Maintaining close relationships with civilian friends: can it be done?

One of the most common social themes among military significant others is that of the difficulties associated with relating to and maintaining friendships with civilian friends. I follow 73ish military spouse blogs, and almost all of them (to my memory) have addressed this topic at some point in the last 18 months.

We talk about maintaining civilian friendships because it IS difficult sometimes, especially when there are other issues in the friendship – perhaps onesided-ness, selfishness, or an inability for a friend to be empathetic or sympathetic. I’ve found that the longer I’m in this military relationship, the harder it is to maintain troubled civilian friendships.

Personally, I think that as a military spouse, it’s difficult to maintain troubled friendships REGARDLESS of whether they’re with civilian friends or fellow military significant others.

By and large, I’ve maintained close friendships with my civilian friends whom I’ve WANTED to stay close with, despite being on the other side of the planet and married to a military man. I think that most military spouses have a similar experience – it’s all about prioritizing your communication with those people. Some friends are your friends regardless of differing life circumstances, and they will stand by you regardless of their personal understanding of your situation. Those are the best friends to have, whether they’re civilian or military.

On the other hand, I’ve struggled with friendships that were already flawed, and I think that flawed friendships are the first ones to cause a problem when differences arise, such as a military relationship. Recently I’ve decided to let go of those troubled friendships in order to maintain my own happiness. I’ve found that there is just no use in having a bad friend; after a year of being in a military relationship, I expect that my friends’ learning and adjustment period is over, and it’s time for them to be supportive and to understand that this relationship is going to last, regardless of their opinions.

I’ve found that deployments bring out the worst in friendships (probably much like long-term medical issues and other life-altering situations). Sometimes well meaning friends say the wrong thing, which we need to cut them some slack for because they mean well. To those friends, I’ve told them that what they’re saying isn’t helping, and I give them ideas for what they could say or do in the future (namely, listening!). Those friends are usually grateful for that guidance and follow through in the future. On my end, I think that I’m a better friend to them after I talk to them about “dealing with me”. I’m sure that being a good friend to a military spouse can be a lot to handle, and I am so grateful that my friends help shoulder my load.

On the other hand, I’ve found deployments to be the great separation between my good friends and the friends whom I need to let go. I’ve found that many of my friends who are cold, unfeeling individuals towards me during sad moments (such as deployment) are cold and unfeeling individuals in general. I’ve slowly discovered that I can no longer handle mean or cold “friends” in my life. I have enough on my plate, and I don’t want to voluntarily add to it! Perhaps that makes me a bad friend or a fair weather friend, but I know my limits, and those kinds of people are outside my limits!

Tl;dr: It’s possible to maintain civilian friendships, but as a military spouse, it’s important to prioritize your communications with them. Sometimes they say the wrong thing while trying to be supportive, and you must let them know what you actually need from them. Good friends will embrace your suggestions. On the other hand, I don’t think that mean or cold “friends” are worth our time or energy – whether they’re civilian friends or military spouses. Save yourself a lot of tears and cut ties with people who drag you down.

9 comments

  1. Well said!! I think during deployments we don’t need to have things that drag us down mentally if we’re supposed to be sending happy thoughts their way (to the guys). I have a quote that would be good here but I can’t remember all the words, will try to find it in the AM. 🙂

  2. I agree – well said! Not a decision easily made, and often only made after many second-chances! I think the Golden Rule has been forgotten by many people.
    LYB

  3. No matter who you are, no one needs a bad friend in their life. I’m a civilian and I do a lot of volunteer work for deployed troops. In the beginning, my first adopted soldier kept losing internet at his base. So his wife and I would email and we became (and have stayed) friends. He had a rough deployment and I wasn’t always sure what the right thing to say or do was. When bad things happened, how can I best support him? Or will even asking that question hurt her? Because she knew I meant well (and that we had the shared goal of keeping his morale up) she would answer my questions thoughtfully and honestly.

    With only 1% of the population in Active Duty, we (my side) outnumber you and most are not familiar with what military life entails. So yes, there is a learning curve (it’s WAY less than a year.) Yes, you should cut people who mean well some slack and even better, let them know how to be helpful. And ps-when you get married, your friends should be happy not hurtful.

    Maybe one of the secret blessing of deployments and all the moves is that it forces you to prioritize. And to only have friends in your life who truly love you and are worth your love in return.

  4. I think it’s so important to realize that most civilians don’t now what to say and are completely ignorant about military life. I’ve had many civilian friends through school and work, and I find that they are pretty much baffled by my “military life”. But there are many other aspect to my life, I enjoy line-dancing and going shopping, I can have friendships with people that don’t involve my “status” as a military wife. Of course, I don’t hide it, but I also don’t expect to relate to them around topics like PCSing and deployments in the way that I do with my military spouse friend. Just like I don’t expect to be able to have a deep conversation with my military spouse friends about social work and the difficulty of working with clients…I save that for my work friends. I think that people can have a variety of friends, because many of us have a variety of interests in our life.

    1. Couldn’t agree more! I used to get upset when civilian friends and family “said the wrong thing” to me, but I’ve come to realize that it’s okay to not be able to relate exactly to each other — that’s what makes being friends more interesting, and adds value to the friendship. I think the problem occurs when people aren’t willing to step outside of their own life experience and take something at face value, or to say, “okay, I don’t have experience with that, but I’ll accept it and support you as my friend”. I try to reverse this with my friends as well — I don’t understand a lot having to do with raising children. I have my own opinions about it, but I accept what my friends tell me at face value as “the best option” and support them.

  5. I think everyone needs supportive friends to lend an ear or provide distraction during hard times. This isn’t limited to us military spouses. Each of my civilian friends has been through something tough that I haven’t experienced- losing a parent, dealing with infertility or a miscarriage, having trouble in her marriage, having a child with a disability, etc. I guess it’s never occurred to me to think of being a military wife as an “us vs. them” situation. Even other military wives won’t share your same experience or necessarily be “good friend” material. I’ve kept my good college friends, but I’ve also had to develop a support network outside of that circle as I’ve moved around the world. I made friends in graduate school who could commiserate about research and teaching, I made friends as a new teacher, and I made friends in Japan, some of whom happened to also be military wives. It’s important to find other people familiar with what you’re going through to offer advice or empathy, but at the same time, I’ve never had a true friend who didn’t know how to show love and support, regardless of whether or not they were in my same situation. In my opinion, those bad friends would have shown their true colors eventually because you surely would have needed their support at some point. Marrying your husband and moving to Japan just expedited the process. Good riddance!

  6. Wow, I feel so late because this is years later. I have a question. I have a great guy friend who is going to be an Army ranger and leaves next week. We said our goodbyes which was extremely hard *still crying* and we both expressed that we value our friendship with eachother. I just want to know how can you maintain a healthy friendship with a busy solider?

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