Supporting military spouses when their other half is deployed: a letter to the civilian world.

Let me first say that if it wasn’t for the civilian world of families, friends, and coworkers, we military spouses would have a lot less support. THANK YOU to our loved ones who stand by our sides, lend a hand, and support us through deployments, separations, and other difficult situations with the military.

I am approached regularly by people asking for suggestions of how to support a loved one whose spouse is overseas. I am writing this post as a way to start to bridge that information gap. I’d like to write more on this topic later, as I gain more experience. But, here are my initial meanderings.

There are lots of misconceptions in the civilian world regarding how to support spouses whose significant other deploys or is in harms way. There are a lot of people who know, are the parent or sibling of, or are the friend, neighbor, or coworker of a military member, and they believe that they know enough to give good advice to military spouses. I appreciate every single person who took the time to reach out to me and give me advice in the beginning. But, if you fall into any of the above categories, think twice before you give your “advice” to a military spouse.

Before you read my suggestions below, READ THIS. It’s a list of things to never say to a military wife. You can also refer to this post that I made about what it’s like to not hear from a spouse who is in harms way.

A few ideas for supporting a military spouse:

1. Yes, we knew that our spouse was in the military (or going into the military!) when we married him/her, and yes we knew that deployments were a part of the deal, but never ever say things to us like “You knew what you were getting into” or down-talk our feelings because you think that we are whining or complaining too much. It’s better to not talk to us then to tell us that our feelings aren’t valid.

2. Your spouse’s regular business trips to Europe, LA, or other locations aren’t comparable to our experience. Nobody is shooting at your spouse; nobody is trying to shoot-down your spouse. Your spouse is not risking his or her life for the greater good. You aren’t worried about chemical or biological weapons being used against your spouse. IEDs are not a worry while your spouse is driving around. Your spouse is probably jetlagged and cranky, and only gone for a few days to a few weeks. Not even close.

3. We would gladly exchange this 10 month deployment for 10 months of weekends where our spouse doesn’t help us enough around the house. We would gladly exchange this 12mo deployment for a year of not enough help with the new baby. Please don’t complain to us about how difficult it is to deal with your husband (WHO IS HOME EVERY NIGHT AND/OR WEEKEND) while our spouse is deployed. We don’t feel bad for you and you sound callous and insensitive.

4. Yes, it sucks when our loved one is gone over holidays, and it’s not just the big holidays that are hard. Is your neighbor alone over Valentines Day? Surprise them with a few little goodies on their doorstep or in their mailbox. Is your friend alone for Thanksgiving? Invite them over, not only for Thanksgiving dinner, but also for leftovers the following night, or the night before Thanksgiving to start the cooking process. Gestures like this go a LONG way. 

5. Girls nights are appreciated more then you know, but please don’t have your husband show up. We don’t share your “surprise” and we don’t care to see him kiss you. I’d say that I’m sorry, but I’m not.

6. Reach-out to us a few times during the deployment, not just in the beginning. If you offer to do something for us, like bringing over dinner, suggest an actual date and a meal so that we know that you’re serious. Nothing is worse then someone saying that they’ll do something and then never doing it.

7. Especially when a spouse is playing mom AND dad to the kids, deployments can become increasingly overwhelming as time passes. Offer to drive the carpool to practice/lessons/after school activities more often then you usually do, or offer to pick their kids up from school one day per week. Even organizing regular sleep over parties for their kids at your house once per month is a great help. These small gestures will alleviate a huge amount of stress.

8. Sometimes supporting the deployed spouse is a way to support the spouse at home. Even if you’re family to the deployed spouse, it’s important to coordinate care packages with the spouse at home. The spouse at home may be sending necessity items regularly to the deployed spouse; others could “take a month” and sent these items to the deployed spouse, allowing the spouse at home to have one less thing to worry about (or buy).

9. Instead of waiting for us to contact you (and perhaps getting mad that we’re not “keeping in touch”), contact us and listen to us when we need to talk. I’m an introvert and not likely to vent to other people because I simply don’t like bothering other people with my problems. Your friend may not normally be non communicative when her spouse is home, but if she is depressed, sad, or lonely, she may be less likely to reach out to you. I realize that this sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s a real thing.

10. Spend time with us on milestones, such as our birthdays and our wedding anniversaries. Our spouse is deployed, and the worst thing is to spend these milestones alone. I am DREADING spending our 1st wedding anniversary and my birthday alone in Japan while he is deployed. If you can’t be there with us, it’s very important to call, send a card, send a package, or reach out in some other way during the milestone date.

11. Never speak of the possibility of death, tragedy, or other awful things related to the war that our spouse is fighting. We are intimately acquainted with the “what if’s” of war, and we don’t need you to remind us. Also, you don’t need to tell us that you’re “praying” for us or any other nonsense like that. We may be religious, and we may appreciate your prayers (more then you know!), but, again, you’re reminding us that we’re in a situation where we need your prayers.

12. We’re not the people to call to help you, especially if we have kids and pets to take care of, too. Try at least 2 other people before you call us. Yes, you probably think that this is selfish, but if you haven’t been here, then you don’t know.

13. If you’re looking for what you should say, here is an excellent blog post!

14. Yes, we may disappear from the social scene for a few weeks when our spouse finally comes home. Homecoming is a difficult time as the family tries to find “normal” again.

15. Emergencies that occur during a deployment can quickly become catastrophic. If you know of a spouse who is dealing with a major car accident, a sick child, the loss of a pet, a broken major appliance, a flooded basement, etc, please immediately step up and help! Not only is the spouse dealing with sadness, loneliness, and living to fill the void of a missing person, now the spouse is dealing with an emergency. Small things can quickly snowball to become a catastrophe. Step up, help out, and help the spouse find “normal” again.

Online resources: Tips on how to support a military spouse during a deployment:

From a VA Organization – tips on helping the spouse of the deployed

Another look at what not to say to the spouse of a deployed soldier, written by a military member

A letter from an Army Wife about how to support military spouses and families



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