By Courtney Hall

There are times when it just sucks to be a military spouse.

My husband leaves, for weeks, months, sometimes with no more than a couple of days warning. Then he comes home and gives me that look, and my stomach bottoms out because (damn it!) he’s leaving again.

Nothing is “normal”. I lie in bed at night staring at my husband, trying to memorize every hair and line, because he’s leaving and I won’t see him for weeks, months or longer and because he could not come back at all.

Then it’s time for him to leave.

So I wave goodbye. I tuck pictures, notes, good luck charms into pockets. We give our last hugs and quick kisses and I wave him off and beg God to keep him safe.

Then it’s nose to the grindstone. I put up the countdown calendars, the daddy kiss jars. I make up new schedules, because it’s better to be busy. Too much time to think and I’ll start trying to remember the lines in his hands and I’ll break and start drowning. As much as I’d like to just give in and sink, to cry for my loss, to acknowledge that my heart is broken, it only makes being away harder for my husband. We’re military spouses; we can’t do that.

So we trudge on.

Then it’s here! The time is here! He’s home! At last the tears can come, the tightness in my chest eases. We are whole again…we are whole…

And then he’s really home. He doesn’t fit into the new routine. In fact, he wants to change it. Or he doesn’t want to abide by it. It’s annoying, really, that he’s now disrupting the routine I worked hard to create with my son. How dare he take this from me! I wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for him. I didn’t sign up for this! Yes, I love him… but never would I have chosen this life for myself!

I’ve found myself thinking and saying all of these things to my husband time and time again. The truth is, sometimes the homecoming is as hard on our military families as the goodbye is. When our spouses come home, neither of us are the same. We’ve grown into two different people, and we have to find each other again.

I hate being a military spouse when I look at my husband and realize I don’t know him. My heart breaks a little more at this thought: we each have memories that the other will never be apart of. That excitement and passion I felt when I first saw him step off the plane is gone. He’s distant with me. He wants me close but also pushes me away.

So we work.

We work on our marriage. We work on communicating. We work on finding each other again. We find our rhythm again, and sometimes if we’re lucky, we get that rhythm and peace for a bit. Then he walks through the door, and he gives me that look, my stomach bottoms out, and the cycle starts all over.

It’s easy to hate being a military spouse. Deployments are enough to make you hate it, but add on TDYs, long work days, on calls, all the rules and regs, and it’s easy to only see the negatives. And yet, I have a three-year-old marriage that is stronger than that of some couples who have been married for a decade. I know my husband and I know my husband’s love for me. The truth is being a military spouse has given me the strong and loving marriage I always prayed for because it tempered me–like it does all military spouses–and it leaves us strong as steel.