I am a veteran’s spouse, although I wasn’t married to him while he was in the military. In fact, I didn’t even know him then, when he went away at age 18 just after finishing high school. I also didn’t know him when he returned from overseas, scarred in ways I can’t even imagine. And I didn’t know him when he went through the transition period back into civilian life.
I didn’t meet him until college. And I didn’t really know him until grad school. That’s the person I got to know. But I know there are parts to my veteran that I don’t know; parts he doesn’t want me to know and parts he scared to show me.
Here’s what they don’t tell you about being a veteran’s spouse….
They don’t tell you that your veteran is divided. Always. All the time. He is a civilian now but he has been a soldier. Being a soldier isn’t something that goes away. The uniform, the tags, and the weapon might, but the mentality doesn’t. This was how your veteran survived in times of war and it cannot be erased.
They don’t tell you that your veteran was part of a brotherhood so strong that it cannot be replicated in any other relationship. Soldiers’ lives depend on each other. They are connected beyond friendship, beyond family, beyond love. When your soldier becomes a civilian again and those connections fade, this will cause a void in your veteran so deep, one that you cannot fill. No matter how strong your own relationship is, the void will always be there.
They don’t tell you that your veteran is a little lost in civilian life. As a soldier, they were given orders and missions and did what they were told because their life depended on it. They were rewarded for their hard work with food and a place to sleep. Civilian life doesn’t work that way. Your veteran might be struggling to find his place and his purpose.
They don’t tell you that as a veteran’s spouse, you will know when your veteran is hurting. Not because he will tell you, but because you know him and you can sense his pain. As a veteran’s spouse, you learn to offer care even if he doesn’t accept it. And you will do this repeatedly, because someday, he might.
They don’t tell you that as a veteran’s spouse, you will see an unrelenting restlessness in your veteran that fades and sparks as time goes on. And you will be witness to many, many attempts at settling the restlessness and it may be hard for you to understand or to accept.
They don’t tell you that as a veteran’s spouse, you are accepting a third party into your marriage when you say ‘I do.’ The third party is your veteran’s experience as a soldier, and the memories, triggers, and scars that come along with it.
They don’t tell you that as a veteran’s spouse, you will feel a pain inside your own heart as you watch your veteran hurting. You will ache to soothe their hurts and know that you can’t. You will long to take away their pain and know that you can’t.
And finally, they don’t tell you that as a veteran’s spouse, you will feel a sense of honor and patriotism to your country that you didn’t even know you had inside of you. You will feel strongly about defending your country because your veteran has already given a piece of himself that he can never get back.
I love my veteran. All of him.
To all veterans and their spouses and families, because you have served too, thank you.