They live among you, almost indistinguishable from the general public, going about life just like a normal person. But these aren’t normal people: they are military spouses. Brave, resilient and facing their own unique life challenges, military spouse cannot be defined by a singular definition, but they all have one thing in common: they need a good friend. Between nights and holidays alone, moving frequently and the unpredictability of military life, a strong support network is a must for a military spouse.
In 2015, there were approximately 1 million military spouses in the United States. Whether you realize it or not, odds are you either have or have had a military spouse in your life, even if you’re a civilian. Were you friends with them? Were you a GOOD friend to them? There is a difference between the two and being a good friend to a military spouse requires some slightly different traits than a civilian friendship.
How to be a good friend to a military spouse
Be there to listen.
The military lifestyle brings with it a crazy mess of emotions and having someone to vent those emotions to is hugely helpful! You may not be able to relate 100% to everything they’re going through, but you can still be there. Be empathetic, supportive and listen actively.
Oh and a word of advice: don’t equate a week-long business trip to Chicago to a 6 month deployment in Iraq. They are not the same thing.
Invite them to open up, but be ok if they can’t or don’t.
Sometimes I don’t want to freaking talk about military life. I want to forget my husband is deployed, I don’t want to dwell on the fact that life is changing, I want to escape from all that for a bit because it’s too emotionally draining to rehash it over and over again. Sometimes I literally can’t talk about what’s going because I either don’t know or am not allowed to say.
A good friend to a military spouse needs to understand this and not take it personally when the conversation isn’t flowing. Just letting your friend know that you’re there and ready when they are is a huge help.
It’s the little things.
A full blown weekend trip with drinking, dancing and a college flashback? That’s awesome! But it’s not always the best fit for a military spouse. If they’re solo parenting during deployment or other separation, who will watch their little ones? If they’re in a crazy season of life (moving!), taking that much time away may stress them out more than anything else. Personally, during my busiest military spouse times, I don’t have the mental energy to commit to a girls’ weekend and would much rather have a quiet night in with a few close friends.
Instead of planning a big blow out, invite them over for dinner where you cook and clean up! Or plan a trip to the movies, a massage or just a long walk. Or agree to watch their kids so they can take a solo trip to Target! Smaller events still get military spouses out of their solo bubble, but they don’t add stress.
Lend a helping hand.
When my husband is gone, the house doubles in size when it’s time to clean, cars break, dogs injure themselves and I get sick. Murphy’s Law hits military spouses like a ton of bricks and we need extra hands sometimes! Many of us don’t have family nearby so our friends, both civilian and military alike, serve as our main support system.
Cut the grass for them, fix the leaky faucet, take care of the healthy child while the other one battles the stomach flu. The list of ways to be helpful goes on and on. The key is to not ask and just do it. Don’t give us a chance to turn you down when we actually really need to say yes!
Much like anyone, life’s ups and downs can affect friendships. Perhaps a stressful time (i.e. right before a deployment) cause a military spouse friend to fade away a bit. Maybe a homecoming has the same effect. Maybe a news story puts your friend on edge because it hits to close to home and they’re quieter than normal. Maybe they come down with a full-blown case of the deployment grumps and are just flat out cranky.
As a civilian, it can be hard to understand the why behind these changes in your friend, but it’s what military spouses need. We need to know that even if you don’t hear from us for a few weeks as we prepare our family for deployment, you will still be there when we come up for air. We will return that favor over and over again!
Military spouses make great friends so be a great friend to the military spouse in your life!
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