expectations vs reality
(Photo: US Navy, Tech. Sgt. Tamara Dabney)

By Lizann Lightfoot

I am naturally an optimist. I believe the best is possible from every person and every situation. Tomorrow is always exciting because it might hold something fun and wonderful.

My military husband, however, is a realist. He is trained to consider the worst possible outcome for every situation and to come up with solutions before problems are even announced.

This difference in perspective keeps both of us balanced and together we make a great team. Without his sobering dose of reality, my starry-eyed optimism would not have carried me through all the challenges of military life. Some people want things cheerful and sugar-coated. Other people want you to honest about the gritty challenges from the start. Both of these can get you through military life. Which team are you on?

Recruiter’s office

Expectation: I am going along to be supportive. The recruiter will probably be convincing and try to sell us on the military idea, but I can talk my partner out of it.

Reality: The recruiter basically ignored me because I am “only” a girlfriend. My boyfriend played with some wooden blocks on a desk listing things like “free education” and “see the world”. . .  and now he is more motivated to join the military than before! This is harder than I thought.

Boot camp

Expectation: I will miss them, but I will write every day and we will be fine!

Reality: This is the longest we have ever gone without talking. I don’t know if they are getting my letters. I tried to send a package and they got in trouble. I hate not knowing where we will be living next. Is it over yet? This is harder than I thought.


Expectation: I will stay organized and color-code things. We will save so much money by moving ourselves!

Reality: Pinterest lies–the color coding is not working and my ‘PCS binder’ is a mess! I didn’t realize we have so much stuff. Books are so heavy. We had to give away our couch because it wouldn’t fit. Driving a U-Haul with a dog is no fun. Following a U-Haul with a baby and a toddler is no fun either. It has taken us months to get our budget back to normal. This is harder than I thought.

Living away from family

Expectation: I will miss them, but we will stay in touch and can drive to visit each other.

Reality: Okay, change of plans, overseas orders. Looks like we will be communicating by Skype during opposite times of day. I can’t afford to fly home for weddings and funerals, so I guess I’ll see you in a few years? This is harder than I thought.

Military spouse employment

Expectation: I’m an educated person with professional experience, so I will always be able to find a good job near our duty station.

Reality: Employers sometimes aren’t interested in hiring military spouses once they learn how often we move. I have a Master’s degree and can’t find a job. The child care waitlist on base is a year long, and I can’t afford it off-base. The job market around this new base is either much more limited or more competitive than anywhere I have lived before. Overseas job options on base are extremely limited. This is harder than I thought.

Making friends

Expectation: When we move to a new base, I will get involved and make new friends. I will stay in touch with my friends from back home.

Reality: It seems like everyone is busy working or home with babies. Our unit doesn’t host any family events. My friends back home don’t talk to me anymore–we only see each other through Instagram. This is harder than I thought.


Expectation: It will be tough sometimes, but I will keep busy and get through this!

Reality: Keep busy? I just want to stay sane! Not being able to call my spouse and always worrying about them is so draining. I cannot handle one more thing breaking or one more person in this house getting sick. We missed our anniversary. There are nights where I just lay awake and cry. This is harder than I thought.

Military marriage

Expectation: There will be times we spend apart, but we will always be there for each other.

Reality: The reality is the same! Near or far, we are still best friends. It is harder than I thought. . . but also worth it.

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at