Is She Your Mistress?


At a recent change of command, the ship’s captain was thanking his wife for all she had done for him during that tour.

“Without you, I would not have been able to spend time with my mistress.  Oh, yes, I have a mistress,” he told the crew.  “She is 19 years old.  She loves the ocean. She is incredibly demanding. She is hundreds of feet long. She weighs…. tons.”

The audience laughed. A military audience almost always laughs at this particular joke.  Once upon a time I think an Air Force audience chuckled when my dad referred to his fighter jet just this way.  Heavens, this joke is so old I think Leif Erikson’s crew probably laughed over it at his change of command, too — while Mrs. Erikson rolled her eyes.

When that kind of joke lingers so long, it is usually because it contains an uneasy grain of truth.

Which has me wondering:   Is the military really your mistress? Is the ship or the plane or the helicopter or the tank or the sub or the unit itself really your mistress?

Mistress implies betrayal, doesn’t it? By definition a mistress is the extramarital lover of a man. So do you love her more than me?  Would you rather be with her than me?

When we were younger, my husband and I used to have that You Love The Navy More Than Me argument all the time.  The military did seem to take up all his time. He spent all of his nights and weekends with her.  He thought about her constantly.  She called him late at night.  She exhausted him and I got whatever was left over.

I saw the same thing in other servicemembers.  The sub guys who thought nothing of disappearing into silence for a solid six months of deployment. The Marine sergeants who explained how they had to go when one of their Marines called—no matter what the family was doing. My own dad leaving on alert 30 minutes before Trick or Treat on the Halloween he had made the tails for our tiger costumes.

Even while these guys were protesting that they didn’t want to go, there was that certain forbidden, Patton-esque, God-help-me-I-do-love-it-so quality in their leaving.

And yet, I don’t feel betrayed exactly.  I sometimes feel like I’m in competition with the military for my husband’s physical presence, but I don’t feel betrayed by him.  So is the military really a mistress?  Or is she something else?  How would you describe the relationship between the military and the servicemember?

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at
  • Lindsey Paul

    Someone once told me a good military spouse would keep her mouth closed in fear of sounding unpatriotic. It has been hard for me to balance that out. You just get so exhausted, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically. I think every mil-spouse can relate to that. To add fuel to the fire, I used to be in the military. I separated when I became pregnant, and it has been a hard transition for me. The world doesn’t stop so you can figure it out. I get a little jealous when his “mistress” comes calling, because she used to call me too!

    • Guest

      Sorry you are having a rough time. It does get easier, but the transition is brutal mentally because many service members, even people I knew suddenly saw me as ” just a spouse” *cue snide tone*. It really hurt.
      But it is absolute BS that you have to remain silent or be unpatriotic. We live in a free country, free in part because you fought for it. And it will remain free only as long as we all raise our voices and use our freedoms.
      Now is a great time to pause amidst the maddening noise and find out what you want out of your life and start striding, however small the steps, toward it everyday.
      Best Wishes for your family and your continued success.

    • jenschwab

      I hear you! As a prior service wife, it’s really hard to watch him go off on the adventures I used to have, while I’m stuck with dirty diapers. It’s taught me a lot about the nature of contentment and learning to find the adventure wherever I am.

    • Chief

      Obama never served in the military, but by his position he is automatically CinC. Someone should have told Michele Obama to keep her mouth shut and not direspect the US Flag!

      • Heather

        Maybe it is because I am too sensitive to watch the news without crying, but I have no idea what that means. What are you saying?

  • Cassandra
  • Stephanie

    The little Blackberry that comes with the job is the mistress! How I would like to throw her off a cliff some days!

  • Caroline

    Love it! I have spoken those exact words. My husband’s mistress was a large grey lady that could break the sound barrier. She was quite my main competition for awhile. Some spouses laugh and agree with me some huff off in a fume. Thank you! Being a military spouse is never easy but sometimes you have to have a sense of humor to get through it!

  • Guest

    Not a mistress,more like wife. I am the mistress. The house payment comes from the wife’s coffers and he sneaks away-when he has time- to spend a few stolen kisses on me. She makes it clear she doesn’t want me in his life, after all I didn’t come with the sea bag he was given when he got married, but someday he promises he’ll leave her for me. So I wait ever so patiently for a day that may never come.

    • Guest

      Amen to this. Mine actually left his “wife” once….then she dragged him back to her. He’s a happier man with his uniform than without it. And I knew when I started this relationship that I would always rank behind God and country.

    • EDD

      Awesome woman he should feel lucky too have You!

  • L. Dorsey

    I can sympathize with all the comments from ‘active’ spouses,let me give you one from one that ‘won’ the battle between myself and the mistress. Yes you do have to have a sense of humor to get through it, all the time. My husband and I had been already married 3 and a half years before he joined, and coming from a military background (mother, 2 uncles, 2 brothers) I knew what I was getting into. The Army mistress took my husband on Valentines Day and he graduated on our anniversary! Within 5 months he was stationed overseas and I was to follow. It took me 8 months to get up enough courage to leave my family and go, but I’ve never regretted the decision. All in all we had 3 tours in Germany from 1988-1997 which added up to 10 years out of the country. Two daughters were born there. The mistress called him to spend time with her every six months for months at a time. The hardest was when he had an unaccompanied tour to Turkey for a year. I was just adjusting to him being home again when 3 months after his return he had to go again for 2 months.
    Fast forward to the end…I thought dealing with the deployments were hard. But the hardest proved to be when he was home all the time. After about a year I found myself yearning for the breaks I had grown accustomed to after 6 months or so. It got a little testy at times but we made that adjustment too.
    Happy to announce that my husband retired and we’re still going strong. Military spouses learn to have a special relationship with ‘the mistress’. Believe it or not, you’re going to miss her when she’s gone (for a little while). Hang in there, it’s worth it, she makes you appreciate what you have when your soldier comes home. Will be celebrating 36 years of marriage in 2013 and wouldn’t trade our experiences for the world! Was a blessing to be able to see parts of the world during his time in the military that otherwise would not have been possible. We were stationed in Berlin before, during and after the fall of the wall…priceless experience!

  • Jo Ann

    I would agree with the mistress analogy. I liked that mistress better than the real one he got after he retired. I do not intend to tell a cautionary tale just one wife’s story. Mine. Everything was supposed to be great when we retired. I think he missed the excitement of the military more than he ever imagined. I felt the pull of patriotism and tried to repair the marriage. In the end it failed.

  • Caz

    ok… I’m retired USMC with 24 yrs……. yuppers…… mom never understood grabbing this mysterious “go bag” that was always packed in the closet & was told “don’t touch that……….” I came home one day, grabbed the “go bag” & said “I’ll be back”…… I couldn’t say anything more…… did I know where the helo was going ……. uh, huh…………. I needed my go bag…… it was part of reality……..

  • Caz

    ok… I’m retired USMC with 24 yrs……. yuppers…… mom never understood grabbing this mysterious “go bag” that was always packed in the closet & was told “don’t touch that……….” I came home one day, grabbed the “go bag” & said “I’ll be back”…… I couldn’t say anything more…… did I know where the helo was going ……. uh, huh…………. I needed my go bag…… it was part of reality……..

  • Rose Parsons

    !I married my Sailor in 1955. Back in those days you were aware that “no, the
    military wasn’t their mistress”. They were actually government property. If you look at it in that way you can deal with the separations. We spent 21 years doing Uncle Sam’s bidding. The military community was “tight” and you knew you could count on support when needed. I still miss the closeness I had with other Navy Wives.

  • Merry

    After 23 years in the Army we used to say that it was our mistress who would screw your brains out and then ask “what have you done for me lately” So true!!

  • Bubblehead

    24 years in the Silent Service on boomers. When you own the boat, it owns you. There is no other way to look at it, no excuses, no exceptions, just make it happen. We all want all the things that come along with freedom, someone has to make it happen. My hat is off to all those other men and women who take a serious stance with the duty that they volunteered for, and make it happen.

  • River Rat and Gator

    I,m one of those guys who served on both ends of deployments. Am retired Navy Line. So is wife.

    I deployed VN and Persian Gulf. She went to Desert Storm iin Saudi 7 mos.
    Fortunately child always had a parent.

    The worst is for the one holding down the fort. I marvel at the spouse–usually the ladies—who keep it together. Many, Many thanks.

    BTW, 20 or 30 yr retirement and then civilian life especially for the youngster who joined at 18??
    Danger Will Robinson, Danger Will Robinson.

    Been out nearly 20 and in 40th yr of marriage to my lady, wife and all of my mistresses have been literally scraped.. Marriage counseling along the way??? You betcha!!!