How to Overcome the Challenges of Being a Male Military Spouse
My name is Scott Stanley and I'm a research professor in the psychology department at the University of Denver and I've worked with military families, especially through the Chaplain Corps for about 20 years now and I'm also the principal investigator of a large study that's going on right now following many married couples in the Army to see how things go over time.
So, there's a lot of evidence now that couples in the military where the female is the service member and the male is not are actually twice or a little more than twice as likely to divorce. So it's really clear even in the divorce data that this is something that's even trickier than what the average military couple is going through. It can be hard to know where you fit in when your wife's in the military and you're not. And we have decades if not hundreds of years of history of people sort of working it out the other way where the male is in the military and the female is not. But this is a pretty new phenomenon, at least in our country where there are more and more women who are service members and their husbands are not. And while things have changed a lot in society and changed a lot in the military, it's still more typical for people to think of the male as the warrior, so there's a lot to work out and a lot to figure out and it's very clear that it's difficult for some couples.
Part of the difficulty, I think, starts with people don't exactly understand what the role is for the male when it's the female that's deployed. It can be really hard to know where you fit in when you're wife's in the military and you're not. A lot of these men I think are sort of swimming in a whole new part of the pool, if you will without really knowing exactly where to go or what to do or what sort of supports to seek.
One of the things that makes this more difficult for the men is not only the fact that it may, even within themselves, clash with their own sense of who they are as a male, what they should be as a male, but for many men it's going to be no problem, by the way, but for some men they're going to have that clash. The other thing that's sort of related to the system of the military is that there's all these systems to support the families, but they're focused on connecting with the female, non-military person. So you have all these support systems where it's really easy for the wife of a service member to kind of walk in the room, immediately see a lot of other people like her, and start connecting in an environment that's been created to be female friendly. So it's not going to be easy for a male whose wife is a service member to just kind of walk in to some of the existing support groups that are really primed for women. They're going to feel pretty out of place in many of those settings.
If you think about another thing that's true of men, men do not as easily seek support, anyway, as women do. And the end result of that if you add that just to the whole sense of, well, what is my role here and how does this work, you have a lot more forces in the mix that are going to isolate these males. They're going to have a much harder time feeling connected to other people that are going through something similar, and they may even have a hard time at work or other parts of their life, even sharing what struggles they're going through because of all those same factors. You know, they're not so comfortable as a male anyway saying that they're struggling or that they need help or support. And they may feel extra uncomfortable, at least some men might, because of the nature of this, well my wife is going off to war and I'm here watching the kids. That may be hard for some men to talk about openly with some other people that they're already connected with.
If a guy is already feeling isolated and maybe even feeling depressed or feeling angry, those would be warning signs that there's real difficulties. One of the things to think about is, what are the resources in my community? Do I actually want to talk with somebody more professionally, or more that kind of role, or is it going to be more friends and family?
Think as a couple about developing some couple friends where they're like you as a couple, where they have the very same dynamic where she's the military member and he's not. That way when the female military member or maybe even both of them are overseas or off training or something, you've begun to develop that relationship between the two men and it could turn into a more substantial friendship when the women are away. That could be good in all kinds of ways. It could be good just in terms of recreation, somebody to do something with from time to time to blow off steam, but it's also somebody where, frankly, you can kind of complain and gripe and hear each other about the same kinds of concerns because you're both going through it. And otherwise, just kind of hang out some together and know that you can understand what each is going through.
You know, some people have really great friends that they can talk to about anything. And that's probably about as powerful as anything that you could have in terms of emotional support. That would be a great direction to go. Another option, if you're near a significant facility, there's going to be chaplains around there. If you feel comfortable talking with a chaplain, they're very available, they're very confidential in terms of how they talk with people, and they're very emotionally tuned to what people are going through. So, that's another option in where you can go, or a way you can start getting some help. And there's a lot of people who are going to be more comfortable going and talking with a chaplain than they might, say, to a mental health professional or counselor. Now, having said that I would like to add, if somebody really feels like they're getting depressed, or really resentful, or struggling in a very large way, then I would strongly recommend thinking about some sort of mental health counseling, because that can really make a big difference. But you have to get yourself there and seek it or it can't help. You may be able to find a counselor through TRICARE or through your installations' community service or family support or readiness center. If you don't live on or near an installation, call Military OneSource. The number for that is 1-800-342-9647, 1-800-342-9647. They'll arrange for you to see someone in your community for free. They can also give you the option to speak on the phone with a counselor or even have counseling sessions online if you're more comfortable with that.
Now, what about bringing your concerns to your wife? Talking with your spouse is a great thing if your spouse is able to be fairly emotionally supportive. And so, in some way you're going to have to make an intelligent assessment here. You know, when I tend to share that I'm struggling or concerned, how does my spouse respond? Are they able to kind of listen to that and work it through? Do we feel closer, or do I tend to walk away from those conversations thinking, wow, well, I won't do that again, or I shouldn't do that. The thing that's extra tricky when your spouse is the military member, especially if they're either deployed or they're gearing up for deployment, or they're on a particularly tough training cycle, is they're counting on you to be the one who has their back at home. So, it's kind of a tricky dynamic to figure out if you can really share with them the struggle that you're having right now. Because hearing that in you right now is raising their anxiety. So, this is kind of where you have to figure out who you are and what your resources are. Is this something my mate can really hear right now? But sort of feel the situation out carefully. If she can do it, great. If she cannot, then it's going to be even more important to think about who are my friends, who's in my family, who's the local chaplain, who can I talk to or get some ideas from about what I'm going through right now that would be a good support for me and my family right now?
What you're going through is actually very normal. There are a lot of guys experiencing it and going through it. They may or may not be talking about it with other guys right now, but there are a lot of men out there who are going through this and feeling it, so you're really not alone, and you're really not unusual. But you are really in this, so you have to kind of figure out what's going to work for you to cope with this in the best way you can at this time because that's going to be the best thing for your marriage, best thing for your family, and best thing for you down the line.