memories to leave emotional scars, too. The things service members see in combat follow them for the rest of their lives. It can take a toll on relationships. PTSD is a real disease treated now in civilians as well as military personnel, but it used to be excused as a weakness in the military. This article explains in more detail how it affects veterans.

Beyond these involuntary physical responses to trauma, military relationships often suffer the fallout of stress that long distances and time apart can cause. Far too many service members get Dear John letters from lovers who can’t stay faithful to them while they are deployed.

Many more return home to a distant spouse and family because they got used to life without them. The emotional toll of military life is a lot harder and a lot longer lasting than it seems. Hear how several military spouses identify signs of love in their relationships, and you will see it is attention to detail in the little things that make survival long term possible.

So, how do you protect yourself from trauma within a military relationship?

The answers are not easy and are numerous.

  • Choose to make your love an anchor and honor that person no matter how unfair your sacrifices to do so seem sometimes. You remember why you loved them in the first place, and you surround yourself with those memories when the dark times come.
  • Make the sacrifices for your family and career, and you don’t blame them for the times they are away because of their command.
  • Countdown the days, weeks, months, hours, and years to their military retirement and make plans for the future to give you both hope.
  • Make friends with other military spouses and journey through this hard life together.
  • Give it your all like the good all-American warrior that you are because you ARE a warrior.

Every day you choose to love someone difficult to love is an act of war and a battle worth winning, in my opinion. 

So, how do you handle important decisions and disagreements when your military spouse is away? 

You need to realize that the most important thing to both of you right now is not arguing over minor problems between you: it is getting your soldier home safely.

Your service member is trusting you to be strong enough to take care of yourself and your family while they are gone. Don’t give them something to worry about because worry takes their mind off the mission and on you.

It might be romantic to think your soldier is overseas worried about you, but it isn’t. Every minute that a soldier is more concerned about life back home while he is in the battlefield is a moment he puts himself and his entire company in danger. Think twice before you pick a fight with a deployed soldier. No matter how alone you feel, you have to remember that military life is about protecting the ones you love the most and defending the ideals that make us all proud Americans.

When your service member is away, it is YOU they fight for–not that location or that country. Don’t steal the heart of their fight by making problems for them. Save the tough conversations for when they are home. Keep your conversation positive but authentic while they are away. Your love is life to them; your trust and commitment is more powerful than all the weapons in their arsenal.

Let this time of deployment be a time of growth and development for you as well. The Chicago Tribune wrote an article about how to deal with deployments that included many helpful tips for establishing reliable communication with your service member before and during deployment to reduce anxiety. Check out the article here.

How do you guard your heart if the service member you love is someone you only met online?

First of all, take your time. Before you can really love someone, you need to meet them in person. Call it chemistry, but anyone can be anything they want to be online. Before you fall in love with a lie, wait untill you meet them. The Soldier Project wrote a great article on this subject with advice to also be able to tell when your service member is “into you.” Check out the article here.

Secondly, don’t spend a dime on them. I mean it! Don’t even buy them a present! Until you meet in person, you are potentially falling for a lie, and the number one scam with Stolen Valor (when someone steals a military person’s identity to create a persona meant to steal from others) is circling around you paying for them to come see you. Military leave is something that is earned not bought. Even if you do exhaust your credit and pay for that $4-10k leave, you aren’t getting your service member home with it. You just paid a scammer their paycheck. 

Lastly, knowledge is power. Immerse yourself in military culture. Get to know real military members and their families in all branches of the military. The more you know, the harder it is for someone to snow you. If someone tries to present you with Stolen Valor, you will be able to see it easier when you already know the culture they are trying to rip off. Scammers don’t understand military rank, branches, job descriptions, or technical details. Everything they get comes from Googling it, and guess what…you can do that too. If something sounds fishy, Google it. Your best defense is a good offense and that is ALWAYS verifying what someone tells you online before you fully believe in it.

How do you protect yourself online if you are in the military?

No matter how proud you are of what you do for a living (or your private gun collection), don’t post pictures online of yourself in your uniform or with weapons. Especially as you go up in rank, you are a target. I don’t even have to be your friend on social media to steal your pictures and become you, so stop sharing damaging Intel.

If you want to be online, be online with an alias. Don’t even let the world see your real name. I would even go so far as to edit pictures to mark out your real name. It is just much safer for you to hide in cloaks and daggers than it is to trust your identity is safe online. No one is safe online, but it is the high profile targets like military officers and celebrities that scammers target to copy the most. 

Don’t be naive, soldier, you are loveable. The uniform alone is swoon worthy for a lot of us, but you don’t need a lover who just wants you for your rank. Wait for the warrior who loves you for your heart and partners with your dreams. Look for that person who is not afraid to walk through fire with you. Wait for the person whose love is like a slow cooker–harder to earn but always warm for you. Don’t love anyone online only; meet in person before you get serious and drop the “Love” word on your relationship. 

Dear reader, if you have been the victim of an internet scam, know it is not your fault and you are not alone. Stolen Valor is a federal crime. Report it and try not to hold the military at fault for what happened to you.

Some scammers can actually be human traffickers that have been casing you out on social media. Read more about this crime and seek help. Don’t stay isolated and don’t believe the lie that this happened to you because of something wrong or ugly about you. You are beautiful. THEY are ugly.

Criminals have no other intentions than to make money off you and make you so scared you trust no one. If you don’t give in but still talk to them, all you are doing is helping them become better at their craft to hurt someone else.

Be better than that.

Cut them off and report it before it goes more than even a couple of weeks in communication. Read this article to help you better know if you are a victim and how to deal with it.