Let’s stop pretending some military spouses are better than others

Let's stop pretending that there are military spouses who are better than others
(Photo: US Marines, Lance Cpl. Michael Petersheim)

By Lizann Lightfoot

Lately, there has been a disturbing amount of articles about the supposed hierarchy among military spouses. There are some who claim that an officer’s wife should have limited contact with other “lower-ranked” wives. Similarly, female service members beg military wives to stop ostracizing them and to see them as friends. And finally, there are articles whose headlines run “What military spouses want civilians to understand about…” with numerous comments yelling, “Military spouses are civilians! Get over yourselves.”

Can we all just realize that this hierarchy is imaginary?

There is nothing that makes one spouse better, more important, or more valuable than another. We are all people who happen to be married to a service member. We all have good days and bad days, amazing talents and horrible failures. The only way to build up the military spouse community is if we stop trying to put each other down.

Officer spouses are not better than enlisted spouses

It has to be said.

Certainly, high-ranking military members may ask their spouses to act or dress a certain way, entertain to certain standards, and not embarrass them in public. These spouses may even be asked to handle certain responsibilities in the unit. However, there is nothing about being married to an officer that makes someone inherently better than any other human being. An O-3 spouse can certainly befriend an E-3 spouse. In fact, they may have a lot in common: both may be looking for jobs, have young children, and struggle with a first deployment. Both feel the same loneliness when their spouse is away.

Regardless of college degrees and salaries, we all just want to survive the roller coaster of military life. Even the general’s wife puts her yoga pants on one leg at a time. If you only associate with spouses in your own spouse’s rank, then you are missing out on many potential friends.

Seasoned spouses are not better than new spouses

A seasoned spouse is someone who has been married to the military for a while. They have been through a handful of deployments and PCS moves and know their way around military acronyms. For the most part, older spouses are willing to support and help newer spouses (which is why I named my own blog The Seasoned Spouse).

Military life is not a competition. There is no prize for completing the most deployments, handling the most disasters, or raising the most children. Seasoned spouses have a lot of wisdom and experience to offer, but they should never turn that into superiority. Don’t minimize someone else’s struggles just because you have made it through a similar situation before.

Military spouses are not better than military significant others

Someone who is dating a service member has no military privileges,and can’t even get onto base without an escort. This is a great reason for military spouses to reach out and include boyfriends and girlfriends in all unit activities.

None of us became spouses without first being a significant other. Remember how lonely it was not knowing any other milsos? Remember how confusing every military term was and how complicated it was to plan each visit?

Not every military significant other is destined to marry their service member. I understand that and the potential security risks. Nevertheless, many milsos will become spouses one day. They can’t learn about OPSEC and military life without support from the military spouse community. Let’s begin that support now and stop shaming them for every small error.

Active duty females are not better (or worse!) than military wives

There is a lot of tension between military wives and active duty females. Some say this is because wives distrust women who work with their husband. Others claim that women in uniform destroy the military spouse narrative that being a military spouse is “the toughest job in the military.”

Nope, none of that is true. As a military spouse, I have tons of respect for active duty females. If we aren’t friends, it has nothing to do with the uniform or a supposed threat to my marriage. It is likely because most of my friends are moms who work from home because my only free time is when my kids are at school.

On the other hand, active duty women need to stop looking down at military wives. A female service member has support systems like a full-time salary, a short commute, guaranteed child care, and base privileges that are not available to a military spouse.

I have talked to multiple female veterans who married a service member and stayed home during a deployment. Every one of them told me they were surprised by the challenges of being the solo parent, and that being deployed was easier than being the one to stay home. You respect someone more after you walk a mile in their shoes.

Military spouses are not better than civilians

I know, military spouses are civilians. But we’re a strange kind of civilian.

A military spouse is a civilian with no control over where they will live next year or whether their spouse will be present at their baby’s birth. A military spouse is listed on military orders but has no place in the chain of command. Is it a challenging life? Absolutely! Is it harder than being the actual service member? That’s not a debate worth having.

My service member has always told me during combat deployments that he had no desire to switch places with me. We each had a job to do and used all our energy to do it. When a military spouse tries to translate their experience to other civilians, they aren’t claiming to be a service member. They are simply explaining how their life is different from their civilian friend’s. That’s okay because it’s true.

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at lizann@militaryoneclick.com.


  1. Very good article. I have been with my service member for over 24 years. 23 of them married and all while he’s been on active duty. He has been enlisted and then received a commission. A few things I have learned. I’m the same person now that I was when he was enlisted. We’ve been through neumerous deployments. I know that every person handles them differently. I may have some tips after all this time but my way is not the only way. I only share if asked. I like to point families in the direction of the right resource. In today’s military there is usually a resource for what ever you may be facing.
    What I have enjoyed most is all the amazing people I have met. If you allow them into your life, whether they are an officers spouse or an enlisted spouse, whether they are young or seasoned, these people will enrich your life! I have some friends that will be friends for life! I have learned how to cook food from Hawaiian butter mochi and Filipino lumpia to a great true Italian red sauce! I have also been exposed to Cuban and Venezuelan music as well as hula and haka! This life is as wonderful as you choose to make it!

  2. When my husband was a commander we had a SOSO group spouses or significant others. This group included officer and enlisted spouses or significant other as well as civilian employees spouses or significant others and contractors. We definitely welcomed all even some of our female military people. It was a great fun group. Some of the other squadron commanders’ wives didn’t like that and we were not included in their things but we didn’t care.

  3. The military spouse/ active military women dynamic is odd. Honestly as a working professional that is a military spouse I feel that I would have more in common with an active duty women than a military spouse stay at home mom. Yet I feel looked down on by active duty women.
    I guess it’s just life there is a hierarchy in everything, real or perceived.

  4. Very good article! ! I’m not a military wife,but I’m a Mother of a US Marine.. very proud of him,and all the other militaries, I think we all need to get alone better.. May God bless our military, now we need God more then anything.. May God bless America!!

  5. I have worn most every hat there has to been worn as it concerns the military life. I am a daughter of an Enlisted Sailor during Vietnam, I am a 22 year veteran of the Army, my 3 brothers all went in the Navy, ex-husband is a SGM and my currently and wonderful husband is an Officer. I have two sons one is in the Army and one is in the Marine Corps. What I can say about this article is it gets to the truth of the barriers some spouses feel. I think the issue may stem more from the choices we make about our true purposes in life. As a civilian, I give respect to my elders and listen to people who have the training and experiences I don’t have to better understand what is going on. As single mothers, they are experts in running a household based upon the values and belief systems their famililes hold as true. When I visit my friends I observe and learn from them. I don’t feel they are better than I am because they made the choice to stay at home and raise their families while I decided to work, got to college, and put my children in edcuational based daycares. As a wife to a Service Member, I live my life as I chose and if I meet people whose spouse are also in the military I find we talk more about who we are as individuals and leave the spouses career to what it is and we help one another grow and evolve because we cannot change the fate of our service members career we just have to work around it as best as we can and have friends to push forward to help with the challenges that come with this lifestyle. I basically got into the idea of being a single mom mode and got a job, went to school online, got a better job and a better life, traveled several times, filled out I don’t know how many school enrollment forms myself. Put the kids in sports, and kept busy. When I did this… none of this other stuff mattered to me unless the FRG needed volunteers and I jumped on that because it kept me busy and I got to meet and help raise funds for family events for the families and children. … Not to start a gossip channel.

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