Military spouses are often unsung heroes who provide unwavering support to their partners who serve in the military. While their loved ones are deployed or stationed far away, they take care of the family, manage the household, and often hold down a job. The challenges that military spouses face can take a toll on their mental health, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. It’s crucial to recognize the importance of mental health for military spouses and prioritize their well-being. For the past 18 years Give an Hour has been honored to support military spouses and their mental health. A few of our very own staffers fall in this category as well, some are even Veterans themselves or grew up in a military family. Here are their thoughts on the unique challenges that military spouses face, the impact of these challenges on their mental health, and ways to support their mental health and overall well-being.
Question: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a military spouse?
Nickie: My husband traveled a lot while my daughter was a baby and toddler. He would be gone for weeks at a time, leaving taking care of our daughter and our house to me.
Trina: By far having dual professional careers was a challenge especially with the frequent moves, often to locations that were not competitive in my field or in compensation.
Brittany: Hands-down family separation and reintegration were the hardest challenges. We were early in our relationship when my husband suddenly got reassigned to another base. He was so close to retirement that we elected to make it all work from across the country – us (me and the kids) being where we planted roots and him being at his final duty station for 22 months. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as hard as trying to put the pieces back together after being disjointed for nearly 2 years. This is why I always say that the transition from active duty to civilian life isn’t an event. It is a journey!
Erin: Navigating family responses to different stages of his career – the expectation that I should “be so proud” of his service but never complain about its effects on our day-to-day life. Never feeling like I could walk away from my phone when he was away because I may miss the one chance to connect that week. Reintegration after time away was always a challenge for both of us. The world doesn’t stand still while they are away, and new routines always made him feel like he came back to a brand-new life each time he left. Lastly, feeling like the military was more important than our relationship.
Question: What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a military spouse?
Nickie: My husband was in leadership positions while we were married. I loved being part of his command team and supporting Soldiers and their families through good times, hard times and transitions. It would start by welcoming them into the unit, helping them adjust to their new duty station and then maybe welcome a new baby into their family or grieve someone they love while being far away from their support system.
Trina: I felt especially grateful to work alongside spouses and soon-to-retire active-duty members through my work at that time in workforce development- the ability to help others at an especially exciting and frustrating time in their life was so fulfilling.
Brittany: Other than being in my sorority, I’ve never experienced such social connectedness – family aside, of course. I normally stay to myself unless I have to “people” but there’s just something about being a military spouse that creates a sense of pride that everyone sees and recognizes. The lives we live as MilSpouses come with twists and turns that many can’t relate to. Being part of a collective of people with similar experiences who just “get it” without you having to “mil-splain” has been invaluable. Whenever I have to present my ID card (ex. Shopping), the recipient always thanks me for my service. It still throws me off because I’m not the service member, but they go out of their way to let me know that MilSpouses serve [in a way] too.
Erin: Unit members quickly realized that I like to be engaged in service to others and I was able to use my natural community building skills to provide support for spouses who would have otherwise had little to no support during deployments.
Question: How do/did you manage the stress and uncertainty that comes with having a spouse in the military?
Nickie: It was important for me to have a local support system and find time for myself.
Trina: I maintained my routine and interests outside of the military by continuing to focus on work, school, and competitive sports which all helped stay connected to others during uncertain times.
Brittany: I found a good therapist. It was hard for me to find time for myself while physically managing all the things at home during those final 22 months. I didn’t feel like I could confide fully in my personal and social circles because most people didn’t “get it”, and I really didn’t have the bandwidth for comments like, “Well, you knew what you signed up for” or gossip. So, I started going to therapy and worked on strategies that helped me make it through.
Erin: “Low expectations, high results” was my motto. Finding friends who understood my experiences was key.
Question: What advice would you give to someone who is about to become a military spouse?
Nickie: Get involved. There are a lot of opportunities on military installations to be part of a group, volunteer and have fun. Explore your options and pick the ones that make you happy. The more you are involved, the more you will know and understand. And if you are new to the military lifestyle there is a lot to learn!
Trina: Find your tribe. Social connection is a key part of a wellness strategy in this lifestyle and, if you reach out there will be people in the community (and outside of it) who will embrace you with open arms.
Brittany: Expect the unexpected – because it will come. By expecting it to come, you may have packed your toolbox with the resources to help you navigate the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.
Erin: It’s easy to get caught up in the support of others (spouse, children, community). Ensure you set aside time to continue doing things you love as much as possible.
Question: What is something you wish more people knew or understood about the experiences of military families?
Nickie: Military families are strong and resilient. They go through a lot of adversity and unknown and, for the most part, handle it with grace and respect for the decision their family made.
Trina: I wish more people understood the value of hiring military spouses as part of their business strategy and compensate them according to the skills and abilities they possess. Too often I experienced either a hesitancy to hire because they may move or low pay linked to their “trailing spouse” designation. Spouses tend to be highly experienced and educated and add value to any workplace.
Brittany: We are regular groups of people that are faced with unreasonable and often ongoing amounts of stress. When our service member sacrifices, we all sacrifice – knowingly and unknowingly, and those sacrifices have lasting physical and emotional effects on the entire family unit. A little grace for how that will affect the family goes farther than you’ll ever know.
Erin: Military spouses are some of the most resourceful people I know. Hiring or friending a military spouse means having someone who knows how to make things happen, move mountains in a moment’s notice and unconditionally support others.
To learn more about how Give an Hour supports military spouses, visit here.