My husband and I are opposites in so many ways, but most noticeably when it comes to the introversion vs. extroversion scale.
Phil’s extroversion has played well into his military career. One time, he was staying in the barracks at Ft. McCoy where there were open-bay toilets. He said that he sat so close to the next man on the toilet that he could read his newspaper and joke around while doing each man did his “business.” I am still horrified!
His easy-going nature, can-do attitude, and enjoyment for being surrounded by others makes him well-liked by people both up and down his chain of command. It’s probably why I fell in love with him. He’s easy to get along with and fun to be around. The life of the party.
Then we slide to the other side of the scale where you’ll find me…not the life of the party! I was about 28 years old when I realized that there wasn’t something wrong with me. I finally learned what an introvert is (Funny story: when I was about five, our parents surprised my three sisters and me with a trip to Disneyworld…my sister’s response was as expected. I cried and asked if there were going to be a lot of people there. Not my best moment. Side note: Thanks mom and dad for the awesome trip.).
Being introverted can cause some significant struggles in military life, from the constant barrage of meeting new people (new neighbors, new co-workers, new teachers, new church members, husband’s new co-workers), to the necessity of attending Army events (and knowing what to wear and what to say and who to talk to), to being the only parent for long stretches at a time (experienced spouses: what did you do before electronics and my personal hero, YouTube?!).
The military lifestyle is difficult enough, but add a tendency towards introversion and sometimes it feels downright hopeless. But I’m here to tell you…it isn’t hopeless! It will take some extra effort on your part, but you can rock life as an introverted milspouse.
Here are a few ways to thrive as an introvert:
Don’t marry an extrovert.
I know. It’s too late for me, too. Continue on…there’s still hope!
Figure this out ASAP. For me, it’s being alone. Ideally, it’s being alone with a book or, in a pinch, tossing in my earbuds and watching Netflix on my phone. I also love walking outside, doing some yoga, heading to my favorite coffee shop, and hanging with my dogs.
For you it could look different, like going out with one close friend, playing video games, getting your nails done, or having a massage. What matters is that when you need to recharge, you’re prepared with some ideas of what best suits you. More recharge ideas here and here.
What triggers you?
Do you know when you’ve gone overboard? What kind of life moments or events drain you? Did you know that there is a something called an Introvert Hangover?
I now recognize that I’m closing in on going overboard when I begin to get easily annoyed, become indecisive, my speech pattern changes, and my anxiety shoots through the roof.
My husband (now) knows that, at some point, I hit my limit, and he doesn’t get upset when I slink off to hide in a corner or I tell him that it’s time to leave the event. It took us a long time to get here, and we don’t always get it right, but we’ve come a long way in this relationship department.
You can’t always prep for people. Life is messy and complicated.
However, when you know that things are in the works you can pre-charge. Is your family visiting for the holidays and camping in your already-too-cramped apartment? Do you know that a military ball or dining out is on the horizon? Plan ahead! Build in a small amount of pre-charging. I’m likely still going to need some recovery time following the event, but if it’s something bigger, I try to schedule in a pre-charging to fill up emotionally before the big social event.
OK, OK. I know we’re all sick of being asked to volunteer for things, but hear me out for a moment. If you’re the kind of person who feels better when you have a purpose at an event—then volunteer.
If I’m simply attending an event, you’ll see me awkwardly wandering around the room, smiling like I’m being held captive. It’s ugly. So ugly.
Give me a job to do? Boom. Confidence soars. I talk to people like I’m a boss. And watch out if something goes wrong, because by the time I’m feeling confident enough to talk to people, my brain starts churning out spectacular solutions to any event crisis.
I’m willing to do just about anything to avoid wandering aimlessly around an event. Trash needs to be emptied? I’ll do it! The sound system is getting wonky? Let me take a look! Attendees are getting lost trying to weave through a poorly lit conference center? I’ll lead the way! (I never said I wasn’t still awkward…just awkward with a purpose!)
Put your oxygen mask on first!
I know it is cliché, but there is some truth in that line. My mental and physical health are significantly better when I take care of myself first.
Sometimes, you can’t escape the introvert hangover and there aren’t any jobs to do. Events come up that are unavoidable—and even more so, many times you want to participate because it’s important to your husband and you love him. Maybe it’s attending hubby’s promotion ceremony, or maybe you have to play both parents while he’s gone.
Find those tiny moments and savor them. Take an extra-long shower or let your kids have an extra 30 minutes on the tablet. Call a friend and ask to swap babysitting for a few hours. Try waking up a bit earlier so that you can have some alone time.
For public events, I’m giving you my secret weapons:
First, tuck a book into your purse. I’m completely serious. I find that when I’m reading a regular book vs. a book on my phone, people are much less likely to interrupt. A book oozes, “this girl is so intelligent that I couldn’t possibly stop her from reading.” Unlike a phone that says, “she’s scrolling Insta, perfect opportunity to chat!”
Second, take the long way to the restroom at the event you’re attending, enjoy the artwork on the walls, maybe find a bench and read your purse book for five minutes. Seek those moments out because those mini-recharges will power you through.
Finally, suck it up, Buttercup.
Ugh. I know. Sometimes it stinks. Social contact is unavoidable in milspouse life, so take some deep, mindful belly breaths and accept it. If the relatives are going to be with you for five straight days, don’t pretend like it’s easy. Acknowledge that it’s going to stretch you and challenge you, and remind yourself that it is not forever (and block out time in your calendar immediately following to recharge). Sometimes you have to put your extrovert game face on.
Being a military wife is an extreme privilege that so few truly understand. To quote one of my favorite life influencers, University of Wisconsin Marching Band Director, Mike Leckrone: “If it were easy, everybody would do it.”
(Much like this video of him doing flips over a sea of people. Army wives are basically the military wife version of this guy. Sequins, flips, fireworks—channel your inner Mike. Because it’s not easy, and you’re pretty spectacular for doing it!)