By Lizann Lightfoot, the Seasoned Spouse
Military spouses and loved ones face a variety of challenges during military life. Sometimes, military paperwork and protocols cause the headaches. Other times, it is the challenge of taking care of the house and kids alone while the service member is away. Whether you or brand new or a “seasoned spouse,” there are always a million ways the military can ruin your day.
When you hear a military spouse complaining about one frustration or another, it may be tempting to tell them to “just deal with it” because “hey, that’s military life!” But phrases like that are not actually encouraging and don’t solve any problems. Instead, here are some ways to truly encourage a military spouse—even if you aren’t one yourself!
Empathize. Even if you can’t relate to a military spouse’s exact situation, there’s a good chance you have experienced similar feelings of frustration or anxiety. You don’t have to raise 3 kids on your own while your spouse is deployed across the world to understand that a parent in that situation is going to be stressed and need some extra support! As you listen to their story, try to find words to describe their feelings—exhausted, disappointed, etc. Think about moments when you experienced those same emotions, and then share what was helpful to you during those challenges.
Validate their feelings. Often, people are confused or overwhelmed by military life challenges, and they aren’t even sure if their reactions are “normal” for a military spouse or significant other. It may be reassuring for them to hear that their experience is actually quite common. There isn’t just one “right way” to be a military spouse. Everyone handles stress and sudden changes differently. So whatever they are experiencing right now is totally normal. It doesn’t have to be the right or wrong way to feel, it’s just a human response.
“You’re not alone.” Military life can be very isolating. Many spouses and significant others find themselves living far from family, in an unfamiliar town, with very few friends. Oh, and then their service member has to go train for a few weeks or months. It’s no surprise if they feel frustrated and overwhelmed! Military spouses love to connect with each other and find fellow milsos who are having similar experiences. Let them know you can relate to their current struggle. They aren’t the only person who has ever navigated a deployment or a PCS move. There can be comfort in realizing that thousands of military spouses and loved ones have faced similar challenges and figured out a way to handle them.
Don’t judge. We’ve all been in situations where people offered less than helpful advice. One example is someone saying we “knew what we were signing up for” when we became military spouses. Newsflash—that doesn’t actually make a difficult situation any better. When someone is struggling, don’t tell them to get over it or stop being weak. Meet them where they are, without judgement.
Offer practical suggestions. There usually isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to a crisis. But there is probably a resource somewhere that may help. If you know about a national program, a military discount, or a non-profit organization that could be useful, then share it! If you have a simple strategy or routine that works for you when you are in a similar situation, then let a milspouse know your tips and tricks! And if the problem seems too big for either one of you to handle, don’t be afraid to recommend professionals like counselors, doctors, or chaplains. Sometimes, just using one new resource can make all the difference during a stressful situation like a deployment or PCS move. Your practical suggestion might make a huge difference in another milso’s life.
Write an “Open When” letter. To share words of encouragement when they will be needed most, write a note for your milspouse friend to open during a specific occasion. I did this in my new book, “Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses.” Each letter speaks to a specific challenge of military life. Some are small, like “Open When You’ve Missed a Phone Call,” but other letters speak to heart-wrenching moments, like “Open When You Have to Leave a Home You Love.” The book releases on September 21, 2021, from Elva Resa Publishing, but it is available for pre-order now online, wherever books are sold!
In my book, I combined all of the above strategies to create a resource that is truly encouraging and helpful. Inside, every military spouse will find a letter that speaks to them. The book makes the perfect gift for someone dating a service member or new to military life. It is also a great way to celebrate a “seasoned spouse” with experiences and memories they can relate to, and a final section of letters all about the later years of military life. Whether you are a military spouse who needs an occasional friendly word, or you have a friend who could use some support, turn to the book, “Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses.”