PCS Stress: Preparing For the Emotional Volcano

Airmen aid Stop Hunger Now

I had been married to my soldier less than six months when we had our first major spat. I was reduced to a puddle of tears and left thinking that my brand new marriage was in shambles. Who, I wondered, has a terrible argument over segregating household goods, packing cars and preparing a house for inspection?

Military couples, I would come to learn. That’s who!

Under the most ideal circumstances, moving is stressful. The amount of work involved in executing a move may seem overwhelming at times. There are plenty of practical resources at the disposal of military families, but it’s important to note that a PCS move has two components; the practical and the emotional. As complex as the practical component is, it’s the emotional component which has the ability to turn your life upside-down and inside-out. Tricky, that one.

The practical component of a move involves research, planning and getting organized. Forget the to-do list, you’re likely to have a to-do binder before the move is complete. Efficiently managing the practical items makes for a less-stressful move and it can certainly mitigate the emotional turmoil, but will rarely eliminate it entirely.

On top of the daunting to-do list, you’re left dealing with the reality that you and your family must leave neighbors, friends and co-workers. You may also be starting over in a new and unfamiliar community. There are the dreaded good-byes and the uncertainty as to what — and who — is in your future. The excitement of a new adventure can easily get buried by the fear of the unknown and the never-ending set of tasks in front of you.

Every member of the family feels the pressure of a move. The collective fuse shrinks while the anxiety grows. At some point the emotional volcano is bound to erupt, at least in my household. I’ve learned a lot of lessons about military life over the years, but perhaps the one which has served me best is knowing that certain things are unavoidable, but they are temporary, and survivable.

Almost 20 years ago, just after my husband and I had our first fight, a friend dropped in to bid farewell. He took one look at us and realized there was trouble in paradise.  “Moving spat?” he asked, rhetorically. “I know all about that. Every time we moved my mom and dad got in a knock-down, drag-out fight. Every.Single.Time.” Hearing this from an Army-Brat-turned-Soldier helped put us at ease.

It’s a great relief to know that other couples experience the same turbulence that my family does when it’s time to move. It has little to do with “us.” It’s more a function of the understandable stress everyone is under given the circumstances. I don’t want to verbally spar with my husband. I don’t want to huff and puff and throw a pity party. Not ever. But when PCS season rolls around, I’m resigned to the fact that it’s going to happen. Understanding this, and better yet, understanding that we will get through it, and even laugh about it eventually, makes enduring the process somehow easier. In fact, now we joke about when the eruption might occur and sometimes we say, “Want to go ahead and get it over with?”

A PCS move isn’t all doom-and-gloom. Lessons are learned with each move. When we apply them to the next move, we become better prepared for the experiences which await us. And besides that, we accumulate a plethora of entertaining stories to share with friends and family.

At least that’s what I’m going to tell myself in a few months when I’m driving down the road in a car full of boxes, bags, suitcases and one very unhappy kitty….

About the Author


Andi is married to an active-duty soldier and is the founder and former editor of SpouseBUZZ.

She is the founder of the Annual MilBlog Conference. The MilBlog Conference is the premiere event of the year for military bloggers. President George W. Bush, U.S. Representative Adam Smith, GEN David Petraeus, LTG Mike Oates, LTG William Caldwell, RADM Mark Fox, MG Kevin Bergner, MG David Hogg and The Honorable Pete Geren have addressed previous conferences.

While living in Washington, DC, Andi was the Ambassador to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for Sew Much Comfort, a non-profit organization which makes and delivers, free of charge, special adaptive clothing for wounded service members. Andi has worked with several non-profits to help our wounded heroes and their families. She finds that work to be the most rewarding and meaningful of all.

Andi strives to find humor in the good, bad and ugly of life and is a firm believer that laughter has the ability to cure most ills.

  • KateKashman

    This is the number one lesson that I think every new military spouse needs to be warned about :) You will fight when you move. Period. It doesn’t mean that the world is coming to an end, or that your marriage is over, or any of the other awful things that go through your head at the time. It just means that you’re moving, and it is overwhelming, and everyone is beyond their limit of coping.

    Like you, our first move was traumatic. I clearly remember sitting in our hotel room at the beautiful Hale Koa, sobbing, because I had moved a million miles away from my family and I was stuck on this island with a man who a) I clearly did not know, and b) did not like me. I thought the world was over. It was such a wonderful thing when I was able to call a friend (who had moved several times already) and she told me that it was perfectly normal and no one was getting a divorce!

    I love this post!

  • I can feel this happening to us. We have special needs kids. Doctors to coordinate. IEPs to move to new schools. Plus the regular moving stuff. We’re only a couple months out from when my husband’s orders end, and we haven’t heard boo about where we’re going next. I’d even be happy if someone at this point said, “I don’t know yet,” but the not knowing anything and the deafening silence is killing us.

  • Okay, I know this is going to make some of you angry…but I’ll say it anyhow. My husband is a MASTER when it comes to moving. Our first five years of marriage, we moved six times. SIX. On one particularly horrible move, my husband did something spectacular.

    We drove from Oklahoma to Mississippi in one day. We arrived at the hotel in MS at 4 a.m. I was dreading the next day when we had to return the trailer to the rental place before 9 a.m.

    I awakened at 11 a.m. to the smell of breakfast in bed. He had already dropped the dog at the kennel, unloaded the trailer, and returned it to the rental place while I slept like a baby. I look back on that as one of the most incredible gestures of love I’ve ever experienced. He could honestly write a book on thoughtfulness.

    Don’t hate me…but I LOVE to move around the world with my precious hubby!

    • I do want to clarify that after thinking about it, EVERY move hasn’t been all beer and Skittles. We did almost kill each other when we spent an entire month in a dirty hotel in a foreign country with our dog. That was not a fun experience. My husband wanted to stay there as long as possible because it was more cost-effective. I let him know that my mental health bill would NOT be so cost effective if we stayed much longer. We moved shortly thereafter.

      …but the breakfast in bed makes up for it.

  • Joan

    Andi, you’re right on. Moving and deployments are some of the most stressful experiences for military families. But there are others. In fact, I wrote a book about it: Move–And Other Four-Letter Words, hoping to help others. It spans the whole gamut of a military marriage, with all the laughter, tears and joys involved.

    Hang in there. . . .

  • jessica lynn

    As a newbie to this PCS excitement, it’s so comforting to know that arguing is normal. We’ve had our spats here and there, but nothing too cosmic…yet. I keep reminding myself what a huge change this is and now normal it is for my emotions—as well as my husbands—to be running wild.