Transition: It's harder and easier than you think. At least that's what I'm beginning to see six months after our transition out of the Marine Corps.
At a Military.com Spouse Summit, we held a panel on transition called, aptly, Don't Fear the Reaper. In it, I shared my hard-learned tips for what really works during transition to make the whole process as smooth as possible.
And while there was a lot I did right, there was a lot I did wrong, too.
So I sat down with my husband and his buddies for a Transition After Action Report to hash out the five things you shouldn't do that don't make anything better.
1. Don't play the "fear" track on endless repeat.
"OMG what are we going to do!" is not the most supportive refrain during a time of transition.
Apparently, I said it all the time for about six months.
The future looked pretty terrifying with unemployment on the horizon. But repeating negative statements like this is never constructive.
Save your anxiety for talks with your friends and your mom, but do not repeat your very grounded, honest and reasonable fear like a broken record to your service member.
2. Don't act like you're finally bring sprung from jail.
When we found out we were leaving active duty, my first thought may have been one of fear, but my second thought was something like a happy dance on steroids.
I even blurted out, within seconds of learning that we were out and my husband's career dreams were dashed, "On the upside, we don't have to live in this pit anymore!"
Except I used much more colorful language. Obviously, this was not my finest wife moment.
While we all know the reality -- that getting to move someplace you actually want to go and can build your own, non-order-related dreams about is a lovely idea -- pointing this out right away isn't always the most sensitive approach.
In fact, in doing so, I succeeded in not only hurting my husband's already sore feelings, but my reaction made him think I wasn't happy with the life he had worked so hard to provide for so long.
Not only was he now potentially letting us down by facing unemployment, but he'd also failed at giving us a happy life.
That was not what I intended. That was totally what I did.
Instead, let the news sink in for a while before you vocalize where else you can go. Even if you're overjoyed that your local pub might not double as a strip joint, let things settle down and then reframe the conversation to suit your new life.
Think about where you both want to live next. Think about the places where you can both build your careers. Take the time to dream and be excited about it -- without making it worse.
3. Don't forget how hard this is -- even if you're leaving by choice.
This is one we heard again and again from friends. It doesn't matter if you're leaving because you have to, because you're told to, or because you want to: Leaving is leaving, and leaving is hard.
Transition isn't just about leaving a job, it's about leaving a whole lifestyle, and with that, your spouse is leaving behind the nominative modifier that has defined his life for the last however many years.
Be sensitive to this. Of course, he or she will always be a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine, but when they're suddenly not that thing every day actively, it will feel different, and it will take some getting used to.
If your partner is anything like the ones we know, that may make him more moody or distant than usual. So know: It's not you, it's this. He's redefining himself. It's not easy. Don't fight over it. Like anything else in life that is particularly hard, this too shall pass.
4. Don't point out that civilian jobs aren't known for their job security.
Every job Bill looked at made me nervous. Have they downsized lately? Didn't they just do layoffs? Is it always last-hired, first-fired?
He would tell me about a new job lead, and I'd lob another question at him. Every time, these questions boiled down to: "Honey, there's no job security there. You know they can fire you, right? Like, at any time? On any Tuesday? Ever?"
I was the opposite of helpful on this count. So while honesty is always the best policy, sometimes full disclosure isn't the best approach.
You don't need to state the obvious. Instead, you need to relax. Getting fired is a potential reality every day in the civilian marketplace. It doesn't mean it's going to happen.
Even if it just did, there's no reason to think it will again soon. Give your spouse your faith, and the benefit of the doubt.
5. But the most important thing: Don't pretend it's all OK.
"It's going to be fine," was a fairly constant mantra of mine (with the added "even if we are living in my mom's attic," which was a real possibility for a while there).
Bill finally looked at me one day and said, through clenched teeth, that it might not be OK, and I need to acknowledge that. Touché, husband. Touché.
He adds: "This is really hard, and pretending it isn't happening is good for no one. Accept it, work with it, and figure it out. If you're not doing any work to make it that way, don't say it's going to be OK. But you have to do something. Don't just say it's fine if you're not contributing to fixing the problem."
Luckily, there's a lot you can do to help. No matter where you are in your transition, start with these five steps.
A little elbow grease can go a long way, especially where your family is concerned. This is why we hashtag all our transition content with #familyreadiness on social media. Because while this is all hard and new and difficult, it's all also about the future safety of your family.
And the lessons you've learned and mastered as a military spouse will pull you through it -- particularly when you have family readiness in mind.