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 firstname.lastname@example.org.