How Do You Get Your Spouse on Board with Your Transition Plan?

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After our master class, Working for Yourself: Entrepreneurial Opportunities for Veterans and Spouses, a participant asked me how he could get his wife on board with his plans to work for himself. She was not enthused about the whole entrepreneurial thing.

I gave him one answer, but I kept thinking about that question all night long. After helping nearly 20,000 job-hunting veterans and spouses, I can tell you couples do not, in fact, agree on what life looks like after the military. Even couples who talked about their plan for years before transition find their agreement upended when that active-duty ID card gets turned in for the last time.

What Do Long-Married Couples Say About Transition?

Now, I am not a marriage and family therapist. I am a career coach. Still, in discussions of resume and interview techniques, I hear about these marital disagreements from my senior military and spouse clients. They say things such as:

"He wants to move back to his home state and live near his parents. I don't want to be that hot every day."

"I thought we would both work when I got out of the Army. She says the kids still need her. The kids are 22 and 26."

"She wants to live in a very expensive resort area. I don't want to work that hard to afford it."

"He wants me to get a desk job. I want to run my own business."

"She thought I would stop traveling and be around more after the military. I found a really great job that happens to require quite a bit of travel."

"He wants me to take this job offer. I don't want to do that commute every day. I don't even want to do that commute twice a week."

"After 25 years in the Army as the major breadwinner for this family, it's my turn to do what I want at work. She thinks after 25 years of supporting my career, it is her turn to do what she wants."

"She thought I would get a job quickly. So did I. But now it is taking a really long time, and she thinks I'm not working at it hard enough."

"She thought we could travel and enjoy a few months off between military service and the civilian job. I am losing my mind from having nowhere to go and nothing to do and no real responsibilities."

Sounds rough, right? Please know these are not couples in the middle of divorce proceedings. These are long-married couples in functional relationships trying to figure out what to do after the military.

Leaving the Military Is World-Shifting

Make no mistake. It is really, really hard. Leaving the military is not like leaving a regular job. It is huge.

It is especially huge if you and your spouse have built your family around a job that required them to accommodate brutal work hours, multiple permanent change-of-station (PCS) moves, long deployments, overseas assignments and the worry over your personal safety.

I want military couples to expect transition to be world-changing. It is like the Earth reversed its magnetism. It is like the sun now sets in the East. From many accounts, transition is practically a Venkmanesque era of dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.

Well, maybe not mass hysteria. It is probably more a case of: No plan survives the first contact with the enemy.

Because transition is the enemy. Your wife is not the enemy. Your husband is not the enemy. Even though it might look like a battle the two of you are fighting, the transition itself is the enemy.

Like all fights against enemies, you and your spouse can collect data about transition. You can make predictions. You can plan. When you are in the actual encounter, however, all those plans, agreements and assumptions are up for grabs.

So How Do You Agree on a Transition Plan?

Well, first, both of you have to give up your original plan after encountering the real enemy. Then the two of you agree on the goal. In the simplest terms, what is it that we both ultimately want? What do we want for ourselves? What do we want for each other?

For my husband, Brad, and me, our goal is always to be together in the same house with a nice dog. I need him to be happy. He needs me to be happy. We want to see our grown kids a lot. That's the goal. How we are exactly going to achieve that goal is going to change, depending on circumstance.

This is where your shared history with your spouse comes into play. If you are anything like us, you and your spouse have already encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of changes to your plans, thanks to the military. You probably disagreed about how to handle things. You argued. Shoot, we bickered. We are experts at bickering.

But we kept circling back to our original goal until we formed a new plan of attack.

So if you are in transition, keep coming back to the big goal. Make adjustments and trades and compromises to the plan, not the goal. And if you reach an impasse, call in a professional therapist. Transition is huge. Getting together on the goal instead of the plan will make all the difference in the world.

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