Around 16 percent of the U.S. military are now women—and many of them (11 percent in the Army) are married to civilian men. Some of these “military husbands” are Veterans and already familiar with how the system works. Others have never been in the military themselves, and face the same challenges as military wives entering what sometimes seems an alien world.
Typical Military-Spouse Challenges
- If you move to a military base, one of the first things you learn is that rules mean exactly what they say. MPs notice if you drive 16 mph in a 15-mph zone.
- In the military’s eyes, all service members are responsible for the whole family’s behavior. Even if your spouse is in the Guard and Reserve component and the civilian world is your everyday life, everybody is held to full-time-service standards. It reflects on your spouse if you get a traffic ticket.
- “No secrets in this family” does not apply to military secrets: don’t ask your spouse about classified information. “A simple social media post can give away key military objectives to the opposition,” notes Kim Hartgraves, Veterans Recreation Therapy Coordinator at Easter Seals Greater Houston.
- Most service members—and their families—change home bases frequently, which can make it difficult to keep a civilian job. Be prepared to hold a series of positions or work an all-remote one.
- When the service member deploys, there are all the standard worries: Will she make it back? Will she come back as the same person we remember? Can I nurture the kids adequately by myself?
- Communications with a deployed spouse are often sporadic—giving your imagination more to worry about.
Where It Gets Tougher for Men
Traditionally, the spouse left behind has turned to “military wife” peer groups for empathy and socializing. For the military husband, finding such a group can be a battle in itself. Gender fluidity notwithstanding, most people still share more interests with friends of their own gender. And since the majority of service members are men, most spouses’ groups are organized by women, run by women, and largely attended by women. It’s even harder for men married to high-ranking officers: there are programs such as Command Spouse designed specifically for officers’ partners, but as rank goes up, the percentage of women with civilian spouses goes down, and support groups become even more “feminized.”
Though SFRGs (soldiers and family readiness groups) are becoming more diverse, notes Hartgraves, at the typical meeting “at least 75% of the attendees are still women—not just significant others and spouses, but mothers, grandmothers, aunts” and other female relatives. Apparently, even fathers and brothers—of military women and men—feel out of their element.
Men who do try to join “wives’ groups” are often turned away, ignored during meetings, or eyed with suspicion. (“One man among twenty women whose husbands are far away—what’s he really after?”) Male peers without military connections aren’t noted for their understanding either. (“What kind of man lets his wife join the Marines?”)
Temporarily Single Father
Men with deployed spouses face additional concerns if they have young kids—partly because “mother” and “father” stereotypes persist. Fathers are frequently regarded by public attitude as charmingly incompetent, and expected by the professional world to place non-family responsibilities first. Tell a supervisor you can’t work late because you promised this evening to the children (who are already chronically stressed from missing Mom), and the answer may be, “Can’t you afford a babysitter?”
That Protective Instinct
Finally, expect your own “guardian” instinct to work overtime while your wife is deployed. There are two human demographics famous for their protectiveness: mothers, and husbands/male partners. If you get bad news, your first thought may be, “I should have been there to help her.” If someone makes derogatory remarks about military women, it may take all your willpower not to throw a punch.
Survival Tips for Military Husbands
Being the man on the home front is its own kind of battle. But you can win with the right habits and attitudes.
- Learn a few things from the military—not how to vent at your kids like a drill sergeant (“Shut up!” “Settle down now!!” “This house isn’t a democracy, and you’ll do what I say!!!”), but how to manage the controllable parts of life. Schedule daily routines; put top priorities on your calendar first; and have everyone make their beds first thing every morning (an ideal start to an effective day).
- If you can’t find an in-person support group specifically for military husbands, try an online group, therapy group, or religious center.
- Keep your brain on track by keeping busy. Take up a new sport, volunteer for something, study for an advanced degree. (Now’s your chance to put those military-spouse education benefits to use.)
- Don’t, however, let keeping busy become an excuse for trying to smother your worries under constant activity. “Too busy” to get adequate sleep or play with the kids is too busy, period.
- Definitely don’t try to drown your troubles by overindulging in alcohol or anything else potentially addictive.
- Don’t try to deduce from general news reports how your spouse is faring: get updates from her directly, even if you have to wait. Online-news surfing rarely finds anything besides new excuses to worry.
- Help the kids keep a scrapbook-journal of what goes on at home. Plan an evening for reviewing it together once Mom gets back. If the kids are growing fast, include weekly pictures and measurements so Mom won’t miss too much.
- Send handwritten notes and care packages. (A fact of life too few men bother to internalize: women, even military women, will take the romantic gift over the practical any day.)
- Remember that you aren’t the only one making sacrifices. Every chance you get, tell your spouse you’re proud of her.
- Everyone is a “warrior” fighting some battle. Stay healthy, focused, and positive for yours.