Helping Military Spouses (Because They Aren’t Going to Ask)

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As our family draws closer and closer to another deployment I am preparing as usual. I am updating my emergency information, writing down when and how my husband normally does his chores and setting a monthly alarm for the dog’s flea and tick medicine since he normally takes care of that.

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I’m also preparing for something that most people would never even think about…but other military spouses know all too well. I’m preparing for the dreaded question, “How can I help you?”or the same thought in the form of a statement, “Let me know how I can help.”

I know what you’re thinking. You’re a bit bewildered by my statement. You’re wondering why that isn’t a nice, helpful thing to say?

In my opinion, “Let me know how I can help you,” is the equivalent to two politicians saying, “Let’s do lunch sometime!” It’s a kindness usually extended in words only with a rare follow up. Without a date, time, and place, the lunch will never happen.  I understand people mean well… but my answer will always be a nod, a smile, and an, “Okay. Thanks.”

There is a pretty good chance that unless we talk weekly, I am never going to call you and ask for help.

There is also a pretty good chance that even if we talk weekly, I am never going to ask for help.

Because I don’t know how.  And I can assure you that most military spouses you meet don’t know how either.

Our other half is gone. Our soulmate. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it’s true. Theres a huge hole in our life and we don’t know how to fill it and it is a much bigger issue than taking out the trash, cleaning out the attic, or finding childcare. We go into survival mode and take care of it all by ourselves, and we are in general okay with that. But we are lonely.
277354_10151084509571786_2038885037_oIf you want to help a military spouse, call and tell her you are bringing her dinner, or invite her over to your house. If the military spouse has young kids, she will likely not want to go out to a restaurant since it’s quite stressful to wrangle kids and try to carry on a conversation and eat and feed the toddler that wants to climb out of the high chair. Offer to watch her kids while she showers, or runs errands, or gets a haircut. Buy her favorite coffee or a Starbucks card –  I promise she is tired. Tell her you are coming over with junk food and a chick flick to indulge on (after the kids go to bed, if she has them) because that time in the evening between 8 p.m. and midnight is incredibly lonely. Tell her you are going to help her weed that garden she forgot about the day he left and mow her yard. She needs you to set the date and time and tell her it is happening, because she won’t – she is afraid of bothering you, or pulling you away from your family.

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Above all, please avoid the following comments while you are helping her stave off the loneliness:

  • I could never be married to a military man.

I’m not married to a military man. I’m married to the man I love, and his job happens to be working in the military.

  • You must be so lonely.

This will only get you a very sarcastic response.

  • How do you make it a year without sex?

Really? I’m pretty sure that’s not the most important part of our relationship.

  • I would be so scared/aren’t you scared he will die?

You’ll probably get sarcasm and a very angry/upset response to this.

  • You must be used to it/you’ll get used to it.

Nope. You never get used to it, you just keep going and keep the finish line in sight.

  • It’ll be over before you know it.

No, it won’t. It will drag like no other time in my life.

  • My spouse was gone for a weekend/week/month, I totally understand.

No, you don’t, and we will probably never hang out with you again if you say this.

  • Are you keeping yourself busy?

Nope, just sitting around eating bonbons and pining away. Can you tell we like sarcasm?

  • Wow you must miss him/don’t you miss him?

*Insert more sarcasm*

  • When does he come home exactly?

We don’t know. We might be able to give you a month, but that can change too.

  • Is he done deploying after this?

No. He isn’t quitting the military (you can’t just quit anyways, contrary to what seems to be a popular belief) and we aren’t becoming an isolationist country.

You get the point. Please be respectful of our feelings and our situation, and remember to tell us exactly how and when you can help us, because we are not going to ask. Spending some time with us is the best way you can help.

Until then, we will be over here surviving and counting down to homecoming.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing this. This is extremely helpful information and I hope many people find and read your post. It’s hard to know how to help but also to know what to say or not say (although I am shocked that someone actually asked you about the sex…that leaves me kind of speachless and feeling sorry for that individual). Also, please thank your husband for his service to this country. I am very grateful. My dad was in the Army while I was growing up so that particular branch has a special place in my heart.

  2. Thanks, as a spouse who has gone threw 6 deployments I can laugh and cry at every response! People don’t always think before they speak.

  3. To my daughter Jill, I never have known what to say to you when your husband is gone. And never mean to make you feel bad. I hope you know how proud I am of you and all you do for other people even when you are so busy with your own life. I will always love you. Mom
    .

    • I wish my mom would say this to me. Needless to say, we don’t talk anymore and this response made me cry. Basically being there for her without unwelcomed advice would mean a lot to me from my mom. I would hope your mere presence would give Jill comfort.

      – A mother, Wife of Iraq War vet, and Iraq war vet (in that order of timing)

  4. You forgot the one where someone calls or talks to you in a panic and says “Have you seen the news today?!? Isn’t this where your husband is?!?!?!” Thanks I totally forgot to worry about him today…
    I will say after many deployments you become numb to these statements. It’s probably not a healthy way to deal with them but grin and bear it. Married for 14 years been with my military man almost 16 years.

    • The worst single day of my husband’s third deployment was when someone with good intentions did exactly that. And it turned out that yes, that’s where he was. And yes, people died. And yes, it was a bad day on the FOB. But if they hadn’t told me, I would have gone about my business in relative peace until after the communications blackout ended and my husband came online again to share with me what had happened. Instead, I waited for the government vehicles and uniformed soldier and chaplain to show up at my door. Thank God that wasn’t the case, but it was one of the most gut-wrenching weekends of my life.

  5. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this. I am not a military spouse, but know many and have often felt my conversations limited by not wanting to offend or say the wrong thing. Thankfully, I’ve not said any of the above “no-no” phrases, but have often fallen into awkward silence, I fear, while contemplating how to be supportive. This has been the most helpful advice, and I will approach my military spouse friends with more tools and tangible offers for help from now on. Thanks so much! Your family’s sacrifice is greatly appreciated by me, and I am inspired by your bravery. Will keep your family in my prayers!

  6. Thank you for posting this! I am an Army spouse and have been through 3 deployments with my husband, and I am not eloquent at words…what you said was wonderful and says it all! Thanks for helping others see what the life of a military spouse is like and what to say and not to say! Wonderful! Thank you and my prayers are with your family as your hubby prepares to leave and while he is gone!

  7. My husband was Active Duty with the Army and was deployed to Iraq, he’s now in the Army Reserves and he travels a lot for his civilian job too. All of this still relates! I’m so sick of the pity I get from friends who aren’t in the military, married to a man in the military – and I get even more pity about the travel for the civilian work. I know they mean well, but I don’t know how to handle their feelings about my situation. Thank you for putting these feelings into words! It really helps! I really appreciate it!!

  8. I can tell you this is so helpful if not only for military wives but also widows. people with lingering illness and people who have had a loss.. So many times, people will say call if you need anything but these are the people who you also say you are fine if asked how you are.. I know that I am not a wife whose husband has left but I know we have had several times in our marriage that we were just not able to take care of our house.. I have done exactly what you said and told ( I do let them know ahead of time) them I am coming, bringing food and bring something that can freeze in case they have enough right then. I have also instead of asking if they need anything, I have asked if I can come wash and fold clothes, clean the house, do the dishes, and been very specific .. I have helped many a young mom with multiple children fold clothes or held the baby while they showered.. This was a great blog.. Thank you

  9. Thanks for sharing this…I am a spouse with 15 years in, been through multiple deployments and a year long remote tour as well. Speaking from experience and a “been there, done that” perspective, I love it when people offer their specific help that you talk about. But I have also learned (and grown) a lot personally about knowing how to ask for help when I need it. I used to sit around and wonder if anyone would offer the help you mention. This just added to the crappy emotions that I was already experiencing. When I got out of the house and got involved in things (chapel, spouse’s group, playgroups, whatever…) even when I didn’t feel like it, it always helped. Find one girlfriend and ask them to keep you motivated. My husband is a chaplain and I have seen so many sad stories when spouses isolate themselves during a deployment or an assignment that is hard. Yes, people should be reaching out and offering help – definitely! But I have found that stepping out of my introverted comfort zone and asking for help is so much better. Especially when someone says the generic, “Let me know if you need anything.” I just moved from Germany to Texas and I was stressed for time to get our house cleaned before we moved out. A bunch of friends asked the generic “How can I help question?” So I told them and we had a party cleaning my house and then went out to lunch afterwards since it went so fast. Hope that advice helps somebody!!

  10. Whether it is an National Guard, Reserves or Active Army, having your spouse leave for deployment is and never will be easy. I can say that Kylie and I will be waiting again for one more year to go by. Her husband and mine will be deploying together this year in just a few days. My husband will be passing his 13th year as a Guardsman. Within the past 10 years he has already deployed twice with this deployment making it a third. As a wife, it is easier for me to put on a fake smile are remind myself that everything will be OK. What is not easy it wiping away the tears from my children’s faces. I can say that somsone coming over with a cup of coffee and watching the kids for me while i take a five minute shower is a huge favor. I try to help out with other Soldier’s loved ones and by doing so I became an FRG leader. I can only hope that if anyone has any problems they will be able to talk to me and allow me to help.

  11. Wow. You hit the nail on the head!

    I have been married for 11 or 12 years, and been through 18 or 19 deployments, both with and without kids. You never get used to it, and I have rarely asked for help. My husband has asked for help for me, and that was great! Some of the most amazing people have come through for me when I was too proud to ask. I was grateful. Well, here’s to hoping we suddenly become an isolationist country.

  12. Kylie,

    My husband was an active Marine for 10 years and now is a reservist. We’ve done the deployments and gone through these questions (including the one that Tanya added about people freaking out about what was on the news)! I agree with many of the insensitive comments, but don’t really mind the blanket “let me know how I can help”. People just don’t know what to say. At least they wish us well instead of saying, “Good luck with that”!

    We have settled here in OK, and I don’t know any military families! How I would love to meet you or other mamas to support each other. I miss the community we had in active duty life, especially when we lived on base. The people I have met here are so wonderful but don’t “get” the life. I’d love to connect somehow!

  13. Thanks for making me feel like a total poo!

    As a former military wife, I know the deal…I should know better. I can help others more, I should help others more.

    Thanks for the wake up call!

  14. After 14 years as a Submariner spouse with 9 boomer patrols and 2 fast attack deployments and a stint of geobatching I can relate to the article but there is a balance piece that is missing that should be considered for Active Duty Spouses. This is a way of life. Milspouses have a personal responsibility of self care- not to just assume a ‘survivial mode’ position. They deserve more than that. We should encourage one another to seek out community so they feel comfortable in their vulnerability to ask for help, to find their words to empowerment. Navy FRG’s and Ombudsman speak their same language while civillians do not. As a seasoned military spouse it is almost second nature to hear another spouse vent and within their venting I see ways that I can offer specific help. Helping other people also helps reduce the feeling of stress in my own little word of balancing military spouse woes. I find by looking outside of my own box and stepping up and out to help others that thriving through deployment is the standard.

    • I agree with you- the idea of needing someone to watch my kids so I can take a shower or mow my lawn seems weird. I did need help with my kids during one deployment when I had to have my wisdom teeth pulled, but regular day to day stuff? Not so much.

      I think the sentiment behind the article is great though- people say “how can I help?” a lot really just to be polite, if you really want to help someone (going through a deployment or otherwise), be there for them, talk with them, and then actually DO something kind.

      • Some mamas DO need help though. I have a 6 year old and a 9 month old and my grass hasn’t been cut in weeks because I have no one to help me with the kids so I can cut it. I also rarely get to shower.

  15. hello; thank you for sharing all of these; I attended a church in an area where many Military families would come and go, there was a temptation to “keep your distance” since they would not be there very long, however I found investing friendship in these families was always so worth it, they dove in with both feet to serving at church, etc., some of my best and closest relationships have come from investing in these friendships, I was honored to be able to spend time and effort with these families, I am still thankful, to this day for these wonderful, selfless people.

  16. Isn’t this the truth? I particularly hate it when they compare their husbands being gone for a week or two for work. That makes me want to scream sometimes.

  17. Thank you so much for this! It’s never easy trying to tell people how they can help you when they ask because at the moment, you have no idea what you need. I am getting ready to move to Bartlesville, Oklahoma on Friday where my husband got stationed and has been already for 10 months. It’s another stop for us with no base. I think the best way to help is all of those things you pointed out, but it requires action rather than “just call me if you need anything” because you’re right, I won’t call.

    Also, I really, really want to punch people who say “I know how you feel. My husband is going to be gone camping/fishing/whatever for two days and I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” Pull up your big girl panties already…that’s my (sarcastic) advice!

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