How Does Military Transition Affect Family Members?

Military and Veterans, Military Transition, SMVF

Service members transitioning out of the military receive transition resources and education to help them prepare them for transition, but their spouses, children and other family members rarely receive the same – even though they’re also making a big life change.

Military transition can have major impacts on family members’ wellbeing. If a spouse or other family member is or will soon be transitioning out of the military, here are a few ways you and your other family members can find the support you’ll need.

How Military Transition Affects Family Members

There are different types of transition that service members and their families will experience throughout a military career, including:

  • Deployment
  • Permanent Change of Station (PCS)
  • End-of-service transition

While all of these transition types affect service members and their families, end-of-service transition is frequently reported by transitioning veterans to be one of the most difficult experiences.

End-of-service transition comes with certain challenges for the service member, their spouse, children and other close family members, including:

Lack of Resources 

Even though nearly half of transitioning veterans say that their transition from the military back to civilian life was more difficult than they expected, departing service members do receive some education and support when it’s time to end their service.

There are countless resources for transitioning veterans, but not nearly as many for their family members. And many military spouses aren’t aware of the resources that are available.

Dakota Curfman, a military spouse and blogger, says that spouses are often not told that they can also access transition resources:

“Before military members transition out they’re required to go through what is called TRP, or Transition Readiness Program, that gives them resources and information about getting out. What we weren’t told at the time is that this also extends to spouses. I remember my husband being so frustrated after the fact, knowing that it could have been so helpful had I joined him.”

New Social Challenges

The military is a unique social environment. For many people, it’s their whole world. Their friends are fellow service members. They may be only the latest generation in their family to enter into service. If they live on base, they may do everything from attending church to grocery shopping to going to the movies, right there, without ever having to leave base.

They live their life according to the routines and values they’ve learned during their service. So when they leave, they might experience discomfort or even conflict when interacting with the civilians in their new life.

Dakota Curfman says:

“When you’re a part of the military community, it’s almost like being in this exclusive club. Our civilian counterparts can’t really understand it, even though we try to explain it, because they never had to live it. So we quickly flock to each other. We live the same lifestyle, we experience the same struggles, and we lean on each other constantly. There’s no other community like it. Your military family becomes just that, your family. So when you decide to leave that life, it’s almost like you’re kicked out of that club. Your friends are still your friends, but now you’re not ‘in it’ with them anymore. You find yourself in this middle place between military and civilian, not quite fitting into either of those camps. I quickly realized that my identity felt like it had been stripped from me. I was always a Marine Corps wife first. So now that that title didn’t really apply to me, I didn’t know who I was. I felt lost, lonely, and sad.”

Related: A Veteran’s Advice on Finding Social Support as a Civilian

Changes in Family Dynamics

Transition can also impact the emotional dynamics within a family. While you’re bound to look forward to the reunion with your spouse or family member, it can be a difficult period for everyone involved. Many veterans struggle with readjusting to civilian life, which can affect their relationships. They may also be dealing with “physical or mental health issues resulting from their service, which can further strain family dynamics. Understanding these challenges and the support available is crucial in helping these families to successfully navigate their post-service lives.”

Reconnecting With Your Spouse & Adjusting to New Roles in the Family

When a service member with a spouse and children is deployed or has otherwise been living apart from their family for a while, the remaining spouse often has to take on the roles and responsibilities of both parents. This can lead to “increased stress and strain as they juggle work, childcare, household chores, and other responsibilities. Children may also have to take on additional responsibilities, which can impact their emotional well-being and academic performance.” 

When the service member returns home, you may quickly find that your ideas of who you are and what your role in the family is have changed. Maybe your spouse was the primary parent before they left, but if you’ve since had to take over that role, you may be hesitant to give it up. Or maybe you and your spouse had a strong relationship before, but distance has made things feel “off” – maybe they even seem like a stranger to you. This isn’t uncommon, and you can improve the situation by working with your spouse to reconnect and decide upon and adjust to your new roles in the family.

How Military Family Members Can Find Support During End-Of-Service Transition

Ask for Support from Your Service Member

Of course you want to help your family member transition back to civilian life as easily as possible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for support, too.

Dakota Curfman says:

“Looking back now, I know that I shouldn’t have stayed so quiet about my feelings. I regret not speaking up and voicing my fears. What I came to learn over the years (and after talking to my husband about this) is that we are a team and need to talk through ALL of the things.”

If you don’t tell your family member about what you’re going through, you won’t ever get the support that you need to get through it. You know best what would help you, but here are a few tips if you’re not sure what to say:

  • Ask to be heard – Every family member has their own post-service plans and dreams. Speak up about yours and if they conflict with your spouse’s plans, work together to come up with a compromise
  • Ask to be included – You’ve stood by your spouse’s side all this time, and it’s ok to ask for you and any children to be recognized at any farewell or retirement celebrations
  • Assist with career transition – Help your transitioning spouse and create a new purpose for yourself by assisting them in their job search by giving feedback on their resume, etc

Resources for Transitioning Veterans and Their Families

The challenges that veterans transitioning back to civilian life experience are well-documented, but the similar impact transition has on their family members has only lately been recognized. When it comes to helping military families through transition, “we should be shifting toward a more holistic, complete framework to providing care – understanding that every member of the family unit experiences the transition.”

The SMVF Program at Region Five – Our Service Member, Veterans and Family Support (SMVF) Program provides support, resources and community for service members, veterans and their families.

The SMVF helps veterans and active duty military with:

  • Mental health and support
  • Educational opportunities
  • Employment opportunities
  • Paperwork
  • Transitioning out
  • Finding community
  • Job coaching
  • Case management 
  • And more

TAP – The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is the official transition program of the U.S. Military. Every departing service member must complete certain elements of the program; others are optional. TAP also offers services to military family members impacted by transition.

The VA – The Veterans Administration (VA) offers transition support for transitioning veterans and their family members – This website has information and resources that can help transitioning veterans and their families better prepare for post-military life.

Region Five Is Here for You and the Entire Family During Transition

Military-to-civilian transition can be tough on the whole family, but with the right support you can get through this together. 

Is your family having a hard time with transition? If you’re in the Suffolk, Virginia area, you can find resources, help and support at our upcoming Veterans Helping Veterans event. Local community organizations will be partnering with service members and veterans to add support to all aspects of your life. All service members, veterans and their families are welcome.

Available resources can help you with:

  • Medical/mental health
  • Housing
  • Vocational/education/employment
  • Legal and benefits

Learn more and register for Veterans Helping Veterans here.

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