Guest Post from Finding Ithaka: Marriage in the Military

Hi, readers of Life as Louise! My name is Carolann, and I blog over at Finding Ithaka.

I’m a writer and military spouse living in Hawaii. My husband, Nick, is a submarine officer. He’s had a lot of different jobs over the years, but he’s currently working on a submarine. The past year has been really hard because he has been gone a lot getting the boat ready for deployment.

My blog is named after a poem called “Ithaka,” (http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?id=74&cat=1), which is about enjoying the journey in life instead of just focusing on the destination. I think that is great advice for anyone in life, but especially for military spouses, because the destination changes so much.

A few months ago, Audrey emailed me with an idea for a blog collaboration. She said one thing she noticed from reading my blog was how similar she and I are, but how different our marriages are. She works with her husband, and they spend a lot of time together. Over the past year, I have barely seen my husband.

So. how do you make your marriage work when you see each other all of the time? Do you drive each other crazy? And, how do you make it work when you barely see each other? We interviewed each other to find out! Read my answers below and then hop over to my blog (findingithaka.com) to see what she has to say!

1. How do you celebrate big days or holidays? Do you plan it around Nick being home or do you celebrate with friends/family/on your own?

If Nick is not around, I usually end up celebrating holidays and birthdays twice, which is not a bad deal! Because I live near many other military spouses, we all make sure that we have someone to celebrate our birthdays and even our wedding anniversaries with. No one will be alone on a special day.

But Nick and I always make up for the holidays when we are together. We’ve been known to celebrate holidays months after they have happened.

Even though I have been doing this for a long time, this year, it was surprisingly hard for me to be without Nick on our wedding anniversary.

Since we spend so much time apart and I don’t spend a lot of money when he’s gone, we tend to go big with celebrations whenever we are able. I am planning a big trip to another island for us so we can celebrate our anniversary, which I am excited about.

2. How do you handle big decisions when Nick is out to sea? How do you handle life-changing decisions together (i.e., moving across the country)?

Submarine officers change jobs every 2-3 years. They go back and forth between working on a submarine and shore tour. During a shore tour, they usually work in an office job that supports submarines in some way. Shore tours are great because they usually are home every night.

So, every 2-3 years, a big list of jobs comes out. Nick then has to rank the jobs by location and job. He talks to the detailer about what is more important to him – being in a specific location or having a certain type of job. While they ultimately send them wherever they need, I believe that they take your preferences into consideration.

You have to make a big list of what you want and explain your preferences. We always make the list of preferences together. He wouldn’t ask to go somewhere that I don’t want to go.

While I wasn’t sold on coming back to Hawaii for this tour, I knew that Nick wanted a specific job on a specific type of submarine here. I knew that if we were going to dedicate our lives to the military, I wanted Nick to enjoy what he was doing. So Hawaii here we are, and I am really glad we are here.

As far as smaller decisions go, those are harder when Nick is out to sea.

Communication with submarines is virtually nonexistent. We can send emails, but they take forever to get through. They also are screened, and we are not allowed to discuss dates. I can’t say something like, “when you come home for Christmas….”

I can’t ask him what he thinks I should do about our car or a problem I’m having with our landlord, because by the time he gets the email, responds to it, and I get his email, I will already have made a decision.

So, Nick and I have an agreement that whatever I decide to do while he is away, he will support that decision. Even if he would not have made the same decision. I mean, we’ve been together for ten years now, so I usually know what he would say, and we are usually on the same page anyway.

I fully believe that military life as a married couple is s a team effort. Each of us plays a different role. Part of that team effort is Nick giving me the freedom to do what I need to do while he’s gone. I never worry about what Nick will say because I know he supports me 100%, just like I support him.

3. What does dreaming about the future look like for you and Nick? Kyle and I dream about our professional and personal future at the same time, but I’m sure you guys are in for some big changes when one of you (specifically Nick) has a large career shift. Do you take it one year at a time or have you found ways to plan further out in the future? 

Nick and I were just talking about this! We like to dream about the long-term future after Nick gets out of the military. He has 14 years under his belt, so it’s not too much longer until he reaches 20 and can retire.

Anything before that is too hard to predict because we have no idea what jobs are going to be available for Nick or where we are going to live.

When I was younger, I dreamed of getting a Ph.D. in English and working as a professor.  But there is no way I can do that while I am always moving around. Maybe I will go back to school one day, but my dreams have changed.

Now, I dream of writing a memoir about my life as a military spouse after Nick retires. My professional goals have shifted, but I learned that have that having a solid family life is more important to me than a big career. I want to be home with Nick when he is home. I want to spend time with my family. I don’t want a corner office.

Nick dreams of going to culinary school. We want to write a cookbook together.

But mostly, we dream about settling down somewhere quiet with a dog and a couple of kids, never moving again, spending our weekends hanging out with our family and going on adventures. I’ll write my book while Nick makes us dinner.

I think that all of the time we have spent apart from each other and our families has shifted our priorities. Our priorities are not about our careers, but about what we want out of our life.

4. When you’re together, how do you and your husband intentionally spend quality time with one another? 

Our favorite thing to do is cook dinner together, drink some wine, and hang out on the couch. We bond over food and cooking together. Before Nick was in the military, he worked as a cook, and he has always loved cooking.

We also love to travel! Since I save a lot of money when Nick is gone, we like to put that extra money towards taking big trips together. That uninterrupted time together has been so important for us to reconnect. We like to do the same things when we travel – eat, hike, and explore – so those are always really great times for us.

I am on my phone all of the time, but I try not to be on my phone when Nick and I are together. The less time you have together, the more precious that time becomes. I do think that this life has made us appreciate each other in ways we would never have otherwise.

5. What are your favorite qualities about your husband and how do those qualities contribute to your unique relationship?

They say that opposites attract. That has never been truer for a couple than it is for Nick and me. But this is what makes him so interesting to me, what keeps us talking all night long. Where I lack, he is strong, and where he lacks, I am strong.

Nick never gets angry, and he has so much patience. His calm, laid-back attitude is a really good balance for me because I have a lot of anxiety. He’s good at helping me calm down.

I love Nick’s spontaneity, the way he thrives on trying new things and lives his life to the fullest. I love that he is always up for anything. I love his strength, his unique way of looking at the world, and his deep insight. I have never met anyone like him. All of these qualities, I think, are key to thriving in the military. I think he does a pretty good job managing his work/life balance and not bringing work home with him – which helps our marraige a lot.

Nick is incredibly selfless, and he never takes the easy way out. He has sacrificed so much, volunteering for the toughest, most time-consuming responsibilities on the submarine that no one else wants, and taking the time to help anyone on his crew who needs him. Knowing that he puts everything he has into his job has made it easier for me to sacrifice my career to support him.

6. What’s the best marriage advice you can offer? What’s the worst marriage advice you’ve ever been given?

I think that simply being nice to each other and trying to understand where the other person is coming from is the key to our marriage. Even though we are married, we have such different lives. We have to try to find ways to understand what the other person is going through and what they need, even though we never really can.

He has no idea what it’s like for me to be constantly trying to reinvent my career and editing my resume. I have no idea what it’s like to work 100 hours a week on a submarine. Nick can’t even tell me about what he does at work. So we have to try to give each other the benefit of the doubt and do our best to help each other whenever we can.

Another thing is that since Nick works such long hours, I do all of the cleaning, errands, and running around. He cooks. That division of labor has also made it easier since we know exactly who is responsible for what.

The worst marriage came to me at my bridal shower from some of my older relatives. They all said, “never go to bed angry,” which I don’t agree with at all. Not all arguments can be solved in a few hours. Sometimes it’s best to go to bed and think about things and wake up refreshed the next moving.  Weirdly, a lot of other advice I got at my shower involved ways to make my husband think he was in charge while I am really the one in charge. I think that marriage is a team, not a game where you are trying to outsmart each other.

Now go visit Carolann’s page to see what I said about my marriage! And thank you to Carolann for collaborating with me and writing this wonderful post!!

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20 thoughts on “Guest Post from Finding Ithaka: Marriage in the Military

  1. Great post! Loved hearing more about what life is like for you and Nick. I love that he cooks! Jerry loves it too and is far better at it than I am. I’ve always wanted to get my PhD and teach English too, in a college setting. It’d be AMAZING. Not in the cards for me right now, but who knows what the future might bring.

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    1. Thank you! I enjoy cooking and I do it a lot when Nick works late, but he is far better at it than I am and he enjoys it more too! I think he’s going to whip up something good this weekend and I can’t wait. And who knows, maybe we will both get out PhDs one day! I thought about doing it right out of college but a lot of my professors advised me to go out and get some real-life experience first and I think that was probably the better decision in the long run.

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  2. I think my husband and I balance each other in similar ways. He is definitely the more laid back one and I’m the one with lots of anxiety.

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    1. Same! I think that’s why we relate to each other’s blogs so well! I also think that it’s true that opposites attract. If we were both super laid back we would never get anything done, and if we were both too high-strung we would both be anxious wrecks all of the time.

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    2. Balance is so important in anything, but I think it definitely helps make relationships and marriages run smoothly 🙂 (And I’m the anxious one, too. Lol.)

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  3. I love the meaning behind the name of Finding Ithaka! It is crazy to think about how marriage looks different for everyone and what works for some wouldn’t work for others. I think it takes a very strong marriage/connection to make a long distance or military relationship work. I love your dream of one day writing a cookbook together. How special would that be?!

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    1. Thank you! I have loved that poem for so long. A few years ago, when I wanted to change my blog name, I felt like it just fit my life really well, and I hoped a lot of people could relate to it. As Nick comes up with recipes we write them down and save them! I think we will make the cookbook happen one day. I’ll write the little introductions and he will write the recipes and I promise it will be delicious because everything Nick makes is awesome!

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    2. I hope Nick and Carolann pen a cookbook together!! I’ll be on the pre-order list as soon as it’s released! She’s posted pics of his random ice cream creations and I’m SOLD.

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  4. Hi, Carolann! 🙂 I knew you said once that Nick wasn’t allowed to tell you dates or where he was, but I didn’t know he couldn’t talk to you about really ANYTHING having to do with his job. That is crazy! You really are such a supportive and loving wife. Also, how cool that he can retire in just 6 years!

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    1. Hi Amanda!! He can tell me some things, but really I have no idea what he does all day long and I have no idea what they do when they go out to sea. It’s strange to not be able to talk about his day because it’s just such a huge part of him that I will never understand or be able to relate to. Weird right?! And yes, as much as I love military life, I think it will be so cool when Nick retires and can do any job he wants at such a young age.

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    2. Nick’s confidentiality is what attracted me most to Carolann and his relationship! I see Kyle all day and I know everything that goes on at work but they have a completely different set of rules to their communication! I think it’s so interesting!

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  5. Wow, this is all so so interesting!!! I can’t believe he’s already been in the military 14 years! You both look so young and I’m assuming the military doesn’t let you join when you’re 12 😉 Anyway, I loved getting to read these answers!

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    1. Hahaha thank you!! Nick enlisted when he was 18 so he started young. I think that’s the way to do it. I can’t believe he can retire when he’s 38! He might stay in longer but it will be nice to have the option.

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    2. I agree. Julie! It’s crazy that Nick has 14 years of experience under his belt! He and Carolann work so hard (but they also get to live in Hawaii…….. lol)!

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    1. I can’t imagine the sacrifices Carolann (and her military spouse friends) make for their significant others and their country. It really is amazing! I’m 100% jealous of their island-life-living, though… Hawaii and all of Carolann’s adventures sound AMAZING!

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