WHETHER by accident or design, living married unaccompanied as an army family has its ups and downs. You might be able to pursue a steady career, enjoy living in your own magnolia-free home and have a settled school life for the kids. But being separated can also be a testing and lonely time for both you and your soldier – seeing each other over all-too-brief weekends, feeling exhausted from flying solo and commuting. Every family is different…

Army spouse Jenny Goodacre is now in her seventh year of being married unaccompanied. 

After previously living in quarters in Shrivenham and Bristol, she’s now settled in her home city of Edinburgh. 

“My husband David was moving to a job in Suffolk and it made sense for me and our girls to stay where my family lives. He deployed shortly after moving, so it was the right thing,” she said.

Time to adapt

Jenny (pictured left) admitted that it was difficult to adjust at first: “I found him coming home for weekends really hard: he was in my space and I had a routine. If he used his initiative, I would be cross because he was treading on my toes, but if he didn’t, I would be cross because he wasn’t helping! Poor guy. Having spoken to families in similar circumstances this is actually quite normal.”

Weekending became a little easier when David was posted closer to home. He now tries to take key dates such as their daughters’ birthdays as annual leave, which wasn’t an option when he was further away. And Jenny believes overall the pros outweigh the cons: “It can be lonely for both of us. My husband finds it difficult when he’s on his own in the evening and the girls miss their dad. But he can work late without worrying about it. For me the alternative of moving every two years was far worse. We ensure that we have a lot of family time at weekends, and holidays are special.”

Putting down roots

Some families choose to ‘settle early’ by putting down roots before their soldier leaves the army. Faye and Stephen Stone felt that stability for their children was the most important thing and bought a house in Hartlepool. “It’s far from home but much more affordable,” said Faye (pictured right). “Stephen only has a couple of years left so we can push through until then.”

Not having her own family close by and being in unfamiliar surroundings has left Faye feeling somewhat isolated: “I miss the understanding that you have on the patch. Everyone knows what you’re going through and you help each other. If there was a problem, I wouldn’t know how to contact welfare.”  

Faye’s advice is to weigh everything up before you go down this route: “It’s hard work, mentally more than anything. I wouldn’t recommend it long term unless you’re moving to somewhere familiar – I feel like my life is on hold because I’ve been unable to work due to childcare costs. I’ve just started a course so hopefully I’ll be able to get back to work soon.”

Surprising switch

Army spouse Maxine Fitzpatrick (pictured left) recently had to consider her family’s options when husband Colin was unexpectedly posted to Wiltshire after they’d only just moved to Catterick. “We faced a difficult decision,” Maxine explained. 

“Move again, refuse promotion, or choose to live married unaccompanied. We decided to buy, prompting me to apply for a full-time job to support the mortgage application. My first week was nerve-wracking after being out of work for so long, and sometimes tearful when thinking of my children in childcare.” 

The family are hoping Colin can arrange flexible working to help the situation feel more manageable. “The children won’t face the anxiety of moving, but it’s a decision we feel we’ve been forced into. 

“While I’m looking forward to some stability it feels like it has come at a very high cost – having to buy a second car, the fuel bills, accommodation and childcare. We’re hoping it will be a workable solution, but it’s too early to tell – ask me again in a year!”

Clare Mason, who is also an army spouse currently living unaccompanied, says getting your finances in order is key: “The Get You Home allowance does help but it doesn’t cover expenses such as food, internet, and furnishings – my husband’s room was literally a shell. We’ve found it best for my husband to have a separate account for life in the mess. Be honest with each other about money and try to save so you can do nice things at weekends.”

Things to consider

AFF’s advice is to take your time to think through all the potential impacts – both positive and negative. Being settled in your own home may allow you to keep your job but how will having your serving partner away during the week affect childcare if you need to stay late or go away with work? How will it impact on your relationship? How will ‘weekending’ affect your routines?  

Consider where you’ll get support and how you’ll contact unit welfare. Being part of a permanent community can offer much but you may miss the understanding of army life that you find on a patch. Being realistic about the challenges and how you’ll deal with them will put you in a stronger position.

Remember, AFF has a range of specialists who are here to help, whether you’re in your own home, renting or living in a quarter – get in touch via aff.org.uk  

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