3 Things NOT to Tell a New Military Spouse
There is a difference in perspective between new and seasoned military spouses. Ultimately, we are all in the same boat. However, there are some things that might be keeping you from connecting with the younger spouses in your community.
New spouses are typically unfamiliar with the military lifestyle. We face a great deal of uncertainty, just like you do. We check our Facebook and see that our friends back home are thriving at work, making plans to vacation, and starting families on their own time. And as much as we feel extremely happy for them, we struggle with finding our place. We want to learn our way and figure out what our path will be. We know you have a lot to offer us and respect your experience. But as we seek your seasoned advice, we ask that you please don't say these three things to us.
1) Don’t tell us how hard it is.
My friend Kelly shared that we don’t want to hear “how hard it is or how it’s not an easy road.” We knew, signing up, that our journey as a military spouse or loved one would be difficult, painful, and discouraging at times. That part is advertised well in movies and the news. Kelly says we want to hear “words of encouragement and how to stay strong” despite the fact that we chose a difficult road. As a seasoned spouse, we know that you made it. You have lived and survived through the difficult stages that we're currently experiencing. Tell us how you did it. Tell us what you did to keep your head up while your spouse was deployed and how you handled the inevitable anxiety that washed over you. How did you manage to raise a family, maintain work, and keep your marriage healthy all these years? That is what we want to hear as young military spouses.
2) Don’t tell us what our experience will be.
While hearing a seasoned spouse's experience is incredibly helpful, it can also be restraining. It’s natural for anyone to look at their experience up to a certain point and assume that if we experienced it a certain way, then so did everyone else. You might assume that the flight, artillery, logistics, and infantry communities will all be the same now as they were years ago. Chances are that they are very, very similar. Unfortunately, assuming that the spouse sitting next to you is going to deal with the same things that you did limit their opportunity to make something different in their lives. Not only that, but it does not take into consideration the fact that people have different personalities, skills, and perspectives than yours. Because of this simple fact, it's not fair to assume that a younger spouse will move 15 times in their spouse’s career like you, witness spouses having affairs and marriages falling apart, or that their spouse will get promoted or not promoted like yours. While those things might very well happen, to assume these things put us in a box. We undoubtedly view our future as black and white and when our experience falls out of line with your testimony, we panic.
3) Don’t disregard our friends in long-term dating relationships.
“Respect the girlfriends,” said my friend Anne. Service members date just like civilians. Sometimes it is frivolous dating, but many times it turns into long-term relationships. Many of my friends are women who have left home and PCS’d with their service members in order to better support them. They have made sacrifices in their lives to be with the person they love and are in a similar position as their spouses. After all, Anne reminds us “girlfriends often become wives.” And while the military community has changed and begun to embrace long-term relationships, there are still times when significant others feel less respected than spouses. There is always room to improve on making everyone feel included. If the unfortunate happens and the relationship does not last, at least we had the opportunity to love that person and make them feel a part of the community.
We may not always have everything perfect or have our spouse home with us, but we will always have each other in this community. Seasoned or young, it's important for military spouses to feel supported and validated. The more experienced spouses have an opportunity to make an impression on newer spouses by helping us learn and adapt to the military lifestyle. We will always have something to gain from one another by sharing our journeys.
Thank you, fellow spouses, for all you do. Thank you for your encouragement and for sharing your wisdom with us.
If you're also a new military spouse, what do you think? What would you add to this list?