Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece – we know this is not every spouses’ experience, and there may be differing opinions. Let’s stay respectful and help each other grow and learn!
Spending just over a decade married to my husband, we have moved from one side of the country to the other, time and time again.
Of course, each move brings its own hardships. But there is one thing that never ceases to fail: the difficulty that a majority of military spouses have feeling welcome and making friends. You would think having so much in common would mean there is a never-ending list of eligible spouses offering their support and friendship. But that is far from the case.
From the beginning, the military has been based on a hierarchical approach. A rank system that allows the service member to build knowledge and work their way up to the top, giving them the opportunity to gain responsibility overtime. It is what works to keep the organization flowing. However, this approach has managed to seduce the minds of many spouses, causing that invisible hierarchy that plagues a lot of duty stations around the world.
In the seven duty stations I have been to, it has never been too shy to show itself in one way or another. There are some places where it steeps deep into the community. Where even going to the park with your children brings up questions on the rank your spouse holds. Questions like, “What does your husband teach?” or, “Is your spouse here for the Academy?” and when given an answer that does not fit with their standards, they give you a look of pity and walk away.
It all stems from that old school military traditional mentality and frankly manages to thrive far beyond that. It is one thing to have pride and uphold a standard or tradition that has been passed down for many generations. But when do you stop and recognize there becomes a point when you have surpassed that? When that totem pole of all your greatness means you are really creating stereotypes that are now affecting everyone else?
It is understandable to hold yourself to a specific standard, such as having manners and not looking like a hot mess! But why is there still segregation between spouses because of their “service members rank?” YEA, YEA I know…. I hear the excuse of tradition time and time again. That tradition of having Officer Spouses Clubs, or coffees where you have to be a “senior spouse” to attend.
This gives spouses who are “ineligible” a sense of unwelcomeness, looked at as not quite good enough, and brings in a stronger sense of that hierarchy within the community.
These “coffees” or “clubs” should be opportunities given to all spouses to share experiences, have a relatable conversation, and grow a friendship that allows more questions to be asked.
If you step back, you can see the true damage this is causing throughout each community, leaving the military scaling back on “Family Readiness Groups” because there is a lack of attendance and volunteers. But for some reason they do not see that those few toxic spouses that volunteer with their totem pole of greatness are destroying an avenue of resources for every military family. It has come down to those who volunteer trying to keep their last name and connection to the unit quiet because the other spouses feel intimidation or stay clear of you because of stereotypes that are now thrown around.
Spouses that have spent years volunteering and started an FRG from scratch only to have what they have accomplished taken away because the Commander’s spouse wants to have that spot.
Spouses avoiding all gatherings because of the judgment that stares them in the face as soon as you walk through the door.
Out of every community I have been apart of, one has stood out the most and has set a standard that I try to follow. My first duty station. I was eighteen and my husband was gone more than home. Being so far away from family, the FRG was all I had for interaction with other spouses. At that time, it was co-led by the spouses of the command team. But you would have never known that because they made it a point to be themselves, opening their homes and their hearts to all of us. So much so that still to this day, fourteen years later, I continue to reach out to those same ladies when I have questions.
Every place after that has been hit and miss. There was a time where I had offered to help with the Battalion Christmas Party and told: “The officer spouses have it taken care of.” There have been a few places where there was no support at all because, “What is the point?” I have heard stories of the outgoing teams ruling the roost with an iron fist of tradition, so much so that they kept the spouse’s coffees split by officer and enlisted.
I am sure it is hard to find any spouse who has not had some type of similar experience. Of course, it is not most spouses, but those few that hold their noses to the sky who need to wake up and realize they are a big reason for the low numbers of spouses wanting to participate, for spouses screaming that they have no support, and the reason why we have a long list of stereotypes. Every spouse should have a standard that reflects being kind and welcoming to everyone no matter what rank their spouse holds. We are all walking through this same life and at one point had the same fresh set of new shoes. Support and friendship should be the first thing that anyone thinks when they hear the term “military spouse!”