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9 Differences Between Military Life vs Civilian Life


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Switching between civilian life and military life is a balancing act. Adjusting between two different lives can be difficult because it can feel like neither community understands the other. But with the right tips and tricks, you can switch effortlessly between your civilian and military friends. Read below to learn more about the differences between military life and tips on balancing your role in each community. 

From making friends to getting a job, everything is just a little different in the military. Both transitioning service members and transitioning spouses might experience some difficulties with reintegrating into civilian life. But seasoned and retired spouses tell us that with a little perseverance, you're going to do just fine. 

Understanding Military versus Civilian Life

Skill Set

One of the biggest disconnects between being in the military and rejoining the civilian community is the experience for transitioning service members. The experiences you've had during your time in service are going to be pretty foreign to anyone who hasn't served. Keep that in mind as you begin to forge new friendships. Not everyone will understand what you've experienced, so remember to be patient. 

As a mil spouse, your challenges are likely to occur as a new member of the military community. Here we speak in acronyms, and it might seem like you're never quite clear about what's going on. Remember that even the most seasoned spouse started in your shoes. Our recommendation is to find a spouse who can take you under their wing and show you the ropes. There are tons of unspoken rules about military culture, so the sooner you begin learning these new expectations, the better.  

Self Care

In the military, caring about yourself is not as much of a priority in civilian life. Your focus was more on your crew and the tasks at hand. Sure, you kept your body in great shape, but you never "splurged" on treating yourself. Transitioning into civilian life means you have new opportunities to spend more time and money buying high-quality personal care items such as shampoo, grooming products, makeup, and haircuts.

This also applies to mil spouses. You're probably shuffling from one event to the next, so you need to remember to take time for yourself. Whatever self-care looked like when you were a civilian can usually be translated to a military setting. For example, if you love getting lost in a bookstore, check out your installation's library for a little breather. Or, if your ultimate idea of self-care is hanging out with friends, connect with those in your community.  


From friends to family, adjusting to your relationships after the military is an exciting shift. After time spent away and doing long distance, coming back into civilian life means finding how you fit in with the established lives of those who stayed home. Making plans to go out, setting roles within the family, and making new friends are all things that may seem foreign at first but will make for a smoother transition. Keep in mind that sometimes it might not look like you're making much progress. Remember that you've been gone a while, so it's going to take some time to get back to your new normal.   


Transitioning to a civilian job is one of the more difficult transitions to make. This is namely because your military training has prepared you for different skills than the typical workforce requires. The key is figuring out how to turn your military skills into civilian workforce skills, such as leadership or team management. There are many resources to help veterans find the perfect civilian job. 


Civilian life typically means you are going to be moving less than when you are in the military. Finding the right permanent housing type for you and your family makes a significant impact on your lives - from school zones to job opportunities. This process can be intimidating after living on base or in military housing where decisions were more easily made based on assignments and military-provided financial assistance. 


Financial changes can be a problematic difference in military life versus civilian life. In the military, you were offered financial assistance in housing and education to healthcare and savings. Be careful not to go overboard in spending in civilian life, as you are likely not familiar with all the expenses that come along with it. Plan a budget and be frugal in the early stages of transitioning to civilian life. 


It is no secret that military life has some strict rules and expectations. This might be one of the biggest contrasts between military vs civilian life. Rigid schedules, tone of voice, responses to commands, and how you present yourself are just a few examples of things you will no longer need to adhere to as strictly when transitioning to civilian life. As a civilian, things are approached with more leniency.


When you are in the military, your crew becomes your family. Your military community has been through a lot together, making it understandable that you have a close bond. Leaving that community can be difficult, especially when your new neighborhood in civilian life cannot connect with you on all of your experiences. Try to network through friends, coworkers, and veteran groups to find a community that makes you feel comfortable and welcome. 


Communicating in military life vs civilian life is hugely different. What may be a natural communication style for you may be frustrating to a civilian, and vice versa. Be patient during this time, and work through ways to communicate with your civilian friends, coworkers, and family. It is also essential to learn how to communicate your needs, as the transition can be rough, and knowing how to communicate can help cut down on frustration. 

The differences between military life vs civilian life don't have to be intimidating. See this change as a new adventure that will help you build new skills, make new relationships, and see the world in a whole new light. If you need assistance, reach out to veteran resources that help manage finances, find a job, help with continuing education, and more.


Related: Mil Spouses - overlooked but not at Lincoln


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