March 1, 2023

Military Spouse Employment

couple with military woman giving each other a hug after spending some time without seeing you


I found Dr. DaLomba’s research paper called “The Experiences of Active Duty Military Spouses with Advanced Degrees in Maintaining and Advancing Their Careers” when I was working on my dissertation. When I read her paper, I was blown away! I felt like it HAD to be covered on the podcast. In this episode, Dr. DaLomba and I discuss some of the concerns military spouses face with their careers as well as some of the creative ways they can navigate work and military life. ​


  • How military spouse careers are related to relationship satisfaction
  • Challenges military spouses face in employment
  • Ways military spouses have been creative to pursue their careers even with the challenges of military life
  • The key takeaways from Dr. DaLomba’s research on military spouse employment 
couple checking phone

Introduction to Dr. Elaina DaLomba

Dr. Elaina DaLomba is a military spouse and at the time of the recording she is a Professor for the Army at Fort Sam. She’s been married 26 years and her husband has been in the Air Force for 21 years. The idea for her research started when she was working on her PhD while they were stationed overseas in England. She has a history working as a social worker and then went into occupational therapy. While they were overseas she saw a lot of military spouses struggling with finding work overseas. While some people thrived, others were falling apart and she became really interested in exploring what allowed some people to thrive. After her PhD, she did a qualitative study with military spouses that is discussed in this episode. 

It’s taken creativity to navigate my own career in a way that still feels good and authentic to who I want to be while being a military spouse”. 

Elizabeth Polinsky

How military spouse employment is related to healthy and happy military relationships

Military spouse employment is related to the retention of military service members. Many military service members are getting out of the military due to the unemployment, underemployment, and dissatisfaction for military spouses wanting to pursue their own careers. Meaningful work experiences are tied to personal identity and self-esteem. This then ties into couple relationship as well. If we are unhappy in our work, it spills over into our marriages. While there are military family readiness programs and other programs that the government has introduced to be helpful, they don’t always apply to people with advanced degrees. Based on Dr. DaLomba’s research finding, the more you are specialized you are, the more chance you will be unemployed if you marry into the military. This is in contrast to the push for higher education for military spouses; but higher education may actually make it harder for you to be employed. One of the articles she references in her research was titled “the recipe for a good military wife” which promotes very traditional gender roles. However, this doesn’t fit for all military spouses. Many military spouses don’t want to feel dependent; they want to feel autonomous and independent. 

friends talking while checking the computer

The results of the qualitative study: 

We grow and thrive when we are doing meaningful activities, which can make it really hard to navigate moves for military spouses.  She did interviews with a bunch of military spouses to learn about their experiences. Some of the main findings and points from our discussion included: 

  • The need for military spouses to get creative with their career and profession. 
  • Some military couples live apart to have more stability and sanity for their family. 
  • Some military spouses found a lot of personal meaning in being involved in military life on base. 
  • Some found a lot of personal meaning in being a support person to the military mission or in their role as a parent. 
  • It mattered a lot that the communication around expectations were extremely clear. It is important to help military spouses know what military life will be like and even what the next duty station might be like. The takeway: If you know what you are getting into, then that helps a lot! 
  • It’s ok if what works for someone else doesn’t work for you. 
  • It was especially hard for spouses who got married later on in the service members career. It was harder to adjust compared couples who navigated military life together from early on. 
  • Being open to new things is very helpful. 
  • The way you frame changes due to military life matters. If you say”I’m settling” then it is more challenging. Instead try saying, “This meets my needs for now“.
  • People who succeeded still grieved, but were able to find career adjacent work or other work that had significant meaning. 

It’s a form of resiliency to find a way to promote your own identity. Military spouses who were able to find meaning did so either by finding a creative solution, finding something adjacent to what they really wanted, or by doing something totally different but that also had meaning and fulfillment. 

A lot of spouses said it’s not what I do, it’s who I am”

Dr. Elaina DaLomba

Ways service members can support military spouses:

  1. Communication between the service member and the military spouse needs to be really clear so everyone is on the same page with the family needs. 
  2. Service members need to be verbal with their command in talking up their spouse and the work that they are doing. They need to make an effort to talk about the work they do and convey how important it is that the spouse is an equal partner, and that the spouses goals are equally important. 
Two friends drinking coffee

Tips & Take-aways from Dr. Elaina DaLomba

  • The biggest things is communication with your spouse. It needs to be painfully honest at times.
  • Humbly be able to listen to each other, knowing that sometimes each of you will have to sacrifice for the other. 
  • For military spouses for need licenses, get on top of it right away. Try to do as much as you can ahead of time to be prepared so you can minimize the stress after a move. This helps you start from a stronger place with less emotional overwhelm, and helps you make more intentional choices a long the way. 
  • It’s important to make intentional choices about what you will do. This helps you have more sense of control over your life.  
  • Watch how you are thinking and framing the situation in your mind. Framing it as 1) temporary and 2) as an active choice to meet the needs of right now, can help you navigate all the changes to your career due to military life. 
  • Get involved in the Blue Star Families Survey each year to speak your mind. (Learn more here).

Dr. DaLomba’s’ article referenced in this podcast: DaLomba, E., Greer, M. J., Cruz, E., Harris, A., King, C., Laurel, L., McCuaig, T., & Wilder, R. (2021). The experiences of active duty military spouses with advanced degrees in maintaining and advancing their careers. Work (Reading, Mass.)68(2), 387–398.

Liz’s Useful Links: 

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Thanks for Listening!


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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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