What to say... and what not to say to a military spouse
Many military spouses recognize that our civilian friends, neighbors and family members don't understand the challenges of our military life. The list below submitted by military spouses is an example of this.
The purpose in sharing these comments is to better equip you, our supporters, in caring for us. And take heart, we have received kind comments as well. As one military spouse shared, "I have had really kind words spoken to me - 'Thank you and your husband for your service' - often."
What should you say?
- Acknowledge their sacrifices and hardship.
- Thank them for their service.
- Ask, sincerely, how they are doing...what is going well and what isn't?
- Ask how you can support them. Share specific ways that you can help and then agree on a plan. Be sure to follow through.
- Listen to them. Allow them to vent. Establish regular contact and don't forget about them.
And...what not to say
Here is a summary:
- Don't make commitments and fail to follow through
- Don't ask "How are you doing?" if you really don't care
- Let us know if we can help
- Call me if you need anything
- I understand how you feel
- You knew what you were getting into when you married him
- Are you afraid he's going to mess around?
- I could never leave my wife for that long
- The deployment is passing quickly
Below you can read more...in their own words:
We'll take care of your wife while you're gone
"Before my husband deployed our pastor looked him in the eye and said "We'll take care of your wife while you're gone." A month has gone by and no one from church has asked me how I'm doing. I'm doing okay for now, but it would mean a lot if they would show they care."
How are you doing?
"Be genuine in asking the question. If you really want to know how I'm doing, stop, look me in the eye, and ask with a sincere heart."
Let us know if we can help. Call me if you need anything.
"The intentions are good...but if you really want to help, instead say: 'I am free on _____ day at _____ time. How can I help you at that time?'
If you make a commitment...Follow through! We are treasuring your commitment, and are highly disappointed when it doesn't happen."
"I was constantly hearing people say what can I do? Over and over again I gave ideas but no one ever reached out to my husband or his unit, let alone the family here. Many times I wanted to scream, we are here!!! we are here!!!"
"When my husband deployed last year, one of the hardest things I dealt with was how our Sunday school class at church, the people we saw as our family since our real family lived out of state from us, pretty much disappeared off the radar once he left. It was very frustrating and lonely.
But one of the best things that happened to me was when one of my friends (in Wives of Faith) told me to "make a list" of things I needed help with, and wouldn't take no for an answer! She got her church small group to come out and help one Saturday and it was an enormous blessing. So I now always tell churches and individuals in general to ask a military wife for a specific list of things she could use help with - and avoid saying "let me know if you need anything.""
"I think the thing that most frustrates me is when someone says to call them if you need anything, but then when you do need something they aren't there for you. :( I rarely ask."
"People that haven't been through it just don't understand. I really feel like the best thing someone can do is "be there" for the spouse. And also offer to help out and make good on it."
I understand how you feel...business trips, etc.
"Yes, I understand how your feel. My husband goes away on business trips a lot. I only see him on the weekends."
"I get frustrated when someone will call and describe the suuuuper long 3 days their signifiicant other was gone on business, and how they just went crazy waiting for that person to come home....really? 3 days? Nice."
"I almost had to laugh at all the times I heard during my husband's 12 month deployment, "I understand. My husband goes on business trips all the time." I wasn't offended ... just realized they don't get it.
"When people say, 'it's been 5 days that I haven't seen my spouse. I'm SO lonely'. Get over it. After 6 months, then start complaining."
"Okay, I understand how tough a deployment is. My husband was gone for six months recently while I was pregnant with #3. We are overseas, so the only family I have here is my church. My hubby has also been gone on TDY's, medical TDY's, tech school, etc. I am tired of hearing how the ones who only have their hubby gone for a few days have no right to feel the effects of separation. ANY time my hubby is gone - I'm pretty miserable! I can function, I get through it, but he's gone!!! Let's just be supportive of each other, because we really have no idea what another spouse is going through. Be it 365 hours or 365 days! Sometimes even when they are home it feels like their gone, 'cause they are only home to sleep! And many times they're sleeping during the day so life goes on without him. I ♥ the military, but not ALL the time. :)"
"I work at a school who solely serves military students. I overheard two fellow teachers talking who said, "There's no difference between their parents being deployed and my husband going on business trips." I was livid! Can we say there's a HUGE difference between a COMBAT ZONE and your husband hob-knobbing and eating in fine restaurants in the safety of our own nation?"
"Don't act like you understand...you don't."
"Don't complain about husbands having to work late or that they are out of town."
You are the one that married him...You knew what you were getting into!
"I've been told..."You are the one that married him!"...or, "you knew what you were getting into!"...seriously! People don't understand, I can't really expect them to but people could at least stop to think before they speak..."
Have faith... be positive.
"I'm not saying that we shouldn't have faith or be positive but really thats not what one wants to hear everyime they mention their spouse or loved one is deployed. Sometimes you just want to vent! I can also relate to the "You knew what you were getting into" and the "Don't worry...he will be home soon."
If I hadn't had the kids he wouldn't have joined, and that him joining and getting deployed was all my fault
"My husband has yet to be deployed but he joined up after our third child was born. What really hurt my feelings is when i was trying to talk about my fears of a deployment with 3 children and then being told that if I hadn't had the kids he wouldn't have joined, and that him joining and getting deployed was all my fault."
Are you afraid he's going to mess around?
"Are you afraid he's going to mess around? (he's going to war, not to lounge around)."
How awful! That must be so hard! I couldn't do it!
"I live in a civilian community (husband deployed from the Pentagon) and 1. the war is completely irrelevant in my community - like it's not even happening; and 2. the pity and horror (How awful! That must be so hard! I could never do that!) when someone finds out I am a deployed spouse. I feel like I have to defend my position. Weird."
"Look up positive things to say instead of "That must be really hard."
"I couldn't do it (that's why your hubby is not in the military)."
Canceling plans to get together and saying "We would just like to have a quiet night and do nothing
"Just yesterday as I am home in Ohio visiting family from GA while my hubby is deployed...I was looking forward to hanging out with my brother and his kids...my kids were excited too. Well, he calls me to tell me he would just like to have a quiet night and do nothing with his wife. Well, I'm glad he has that luxury and hurt that he didn't consider that I'm by myself and would just like to be with family right now...sigh."
Military spouses don't ask for help because of pride
"I've had someone tell me that military spouses don't ask for help because of pride. My experience is that I try my best to do things myself, waiting to ask for help until I really need it. And yes, no one wants to ask for help. However, when I get to that point and I finally seek help and make those calls to people who have offered, after a few "no's" I give up."
"I rarely ask for help. It seems to me if someone really wants to "help out" they should just do it. Yea, I'm pretty much on my own. But, it has made me a stronger person today. I also find comfort knowing God is always with me."
At least his medical care is free" (Wounded Warrior)
"I hear all the time: At least his medical care is free or at least he doesn't have to deploy. Now honestly, people, THINK about that beofre you say it to someone caring for a person who has had their body shattered and carrying all the weight of the emotional trauma that is part of combat wounded soldiers!"
I could never leave my wife for that long.
"A relative said before my husband's deployment, "I could never leave my wife for that long." What, as if our marriage is one where its easy to be separated? It's tough for us to do, but there are greater causes to consider. The sacrifice our family makes is needed in this world climate."
The deployment is passing quickly. He'll be home soon. Before you know it, he will be home.
"I can't handle easily how everyone makes it their loss when a spouse deploys. I know that it is also their friend, etc. but this is my husband, my children's father, my other half whom we are inseparable when he is home and this is my hole in the world.
I know that sounds selfish but I just don't think they truly understand the void that is left when your other half leaves. I just tell them yes, please pray for my husband and yes, please don't drive me nuts with talking about how fast time is passing (when it's not for us), when you hit the right before halfway point it seriously threatens your sanity on some days."
"When a major holiday comes up, a spouse at home feels a little empty while families all around are celebrating. Telling her that he'll be home soon doesn't help because it really is a holiday emptiness, you know? The day after Christmas isn't as sad as Christmas Eve or Christmas Day."
"Before you know it, he will be home (easy for them to say)."
Here is a copy of the list to share: