Together or Apart

map showing driving route

Back in the stone ages, before He of the Sea and I got married, we had to some pre-marital counseling with the pastor who was going to marry us.  He asked us some thought-provoking questions and some of the thoughts that came up have remained guiding principles in our marriage.

One thing he particularly liked was the idea of adjusting your marriage vows to reflect your marriage – not necessarily writing all new vows, but making whatever alterations might seem appropriate.  We used the traditional “for better or for worse” marriage vows, but we added in our own line – “together or apart.”  Since HotS was already in the Navy, and was headed to the fleet, it seems very appropriate for us.  And it has been.  HotS has only deployed (I think) three and half times in the 18 years we’ve been married, but we’ve been apart a lot more with the usual exercises and schools and work-ups and conferences and random travels.

As a result of the time that the Navy forces us to be apart, I’ve always felt strongly that if we had the opportunity to be together, we should be together.  No Geographic Bachloring for us, thanks.  One time, we came remarkably close to doing the Geo-Bach route as my husband attended a 10 month school two hours from our then-home, and I panicked at the last minute and we moved with him.  One of the best years of my life.  A good decision all around, except for financially, and we were going to take a financial hit no matter how that year unfolded.

And then we find ourselves in 2011.  We’re a year into a three year tour in a place that I’ve been waiting our entire marriage to live, and it isn’t paradise and good cheap wine as I’d envisioned.  Well, it is paradise and good cheap wine, but there are bad sides, too.  The school doesn’t seem to be a good fit for our kids.  One child is having some medical issues that may or may not be well served by the medical community here.  My kids are really, really missing their friends – more so than ever before.  And the oldest will be starting high school in just another year, a milestone that causes many military families to reconsider the choices that military life presents to them.

I don’t have plans to up and leave HotS here alone surrounded by paradise and cheap wine, but never before have I considered the possibilities so seriously.  I don’t think I’ve judged other people’s decisions, especially since I read the eye-opening letter that SpouseBUZZ received way back in 2009, but I’ve never felt it could be for us.  I still don’t think it is for us, but I’m beginning to see how the possibility might become a part of our family choices.

I’m certainly not the only mil-spouse who has reconsidered Geo-Bachelorhood.  Back about a million years ago, I had cut out a Jacey Eckhart article on why she didn’t think that Geo-Bacheloring was a good choice for her family.  I stumbled across that article as we were clearing out papers to make the move that I almost didn’t make, and it helped me feel more confident that my decision was right.  (You can somehow read this article here via Google – if the link takes you to the wrong page, it starts on page 111 and it is the sidebar article across three pages:  Take Me With You.)  In searching for an online version of that article, I discovered that her family is in the middle of their second round of GeoBachdom.  (Which caused her to write a humorous bit on why the military wasn’t studying the phenomenon.)

Life has an amazing way of taking a “never” and turning it into a “maybe” when you aren’t looking.  I know that there are SpouseBUZZ readers who are part of military families who choose to live apart, and I’ve heard that sometimes those families feel a little outside the normal military world.  We don’t want you to feel alone.

If you’re a military family whose made the hard decision to live separately, I’d love to hear your story.  If you’ve considered it and decided against, I’d love to hear that, too.  One of our goals here at SpouseBUZZ is to make us all know that we’re not in this alone, that someone else has been in the same boat, that someone else has dealt with the same challenges.  Somehow that knowledge makes it a little easier, at least for me.  And no matter what, military families are military families, whether they’re together or apart.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Rain into Rainbows

    If your child’s medical needs aren’t being met, I would strongly suggest going to the EFMP (or whatever the Navy calls it, it keeps changing!). You can request a Humanitarian Request to Relocate. I could be wrong on the form name as well, but they may very well move the entire family. That was our experience at any rate.

    Hope that helps. This military lifestyle is not without its challenges.

    • KateKashman

      Thanks, Rain, we’re hoping it won’t come to that, but one never knows!

    • jes

      In response to the EFMP/Humanitarian route, my wife and I tried this for the sake of my son Jack who is 5 years old and has unstable complex focal epilepsy. Jack, my wife, and other three kids or living in England where Jack has the best care and support system (Doctor/medical, grandparents, School, government benefits, relatives) The Air Force denied my EFMP even though the expert doctors suggested Jack stay under the current care and medical evaluation in England. See my wife and kids are all British citizens who are entitled to the free National Health Care System of England (free to the Air Force) and he may be seen by a network that goes to the top of the children hospitals in the world if need be. I was told by my first sergeant to consider trying a humanitarian so I did. Long story longer, the Humanitarian was approved as an EFMP reassignment to Little Rock, AK based on Air Force Manpower and there happens to be a Children’s Hospital there. Ok, this may have worked for some people’s situations but obviously not ours. We had to get an act of congress to get this assignment canceled so that I may remain in Germany and my family in England (Ryanair flights are cheap thankfully). Yes we have spent thousands traveling back and forth in the last near 3 years but it is the best solution to messed up situation. As for me, I don’t know what to do, I have made Master Sergeant and will sew on early next year. I will have been in 14 years January but with four kids and a wife displaced it is not healthy on any of us and it really comes down to my son’s special needs. I have tried everything to keep my career but I have been punished for my actions involving congress and I have to say I need my family more than the Air Force at this point and The Air Force will continue without me.

  • http://neverdidthink.wordpress.com sespi

    We’re about to live separately – I’m moving this summer and my husband won’t be able to join me for at minimum a year and at most two years. I’ve spent the past two years unsuccessfully trying to find a job in our new city. When I had the opportunity to return to a career field that I loved in a location that we know my husband can eventually get to (and likely finish out his career in), we both knew that I had to take it. It helps that we don’t have kids and that his current billet has him coming and going all the time because I know that even if I stayed at our current post, he still wouldn’t be with me most of the time. The distance between us won’t be that far either – we’ll be able to make weekend trips on a fairly regularly basis. Living separately was not our first choice, but it was definitely a better decision all around for me to leave and get back into my career while I still can. Or at least that’s what I think now ;)

  • Suzi

    We have strongly considered this with a 6 home, 6 gone deployment schedule at our next base (& one that I don’t want to move to). In the end, we are all moving together. There are no guarantees where we will go next or even if there will be jobs in my “ideal location” when he retires (he’s at 13 years) so, I am sucking it up and moving yet again. And always keeping it in the back of my mind that it could have been a worse assignment. If it turns out to be an awful place, I will pack up the kids and go where I want to and patiently wait for him. When I first suggested this to my husband and my friends, all of them were shocked and appalled at the idea, as the friends thought about it, they (mostly) approved. My husband, not so much. Apparently it’s ok for him to leave and come back BUT, not for me… ;)
    For spouses with careers and frequent PCS’ing, I think it makes absolute sense. But, I have realized that’s not the majority opinion.

  • http://www.thephysiocs.com Heather

    Also, I do in fact feel separate from what most would consider a normal military life. I don’t live near an Army post, and I’m not part of a community of other milspouses and military families and military life. My life sort of “goes on as normal” just minus my husband. SpouseBuzz is the closest thing I’ve got to that military connection, so I sure do appreciate it being around. :)

  • http://www.thephysiocs.com Heather

    I’ve got a stable, successful career in the Midwest, and my husband is stationed in Fort Polk, Louisiana when he’s not deployed (currently he’s in Afghanistan). We know this is all temporary, so it just makes sense for me to stay put with the pets and pursue my career with a steady home in the Midwest rather than upping and moving every time he does. It’s not ideal right now, and it gets pricy when we have to pay rent in two places at once, but we make it work. It’s all temporary and everything will work itself out in the end.

  • Lorena

    Thank you so much for spotlighting this! We made the decision together to “sacrifice” a year (korea) rather than be away for 2 years. I have school aged kids and try to have as much stability as possible. We have been in current place for 3 years. Just waiting on the school year to end to do the move to our hometown. It was a very hard decision to make and i have cried and agonized over it many times. I was initially excited to get to go to our first overseas tour. I even started doing research on the base and connected to a few groups online. I am confident we are making the right decision for our family!

  • Anita

    My Marine husband and I are currently living apart. When he is stateside, he is stationed at Camp Lejeune which is about seven hours from Washington, DC. The nation’s capital is where my husband and I call home and have called it home since I attended college there. We made the tough decision to live apart because I would be able to have a stable job and income, which I need to be able to pay back my student loans. We try to visit each other every other weekend and while the drives can be long, they are definitely worth it! The way I look at it, living apart is a temporary thing and we will have the rest of our lives to be together :)

  • Sarah

    We’re doing it now because it’s only a 3 month TDY. I don’t have a job, so I could easily follow him, but 1) we own a house and 2) he is only authorized to live in a hotel. So our kid and I are still in the house and he is in his hotel 3 hours away. And we will all PCS at the end of the summer. Personally, I don’t much like it so far and would hate to have to do it longer.

  • Ramie

    This comes as a great time for me……DH can start looking at orders in the next 2-3months, and has expressed interest in taking a job about 5hrs from our current location. Because of his job and where they have people centralized to (here), we know he’d be coming back here in 3yrs, and we have 2 kids in school, a house that we own, my job, and great friends. The desired location has a higher cost of living, worse school system, and the potential for the command to relocate to Hawaii (it’s been rumored that it’s happening in the next 2 years). I think it’s silly for me and the kids to move, since DH will be deployed approx 75% of the 3yrs, whether in the location 5hrs away, or HI. It would be great for DH’s career, so I’m all for him going, and won’t try to stop it, but after 14moves in the 1st 10yrs of marriage, I’m rather happy to stay and keep my kids lives “normal” while he goes. Of the 5yrs we’ve lived here, he’s been deployed for 2.75 of them, so I’m pretty used to being here alone anyways! ;-) Thanks for sharing your stories!

  • Marianne

    I have been apart from my husband for over 2 years now (but for the occasional visit). We have 18 months until his retirement, and it has been and more than likely will continue to be, very tough. The first year and a half was a no brainer, he attended a school for 5 months, and then deployed. When he returned from deployment, the “what now” conversation happened. He was awaiting orders for his last stint in the Marine Corps. Our children were starting Highschool and Junior high, very well adjusted with amazing friends whose parents I know and trust. We had purchased a home when we were stationed here in the hopes of breaking even when it was time to move, but we all know how that worked out. I have a good job that I actually like, and we are both pretty convicted about retiring to this community. So here we are, lonely, miserable, and out of leave. The visits are fewer and farther between, the phone calls are heart wrenching. I am tired. He is tired. Good, bad or indifferent, this is the choice we made. I miss my husband. It’s amazing to me that I have done 7 overseas deployments, 4 to war zones, and I don’t think any of them was this difficult.

  • MrzCReed

    My husband has been in the military for 15 years. We are stationed in Minot Nd. I have been here with him for 4 years and he is planning to be here for a minimum of 5 more years max 7. We have no family here and with 3 kids it’s really hard not having a support system. I have a great career but can’t take it here anymore. My husband has a nondeployable job so there is no chance of getting closer to family anytime soon. My husband made the suggestion of me and the kids going back to our hometown until he retires!!! I’m so torn. I don’t want to live apart from my husband but this place is so expensive. There’s limited daycares and extracurriculars for the kids. Food is ridiculously expensive. The kids will do not like it here. I can move higher in my career in my hometown but I don’t feel right leaving my husband for 5 years. I’m torn to pieces over this. I feel like I’m being spoiled and selfish and being there for my husband. He says I’m not and he’ll be ok. He will visit about every 3 months. I’m going to try and stick it out so our family can stay together but I’m glad to see I’m not the alone in this situation.

  • mindy35

    I’m in a situation where we own a home at our last duty station (pcs’d 9 months ago). Our renters are moving out early because they purchased a house. I’ve really not liked it where we are at and have wished for “home” for the last 9 months. My family is 45 minutes away from our home at our last duty station. My oldest child was in school there from K-8 and then we pcs’d. My oldest son was in K there and had three best friends. I don’t want to be where we are at anymore. My husband doesn’t like it either and plans to get out of the military after 13 years but he has 1 year and 9 months left. I know what I can do a year away from him with visits, we’ve done 5 deployments but we are facing almost 2 years. I just wish I could make a decision!

  • Kay

    I am so glad I found this post! I have been with my husband for 2.5 years, ,married for 1. I graduated from college with a business degree in 2009. I was very eager to start my career, and that’s when I met him, got married and everything changed…..When he got stationed in Las Vegas, NV, the economy there was one of the worst in the nation. Locals were getting fired left and right, and no body was hiring out of towners. I moved there to be with him, but had no luck finding any corporate jobs. I hated the place so much, because I knew nobody there, and the desert does not agree with my health.

    I finally decided to get a job elsewhere and went back to California. Now I have a great paying job and a job I like, in the field I studied…..but I don’t have my husband with me. I feel like I have to choose between my career and being with him, and I’m torn in to pieces ! I know he loves being a marine, so I don’t want to sabotage his career, but I also need to build mine. How are we ever going to be together, and still build our own careers? Being apart for a year and a half has been so tough that I’m starting to think about throwing my jib away and being with my husband. I want to be a family, live with him, but my sense of self really comes from my career, and I’ve been kind of brainwashed to never depend on a guy’s income because you never know what is going to happen. My father walked out on us, and that has been really stopping me from throwing away everything to be with the man I love…..All I want is a great career and family. I will never give up on getting them. Let’s be strong, ladies :)

    • guest

      Yeah good luck! I had to give up my career, the career I worked years for. The military should really take into consideration those of us spouses that gave up our career for our spouses. We’re not in the same boat as military spouses who never worked a day in their lives.

  • j e stone

    In response to the EFMP/Humanitarian route, my wife and I tried this for the sake of my son Jack who is 5 years old and has unstable complex focal epilepsy. Jack, my wife, and other three kids or living in England where Jack has the best care and support system (Doctor/medical, grandparents, School, government benefits, relatives) The Air Force denied my EFMP even though the expert doctors suggested Jack stay under the current care and medical evaluation in England. See my wife and kids are all British citizens who are entitled to the free National Health Care System of England (free to the Air Force) and he may be seen by a network that goes to the top of the children hospitals in the world if need be. I was told by my first sergeant to consider trying a humanitarian so I did. Long story longer, the Humanitarian was approved as an EFMP reassignment to Little Rock, AK based on Air Force Manpower and there happens to be a Children’s Hospital there. Ok, this may have worked for some people’s situations but obviously not ours. We had to get an act of congress to get this assignment canceled so that I may remain in Germany and my family in England (Ryanair flights are cheap thankfully). Yes we have spent thousands traveling back and forth in the last near 3 years but it is the best solution to messed up situation. As for me, I don’t know what to do, I have made Master Sergeant and will sew on early next year. I will have been in 14 years January but with four kids and a wife displaced it is not healthy on any of us and it really comes down to my son’s special needs. I have tried everything to keep my career but I have been punished for my actions involving congress and I have to say I need my family more than the Air Force at this point and The Air Force will continue without me.

  • P M A

    My husband and I met while both of us were active duty AF. We married and I retired after 21yrs. He is sill serving. Due to our children, we made a “family” decision to live separately while he relocated to his new assignment so our child could graduate from high school. I too had a great job! Its nearing 2 yrs and I wont lie…its hard and I see how both he & I have “changed”. We see each other as often as possible but each time, he is more reserved than the last time. He says it hurts so much knowing he has to leave again. I find myself questioning our decision to stay apart, but financially with four children, we both need to work! Its hard to give us a $90K a year job. My husband was denied to retire so we have at least 2 more years to deal with this. I’m doing a lot of praying….I miss my husband, my lover…my friend but I miss “US” more.