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.

23 Comments

  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.

  6. Except that some military spouses are more important than others. For example, a high ranking spouse can get a medical appointment when I can’t. Just because her husband is a Colonel, they will take her kids, but not mine. We are in a remote location, and this is a reality.

  7. As a recently Army officer and now a military spouse I have to chime in about some generalizations by the author.

    First– “Similarly, female service members beg military wives to stop ostracizing them and to see them as friends”. This happens. I know because myself and many of my colleagues experienced this time and time ESPECIALLY during FRG meetings. I had a BN CDR’s wife tell all the single female officers to not come to the meetings because we “couldn’t understand” what military wives go through and that some “felt threatened”. And this didn’t happen in just one unit. It was multiple.

    And second– “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 to raise the BS flag on this. Support system? Some many do but many female members do not. Some are single moms or just single women who have no support system. Full time salary? Of course we do! We don’t work for free. Does the author faults her husband do having a full-time job? A short commute? Many commute up to an hour. Guaranteed base privileges? Of course they do! They’re Soldiers just like the men. Why shouldn’t they? I don’t hear the author complaining about all these “advantages” about men. This type of generalization is why there can be so much tension between female military members and spouses.

    1. Thank you! The author makes it seem like military females some how have it made and being a stay at home is so much harder. She even states that her husband who goes in deployments would never trade jobs with her. She doesn’t have to say it but this whole article screams “military spouse is the hardest job in the military. ” as a veteran who is now a spouse. This is a cake walk and a daily vacation compared to being active duty military.

      No wonder so many people generalize all spouses as dependas.

  8. Exactly why I have never being a part of FRG’s o spouses groups. Most of the time, wives in this groups present themselves as Captain or Major such and such. Guess what, my answer always has been. Who are you, what YOUR profession is? Many times all I receive for all these grouos are farewell, baby showers and etc, etc. social invitations, but while my husband was deployed (several times), there was not a meeting for support or just to relief some stress. I met my husband while we both were in the service together and I have learn and I have been always clear that who now wearstge rank is him and not me. He is a SFC andI am my own person and professional. I am not SFC wife, I am an RN who works as a nursing supervisor and don’t have time for the immature behavior of some of these wives.

  9. I am an active duty military member, and although I enjoyed most of the article the part where it states we have a full time salary, well that’s becauase we work. NO there is no guaranteed child care so whoever told you that was lying. Of course we have more base privileges considering the fact that WE are an active duty member. The rest of the article was great but I wanted to state those facts.

    1. @Naritza, I believe what she meant by the childcare comment was that if there’s a waiting list for child care on a base installation, based on your status, i.e., single active duty, dual active duty, active duty + civilian spouse; the list is arranged based on priority. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I were bumped down because of the type of priority that came in after we were already on the list. My kids are grown now (15 and 11yrs), we survived but I understand the message from the author.

      1. The CDC is there to support the mission of the military, nit the mission of the entitled spouse. If the parent is an active duty single parent, they have priority. If the parents are dual military, they have priority.

        If a spouse is a civilian it doesn’t not affect the mission for her to miss work. Spouses want to jump up and down screaming about how they are military spouses and have the hardest job in the military, then make the sacrifice.

  10. I think we’re all better than civilians!! We support our military men and women daily, whether a spouse, parent, sig other, member …It is ok to be better”) just do it with humility not snobbery

  11. I agree with everything till the part where you talk about female service members and their benefit compare to mil spouses. It’s obvious they work for that benefit so… I’m not friend with any female service members and not friend with any mil spouse but I never feel I’m being look down for marrying my husband. I see more jealousy coming from spouses bc they think their jobs are more important 😑. The civilians and mil spouses are total joke. I mean, do mil spouses look at their ID card, it said civilian on it. Not to mention read the comments, most mil spouses don’t think they are civilians which are just weird 😂😂😂. I’m sorry, you do support your spouses but if he/she is not a service members, you aren’t going to support he/she as much.

  12. If spouses want to be treated better they need to act like it. I just got out of the military and I meant my spouse while I was still in. I’ve deployed twice and some of the wives I met from my husbands unit were ridiculous. They made themselves look bad. I was told I’m not a real military spouse because I was still in the army and couldn’t possibly understand their pain. I was also pregnant and my spouse had to deploy when this was told to me. If spouses don’t want to be labeled and made fun of them stop expecting to be treated by a rank you are not, wearing your spouses army pts, and saying your jobs are the toughest in the army because they aren’t.

  13. My husband is an officer in the Army, my issue with rank was mostly because there is separation, such as, “Officers Wives Club” and “Enlisted Wives Club” I refused to join the Officers Wives Club, and no one in my neighborhood would speak to me. My daughter was in cheer and met another girl who became a friend that is until her mom came to my house and she saw we lived in Officers Quarters on the Parade field, she literally said “My daughter cannot hang out with your daughter because your husband is a officer.” It was insane and hurtful. There is definitely separation and it is just plain wrong.

  14. One of the main points of this is, we’ve got to stop tearing each other down! I’ll admit that I was intimidated when my husband went from infantry to a branch where he worked with women, but that was MY insecurity that I recognized and reached out to meet so many strong and amazing women! I found new friends that I had so much in common with since I also work full time and I am grateful!
    One of the blessings of being a mil spouse is the opportunity to meet so many people from all walks of life and learn from them.
    I have been part of amazing FRGs and Spouses clubs, and not so great ones…but if you don’t participate to help make a change, then it will never get better.
    Look for an opportunity to compliment a stranger next time your walking through the PX or commissary. This will keep you positive and might make a world of difference to someone that is struggling. Let’s support each other and look out for ways to support our entire military community!

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