Dream Tax: When Is It Your Turn?

pet store

Military spouses are always surprised when the Dream Tax cometh. We marry into the military figuring that we are smart enough and determined enough and creative enough to get around the very real obstacles to a military spouse career. Then reality sets in.

Last week a spouse wrote to Ms. Vicki about her lifelong dream of owning a pet store. Their family plan was to do one tour in the Air Force, get her husband some career experience so that he could go into law enforcement, start their family. Then her husband fell stone in love with the military.

“Now he is talking about staying in for 20 years. It is too long for me. I will be 50 years old before I get to open my store. My husband even suggested that we just live apart while I have my store. He treats it like it’s a temporary dream or like I’ll fail and come home with my tail between my legs. How would our life even work if we did that?” (Read the rest of the story here.)

Ms. Vicki reminded the spouse that life is not short. That a dream deferred is not a dream denied. “ You have to understand that you can accomplish amazing things at 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 and beyond,” wrote Ms. Vicki. “It doesn’t have to be: my dream has to happen right now.”

The realist in me agreed with Ms. Vicki. One pattern of career success for military spouses is to keep their career plan simmering on a back burner. Then turn that sucker up to boil as soon as the servicemember’s career allows. It is a plan that lets a spouse have both career and yummy servicemember.

Still, something in me rebelled against that answer. How come the husband got to suddenly decide he was all in? How come his career was suddenly more important than her dream? How did the economic deal they made going in dissolve into choosing between staying with him or splitting up the family so she could pursue her career plan?

I call that the Dream Tax—when you have traded in some of your own ambitions to pay into the career ambitions of your partner. And that might be right where the solution to this problem might be found.

Instead of making this only about the military spouse, I’m thinking that maybe the Dream Tax arrives for both members of the military marriage. While a career in the military does mean your spouse will suffer a Dream Tax, we also need to understand that getting the servicemember out of the military before they are ready requires a Dream Tax of its own. It is hard for the military member to leave a career at which they excel in order to find a job on the outside that may or may not suit them as well.

Both these partners have a legitimate claim to a career of their own. The question is how can they possibly work that out? What factors do they need to consider?

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. 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 JaceyEckhart.net.
  • Kristen
  • IA gal

    This story could also have worked the other way. I entered a marriage anticipating a move every couple of years for my husband’s carrer. After the first move, we discovered that I loved my new job far more than he did. Ultimately we had to consider what was best for our marriage and family at that moment in time. We adapted and changed the plan. That’s part of marriage. If your own specific plan is more important than your marriage, you need to recognize it and accept responsibility for the consequences.

  • mel

    Plans change as people change. This is a marriage issue where both people need to figure out what their priorities are and also whether they can handle the consequences of the path they choose. He found out that the military is his thing, it makes him happy. He wasn’t planning on it and now his priorities have changed. It’s the wife’s choice to decide if she wants to continue life with him in the military or to be without him as she pursues her dream. She can stay married but it may have to be a long distance relationship. It’s also the husband’s choice to stay in and possibly lose his wife or get out and work a job he hates so she can follow her dreams. Marriage counseling may be the best next step. We give up what we allow ourselves to give up. No one is forcing us. Our decisions will affect the types of sacrifices we make and we are the ones who are responsible for deciding what sacrifices we are willing to make.

    • Michelle