Honestly this hadn’t even crossed my mind.
All of the challenges that a spouse encounters when they marry a service member that has previously been married.
Join me as I discuss being the second wife with Katie Eksten Gomez and all the obstacles she has encountered along the way. There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of them.
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Here’s the full Facebook Live, or you can read the full transcript below.
Pam Chavez: Hello, and welcome to Military Spouse Spotlight: Honest Conversations. I am super excited today because we are discussing a topic that had not even crossed my mind. So, when I saw this application roll through, I thought, oh my gosh, this is exactly why I’m doing this series, because we can all live very much in our own bubble and not realize what other people are going through. So, hello, I am Pam Chavez. I am a certified holistic nutritionist and my focus is with military spouse wellness. And my guest today is Katie Eksten Gomez. So, thank you so much Katie, for being here.
Katie Eksten Gomez: Thank you, I’m excited to be here.
Pam: All right, so today we are talking about being the second wife and a military spouse. So, take me back to the beginning. How did you meet your husband?
Katie: Sure. So, I was living in South Korea and I was teaching independently as a civilian for four years. And I had met my husband, I ran a social group, in Suwon with my good friend Angela Clements. We had organized a lot of events for foreigners in the community, so people would come in and out and visit different things. I had met him a couple times while I was there and right before I left. He had come into our social circle of several friends, and he and I were leaving to go back to the States at the same time. So, he was doing his thing and I was doing mine.
I was heading back to Minnesota and he was moving to Little Rock and I laughed at him because, you know, I was like, I’ll be Minneapolis, sucker! Not knowing that, you know, we would keep in touch and, you know, he was wrapping up some really icky stuff with his divorce. We stayed in contact because we were both coming back stateside. That was one thing. And also, there was a certain amount understanding of what the heartbreak was and trying to move forward. And soon we realized we were talking every day.
So, it was just a matter of time and I ended up finding myself living in Little Rock, Arkansas. So yeah, we were married quite quickly. We knew what we wanted and we moved forward. So yeah, we made Little Rock our first home together.
Pam: Wow. Yeah. And so how long were you in Little Rock?
Katie: We just moved here last year, so let’s see. He had been there four years and I had been there three. Somewhere in there. Two and a half? Something like that.
Pam: So, when you were sort of brought into this military spouse life, did you sort of have some preconceived notions? What were you thinking even just before you started to realize what you’d gotten into?
Katie: Yeah, so just a hot topic – I never imagined myself being the wife of a military member. It never crossed my mind. It never crossed my mind. And I actively avoided dating people in the military just because I didn’t know what I was getting into. I’ve always supported our troops and all that kind of thing. I came in and I was like, I am going to maintain my independence. I like that is his space and this is my space. And the only time I’m going through that gate is if I need to go and take care of healthcare or if I need to take care of something for his career.
Like, there was just, I think in the civilian sector you can say, that’s my husband’s job and I stay out of it. Right. And you really, for your own sanity, you can’t do that in the military. And it was very dangerous to try because you lose touch with community and your support system. I was used to living abroad and calling my family over Skype or whatever, and coming home to visit periodically and that I was good. But then now we’re laying down our rooted wings and, you know, introducing a family into things and trying to navigate, like, do you understand what I’m going through with people? And some of them feel like “we support the military,” just like I did. And it became very evident that without the support network, my sanity was going to be gone.
So actually, someone that you know, she had made a post about the spouses club, the Facebook page for spouses in the Little Rock area. And she said, hey, is there anyone who is interested in making a trifold brochure? And I seriously sat there for two days thinking about, oh, you know, I could do a trifold brochure from my house. And then the next thing I know they, they had invited me in to come in and sit on the board as the welfare chair. They asked me to do some social media content for them because I had the background and all of a sudden I’m using my knowledge and expertise for something that was good and I was building a network and finding people and building up that community so that was my saving grace.
Pam: Yeah, sort of bridged your two worlds together.
Katie: Yeah. And that was it. And all it took was one person asking me to make a trifold brochure and then being like, hey girl, you’re going to be making some room at the table.
Pam: Yeah. You have to have community in this lifestyle. It is crucial. It’s not easy to come by because you move all the time, but you’re constantly – yeah, you have to, it’s just so unique. You’ve got to have people that really get the challenges.
Katie: So I don’t know if you were ever stationed abroad.
Pam: Yeah, Korea.
Katie: So, basically I found that like living abroad, people just, like, let down their guard and communities were built much quicker. And so, you know, coming back and realizing like, okay, now I’m in the everyday American mindset, it was very hard transitioning back. Like a reverse culture shock, right?
Pam: Oh yeah. And America is so noisy. There are so many distractions. Whereas when we were in Korea, because nobody really spoke English unless you are a service member or family member or something, you gravitated to people that spoke English because you wanted to talk, you know? You wanted to share some stories.
Katie: Right! So, you had those bonds and you built your network and it was different. And one of the things that was really disappointing to me was that there was this preconceived notion of like, what community isn’t. Like you can be in the spouses club, but then people will be like, girl, don’t get involved with the spouses club when it can be a really healthy, advantageous thing to be a part of. People get involved in the volunteer work with thrift shops and this and that and the other. And that’s where you find your people, right? You usually find one or two people here, but you have to put yourself out there in order to do it. And I think here it’s a little bit easier to hide behind the noise. And so that to me was always a shocker.
So, I really tried and I know, Brittany and everyone on that team really tried to make it more about like meeting the individual needs of one or two people to bring them together and give them options. Because once you step out that threshold of your door, it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to meet people, you know, and to build that up. And we did have the opportunity by the time we left. I used it when my husband and I first got there, I told him, I want out of Little Rock as fast as possible. I have lived near Seoul, Korea, you know, the one of the largest cities in the world. And Little Rock just was not on my mind. And by the time we left, I was crying as we were driving away, I was crying because we had made it home and we did have an amazing community. But again, that never would have happened if it wasn’t for those first steps and for someone reaching out a hand.
Pam: So, let’s talk about the challenges with being the second wife. So, what really stands out?
Katie: So, this is, this is kind of the message that I want to go with it. When I was going through it, it seemed a lot more uncomfortable because I didn’t know how to navigate it, first of all as a first-time spouse, but then also to be a military spouse is terrifying. Like, there are a lot of things that we have to cover that civilian… normal? What’s the word I’m looking for? Civilians outside of the gates we need to look at. I remember holding myself back a lot because I remember being told, oh, the military doesn’t move that fast, honey. Right? I’m a mover and shaker and I want to implement things.
Pam: Right. They still need to lose your paperwork a couple more times!
Katie: Right? Okay. But this, you know, this process, does it make sense? Can we just do this? Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, whoa, Whoa, whoa. I think then a lot of it had to do with like how I was interacting with other people and this is not like a victim’s thing, but like being in that position, like interacting with people, there was that mentality of oh, sweetie, you haven’t been through anything yet.
And so, it’s also kind of a conundrum because for me, I was older, I was 30 something years old, 33, and coming in as a, you know, what should be a bonafide adult. And people looking at me like, oh, you know, your husband’s been in for X number of years, this is his rank. Don’t, you know about X, Y, or Z? So a lot of times I let that hold me back because I thought, okay, you know, I’m hearing these things and I’m not computing what that means in terms of what my place can be here.
And for me and who I am as a person, I look at somebody whose spouse has been through six or seven deployments and I go, oh my god, you’re amazing, right? What you’ve seen and what you have to offer and what your family has gone through is so unique. And the fear that comes with it and the elation of having somebody come home, I haven’t had to deal with that. Somebody else had to deal with that for my spouse. And I deeply respect her and that relationship that they had, that they outgrew. And I came in and I was green and I’m looking at all these people and going, where do I belong? I should be here, but no, I don’t fit there. And the puzzle pieces and I don’t know what I’m doing. And it really wasn’t until I was involved with this spouses club that I allowed myself to seek out the community and not just the individuals, but the resources.
So, I quickly became a key spouse, so I’m like, that’s based off of the navy [inaudible] – it’s basically they have spouses that stand in place that help command and guide military families through the deployment process. And so, I got involved with that and I suddenly became obsessed with, oh my goodness, people are not taking advantage of this resource. And for our case, it’s the Airman and Family Readiness Center that offers a lot of these classes and there was a huge communication gap. It’s hard to say. I’ve seen a lot of change in the past few years there, but people, especially like me, didn’t know you could go in for like the classes for new spouses. You don’t have to be a brand-new baby spouse to come in and learn these things. Or if you were at a different base, you could come in and do these classes and they tell you things like making sure that you have your emergency contact information updated for a second spouse.
If something happened to my husband, I do not want them to have to go to his ex-wife before they come to me, and there’s a limited amount of time that these people have to contact you. And if that information isn’t updated, that’s huge for what that can do to a person. And then a lot of the other things were just basic, like your retirement benefits, right? You go in and just like when you went in the first time as a spouse and you’re signing up for your ID card, they’re going to make sure that you’re, you know, what the retirement benefits are, your life insurance, those types of things. But your retirement benefits, if there’s another spouse involved, you need to know financially what that’s going to mean to you in your future so that you can prepare accordingly.
So, if someone has a divorce decree, there may be a percentage that they agreed upon. They may have forfeited the benefit. All of these different things. But if there’s a portion of that coming out and something were to happen to your spouse, are you prepared then to support yourself? I’m very much a person, like, if something happened to my husband today, am I going to be able to take care of myself? And then, you know, things like lingering debt. If you are married in a community state, even if the ex-spouse decides that they’re going to take a portion of any debt that you have together in a marriage. If that person defaults on their payments in a community state that comes back on your spouse. So, you could be responsible for that. So, a lot of times we don’t want to talk to our spouse about that other relationship and what was going on there, but if somebody had credit card debt and it’s carrying over, you could be responsible for that.
Pam: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a big conversation to have.
Katie: So, having that in mind, like, what does it mean when you close those accounts? That’s going to ding your partner’s credit, right? And when you start doing financial transactions together, you need to make decisions. You know about maybe if one person’s going to take out the loan, if it’s a community state, how’s it going to work out so that you can get the best interest rates on things that you’re purchasing? Getting rid of, you know, access credit, those kinds of things, those conversations that you have to have, and even my heart goes out to people who had kids in different marriages, right?
You have to figure out alimony, child support, you need to make sure you have a house that’s accommodating, right? So you may be paying for a house bigger than what you actually need because in the summer your child comes from another state or whatever to stay with you. So, you know, it’s not necessarily like fearing the financial liability as much as being aware and being prepared. And really empowering yourself to make those decisions.
A lot of getting into a relationship with someone is what you give to them and what they’re giving to you and what you bring to the relationship and vice versa. And if you don’t want to know about it, if you can’t, you know, we’re expected to run our own finances, we’re expected to do all of these things. If your spouse deploys, are you ready for that? Are knowledgeable enough? You are enough to do all of these things. But where do I find those resources? If my parents aren’t available. Maybe I don’t have parents anymore. What are my resources? And a lot of times they’re there for you. You just need to learn how to access them. And it could be as simple as asking, you know the Airman and Family Readiness Center. If they don’t have it for you, they can tell you what direction to go in. And we have so many amazing resources online now too.
Pam: Oh yeah. I know. Absolutely. Google anything. So now getting to, like, the real kind of honest feelings and emotions, did you ever notice that you had any resentments that kind of built up or ever came up because of being the second wife with anything?
Katie: Not for me. I mean, spiritually, I have been on a journey of rebirth when it comes to love. I can say that I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been in serious relationships, thought I was starting a family, thought I was getting married, doing those things, and they didn’t work out. And I learned a lot of things along the way that prepared me for where I am.
One of those experiences was being engaged to someone and that person and I split and then that person got married to someone right away. In the process you’re like, I know we didn’t belong together but I invested so much time, and what changed that for me? What changed that perspective is looking at it as if that other person had not been there for that period of time. If they had not made that investment, my spouse wouldn’t be who they are today. And I’m not the same person that I was 20 years ago. I’m not the same person I was five days ago. So, looking at it from that perspective really changed things.
I know a lot of times I hear nasty divorces; you know, my husband didn’t have kids. So that aspect, the financial aspect, they were able to amicably pull that stuff apart. So, for me, when I look at their situation, it isn’t uncomfortable for me. Like, I thank her for protecting him through the times when he was deployed, for everything that she gave to him, everything that they learned from each other, whether it was good or bad. And I think secretly inside of all of us, even though we could be really angry at that, like the new person or that other person, the reality is we all know that we’re human, right? And we had to, like, if we can give ourselves grace, we can give that other person grace. Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it takes a lot of times, sometimes it never happens unless you let it happen. Right? Like you have to actively be working on that part of your spirit in order to release those things. And I love that now we see a lot of people, whatever the type of relationship they had, now they’re like, they are good with families.
I just recently met a woman who was super awesome. She is a retired navy captain’s wife and she had been married to somebody, I believe in the navy as well and had known her husband and his ex-wife, their kids had all grown up together. The divorce happened. They went their separate ways. Years later he finds her, they bump into each other and they get married. So, they blend their families together, you know, post-retirement and over time she and ex-wife are friends again. And to me it was the epitome of what you need to hear because, the ex-wife said, I can think of no better person to be married to my ex-husband. And that to me is spectacular when you can get to that point.
I am my husband’s in the extent that we’re married, but I’m an individual person. And we come together and we work together to make things happen. And I want to see him be the best version of himself. I’m going to fight for our relationship because I have an emotional investment in it, and I think we all do that, but it is absurd to me to not give yourself enough grace to move forward, to be the best version of yourself, to allow that other person to be the best version of themselves and be grateful for all of all of the stuff that’s happened before, and what’s going ahead of you. You know, even if it’s dirty, it’s still fertilizer and it’s helping something beautiful.
Pam: Well, that shows your level of personal development that you’ve done and you know, your comfort level with yourself. You know, when you are secure in who you are and the type of person that you are, you’re able to sort of wrap everybody.
Katie: I will tell you this though, so, because the computer systems are behind the times, I went into a training and I was like gung-ho ready to go into this thing and they asked me for my benefit ID number and I give it to them and they’re having a hard time finding me in there. They called me by her name. At that time, it was like… [exhale]. But then it costs me to think about her that day and like where she’s at and what she’s doing and, like, really wanting to bless her going forward because my husband has seen some scary things. Right. And that was home for that period of time and she kept him safe and I can’t be more grateful.
Pam: Yeah. Well, that’s awesome. Yeah, good on you. I’m all for that. I’m all for the personal development and being able to just come from a place of positive, you know, and see the good in the situation while being real that there are challenges and it is okay to talk about them. That is the whole point of this. It’s not an easy situation. You’ve definitely hit your tough spots along the way, but it has helped you to grow as a person because of it and see things a bit differently because of it. So, yeah. Thank you so much for being my guest today. All right, I am putting your website up – www.gomezbunchworldwide.com – and you want to talk for a second about that?
Katie: Sure. So, my husband and I, we have created a small business ourselves to help people build websites from the ground up and applications as well as developing SEO. So basically, our goal is to bridge that gap between people who maybe – we’ve done a lot of work for veterans, right? And those who have transitioned out. So, you’re starting your own business. You don’t really know how to get the media space. We’re there to try and help.
We’re also pushing some initiatives for military or veteran and family coders, we have a group on Facebook, and basically what we’re trying to do is demystify tech industry positions, get these veterans and families affordable training and opportunities to get hired and get to the right resources, where that gap is between, I don’t know what this is and here are all the resources. So that’s where we’re at. Keep your eyes peeled because we’re pushing some more initiatives here probably in the next six months.
Pam: That’s awesome. Super exciting. And I’m about to let you know what next week’s episode is going to be and who my guest is. But real quick, I’m going to say, jump on over to my website and grab your free healthy 20 minute meals recipe bundle and then you will also receive my newsletter, which is going to let you know when these episodes are going to keep going and what the conversation is because I’ve got them scheduled out for the next couple months so I can’t wait.
This has been such a fun one and next week it’s going to be Amanda Huffman and she has a podcast, Women in the Military, and so I’m excited. I just did a recording with her the other week and I’m excited for that to come out. But she was an airman and now she is a military spouse. So, she’s talking about that transition and how maybe it was a bit different than what she thought it was going to be. It’s always different than what we think it’s going to be. Yeah, I know I took that similar path, although not an airman, a soldier.
But thank you so much, Katie, for being here.