The deployments and frequent moves of military life can put pressure on any marriage. When the wife is the military member and the husband is a civilian, the strain may be greater. Men may be less likely to seek out support from installation or community programs. They may also be less likely to go to other military spouses, who are predominantly female, as a resource for information and as an outlet for frustration and uncertainty.
If you're a male military spouse, it's important to know how to help keep your marriage strong. You can learn what challenges you're likely to face and prepare yourself for them. You can also learn to recognize when you need help and how to use the resources available to you.
What to expect when your wife is in the military
Whether you're a former service member or you're new to military life, being the male spouse of a service member can take some getting used to. Some of the challenges to prepare for include the following:
- Others may assume you're the service member. You may find yourself explaining over and over to people that you're a civilian and your wife is the military member. If this bothers you, remind yourself that the assumption is a natural one given that the majority of service members are men.
- You may feel uneasy that your wife spends so much time with other men. Your wife may be one of very few women in her command. If you feel anxious because of this, it's important to talk with her or a professional about your concerns before your feelings affect your marriage. The goal is for the two of you to manage any concerns as a team. That's much better than allowing concerns or suspicions to grow and damage your marriage.
- You may feel isolated. This is particularly true if you relocate to a new location where you don't have family or friends. You may have little in common with the other spouses, most of whom are probably women, or the other men, who may be service members.
- Your role in the marriage may clash with your identity as a male. This can be particularly true if you're unemployed or are the primary caregiver for children. Role reversals can be difficult for any man who cares for children and the home while his wife earns the family income. It can be especially challenging in the military setting, which emphasizes traditional ideas of masculinity.
Adjusting to being a male civilian spouse
While there's a growing awareness in the military of the unique needs of husbands of service members, the spouse support system is still geared toward wives. The majority of spouses' club members are women and the activities may not appeal to you. That means you may have to work harder to find people you connect with and activities that interest you.
- Think of ways you've adjusted to new situations in the past. Going to college, starting a job, getting married, moving, becoming a parent - those are all new beginnings that come with an adjustment period. What helped you during those times? Where did you turn when you had questions or needed a hand? The details may be different this time, but you're the same person with the same skills and abilities that helped you make adjustments in the past.
- Find people and organizations to connect with. Look for groups to join, such as clubs, civic groups, sports teams and faith-based groups. This will help to build your support network and get you involved with the community.
- Take advantage of Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities, events and trips. Whether it's joining a chess club or going rock climbing, you'll meet other people with similar interests.
- Make time to do things you enjoy. It's all too easy to get caught up in everyday life and neglect yourself. Try not to let this happen. Doing what makes you feel good, whether it's biking, working out, fishing or reading, is essential to relieving stress. This same advice goes for you as a couple. It's easy to forget to take time together to do positive, fun things. Focus on enjoying yourselves, even if that means agreeing not to talk about certain issues at these times.
- Reach out to other couples where the male is the civilian. It can help to be with someone who's in the same situation you are. And you'll have someone to hang out with while your wives are deployed or training.
- Talk openly as a couple. Communication is an essential ingredient of all healthy relationships. Good communication involves making a commitment to talk to each other often, even if it has to be by email, video chat or phone.
Signs of stress
If you start to feel angry, depressed or resentful of your wife or the military, or if your relationship has become strained, then it's time to get help. Here are signs that you may need help dealing with stress:
- You're frequently angry or irritable.
- You have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Or you're sleeping too much.
- You and your wife go for amounts of time without speaking. Giving each other the silent treatment is a sign that you're avoiding the issue.
- You've become emotionally detached. You've stopped giving love and guidance to your spouse.
- You blame your wife for problems in your relationship.
- You're abusing drugs or alcohol. You turn to drugs or alcohol to escape reality, or you frequently get drunk.
- You feel jealous or suspicious much of the time. Brief feelings of this sort are normal. However, it's not normal to be pre-occupied with fears that your spouse is being unfaithful.
While everyone is different, men tend to be less likely than women to reach out when they need help. Remember, there's no shame in admitting that things are tough. Call or see a good friend or family member with whom you feel comfortable talking. Another option is to visit the chaplain on your installation or call Military OneSource (800-342-9647) and arrange to talk with a counselor. Sometimes the only way to improve a situation is to find someone who can help you.