So far we have covered, marriage, mental wellness, and now onto friendships. As a marital relationship, friendships also contribute to over all wellbeing. Friendships increase a sense of belonging and purpose, boosts happiness, reduces stress, can help you cope with traumas, and encourage you. However, we do need to be careful about the friends we choose. Toxic friendships can influence us in negative ways, dragging us down, increasing stress, and discouragng you from positive behaviors, and encouraging negative behaviors. As you see friends are important, but its more so the quality of friends you have that make your life better.
My husband just hit his year active duty mark in the military, just two weeks after our one year wedding anniversary. I knew moving around was part of the life-style before we got into it. And I felt like I was prepared because I had moved around a bit as a child; however, I was not prepared for how quickly I would make meaningful and lasting friendships with some wonderful ladies (I guess having to rely on them when your husbands are never home for months does that to you!) and how quickly I would have to say goodbye. I have been here for 6 months and I have already made life-long friendships and I have already had to say good bye to many friends! How could 6 months bring so much change? I saw on my Facebook page this morning a video for my “2016 in Review” and in that it showed me how many friends I had added this year, 76. That is crazy to me! Basically that means 76 new ‘friends’ (I don’t hang out with most of those, but still that’s a lot of new connections in just 6 months).
So it kind of seems like friendships are hard to come, easy go; which is extremely difficult if you are not already an outgoing person, eager to constantly be putting yourself out there, making new friends. For some people this is really discouraging. How do you cope with the constant flux of friendships that we experience as military spouses? It can be difficult to deal with, especially as a new spouse, I had no idea how quickly this would hit me. I was not prepared for having made friends and them leave so quickly. Here are some simple ways I have found to cope with transitions:
When the friends we initially make begin to move away, it is hard to find motivation to go out and cultivate new friendships. In my work as a counselor with military families I have heard many women say, “what’s the point of making friends here, we are just going to be gone in a few months anyway.” And I have felt that a few times myself. I am especially feeling that now with many of my friends having left or are about to leave. Furthermore, we are only looking at being here for a couple more months. But, I am here to tell you what the point is! The reason you make friends even if you are only going to be around a short time is that friendships help combat loneliness. And prolonged loneliness leads into depression. Now not everyone who is lonely will wind up depressed, but it certainly doesn’t help! We can’t get trapped into fearing putting ourselves out there and refuse to make new friends. As hard and uncomfortable as it is we need to continue to grow friendships regardless of how much time we have left at a duty station.
Friendships breed community. We as humans were not designed to live in isolation; we were meant to live as a community. That is why people thrive when they are plugged into their surroundings. We cannot be our best self in isolation, we will not feel good about ourselves. Self-esteem and sense of self-worth both take a hit when we try to function in prolonged isolation. Community is important no matter if you are a military family or not, but it is my experience that military families are more heavily reliant on outside communities than civilians are because they are more likely to be far from any kind of family support.
When you don’t have any family around there is no one else to rely on in times of trouble other than the community that you have built up around you. Just recently I read a Facebook post written by a spouse here at Fort Benning. She was pregnant and sick, her husband was working and unable to get home immediately, she couldn’t drive herself to the ER and had no one to watch her kids all because she had not built up a community around her. Now she is totally dependent on her husband who can’t be there for her right now. This is the kind of situation that results when you rely on far away family and friends to be your emotional support and social interactions, there is no community surrounding you when you need someone.
Just as phone and video interactions with far away family members can’t be the entirety of your social interactions, neither can your husband. Your husband cannot be your sole source of social interactions and validation. You will soon wear him out because he is not meant to be your sole emotional support; primary yes, but only, not so much. If we are not the best versions of ourselves, we cannot provide the support and validation that our husbands and children need. This creates a vicious cycle of neglect of emotional wellbeing. Now I am not saying that having friends will fill the void that might be left by relying solely on your husband, only God can do that when we lean on him. But a husband cannot be your community as much as you try to make him so. It will only leave you feeling isolated.
Your Challenge - Putting Yourself out there
I know it’s hard ladies, it takes me out of my comfort zone, just as much as yall. It can seem unfair when some really extraverted, outgoing people always seem to have friends and all the resources in the area! And you are sitting there all alone just hoping for a semblance of friendship. Now I am not saying you have to be friends with everybody. But we do have to leave our little nest of blankets and pillows on our couches (and turn off the Netflix, it will still be there when we get home) be vulnerable and open ourselves to the idea of making friends and finding community. We have to leave our comfort zone every once in a while or we will begin to feel isolated, lonely, and depressed. So maybe one day you respond and accept someone’s invitation to go to Starbucks or attend an event you normally wouldn’t. Take a chance, maybe that should be your New Year’s Resolution. You’ll probably be surprised how having a community around you will make you feel more secure.
How are you prepared to make friends this year?
And don't forget to check out Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3 here!