Understanding and Supporting the Military Spouse in Your Life

Couple reunited after deployment

Military spouses hold a unique, but important role in upholding our nation’s strength. Although they don’t serve the country directly, their support to those who do is vital to force morale and readiness.

May is Military Spouse Appreciation Month – a time when military spouses are recognized and honored for their contributions. If you aren’t or have never been a military spouse, it can be tough to figure out how to show your support. A good place to start is by learning more about life as a military spouse.

Life as a military spouse

The life of a military spouse may be filled with exciting new adventures along with periods of separation and loneliness. Spouses are generally flexible and strong, and often required to be independent while their partner is working towards their mission. Many have children and jobs to balance along with the demanding aspects of their partner’s military career.

While individual experiences may differ, life as a military spouse generally involves:

  • Frequent moves. On average, military families move to a new duty station every two to three years. It can be difficult to leave jobs, say goodbye to friends and start over in a new and unfamiliar community. The upside of moving every few years is the opportunity to live in different parts of the country and in some cases, the world, but there are also challenges adapting to a new environment and culture.
  • Separations from extended family. Moves are bound to take the military spouse in your life far from close friends and family. This can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness, but it also can enrich their lives as they meet new people and engage with their community.
  • Separations from their partner. A service member’s deployment can be hard on a spouse. They may worry about their partner’s safety and miss their companionship. They may feel overwhelmed by the burden of doing everything on their own. The service member may miss important events – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, even the birth of a child. This can lead to sadness and even resentment. However, military families tend to find creative ways to include the deployed member in these events. And while deployments can take their toll, they can also show spouses just how much they are capable of handling on their own.
  • Finding ways to reconnect when their partner returns home from deployment. There is often a readjustment period when a service member returns from deployment. The spouse at home may have established a new routine while the returning spouse may wonder where they fit into the household. This can be a rocky period in a relationship that requires patience and lots of communication. Couples learn valuable skills during this period that ultimately strengthen their partnership.

Showing your support for the military spouse in your life

Military spouses tend to be resilient. Over time, they develop new skills, create new support systems and learn to adapt to changing circumstances. Any extra support or recognition that you show the military spouse in your life can go a long way toward making them feel strong and understood.

  • Call and check in. It’s nice to do this any time, but particularly meaningful during deployments, after a recent move or during other times you know the spouse may be under strain.
  • Send a card. A handwritten note is always a welcome surprise.
  • Offer to take the kids for a night, if you live close enough. A night off from parenting responsibilities to reconnect with a partner or just enjoy some solitude is a huge gift.
  • Make a meal or send a gift card to a local restaurant. Whether it’s eat-in or takeout, everyone enjoys a night off from cooking.
  • Offer to be a listening ear. Let the military spouse in your life know that you want to be a supportive person in their life. Often that means just being available to listen.

Resources for military spouses

There are a number of resources to support military spouses. See if the spouse in your life is familiar with them.

  • The Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program. Frequent moves and other challenges of military life can get in the way of a spouse’s career. SECO supports military spouses with education and career guidance, scholarships and partnerships with employers who have committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses.
  • Non-medical counseling. Free and confidential non-medical counseling is available on the installation through the Military and Family Life Counseling program and through Military OneSource.
  • Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultation. Free and confidential, this specialty consultation from Military OneSource features a number of tracks, including Strengthening the Couple Connection, Staying Connected While Away, Reconnecting After Deployment and MilSpouse Toolkit.
  • Re the We on Military OneSource features links to services, resources and expert guidance to rekindle, repair or reset a relationship.
  • The Blog Brigade features posts from military spouses about a range of topics, including military life, deployment, parenting, relationships, career and education, health and wellness and moving.

While May is Military Spouse Appreciation Month, it’s important to recognize the feats and challenges your military spouse conquers throughout the year. Asking about their experiences can make them feel supported and understood, while opening the conversation can deepen your relationship and show your loved one that you care.

Building Healthy Relationships

Service member hugging spouse.

Make your most important relationships even stronger. This new specialty consultation from Military OneSource helps you deepen relationships with family, friends and others through an education-based consultation.

Contact Military OneSource 24/7.

You can get personalized help 365 days a year by telephone and online.

Overseas? See OCONUS calling options.

Prefer to live chat? Start now.

Building Healthy Relationships offers coaching sessions, practical tools, resources and problem-solving techniques. This consultation is designed to be flexible and personable, and is available to you by phone or video.

Identify your goals and boost your relationships

Everyone can benefit from boosting a relationship or improving communication. Perhaps you’re a parent who wants to create a stronger bond with your child. Or maybe you’re looking for ways to develop your communication skills.

This consultation offers a variety of tracks that are customized to different relationship dynamics. Your consultant will help you identify the track or tracks that are right for you. The personalized coaching sessions, educational tools, resources and empowering skills will help you be at your best. Building Healthy Relationships consultation tracks are designed so that you can do them from the comfort of your home.

  • Strengthening the Couple Connection. This track focuses on providing educational resources, guidance on common issues couples can face being a part of the military culture and tools to support strong relationships. Consultations can include both or one partner.
  • Healthy Parent-Child Connections. This track allows the parent to work with a consultant to identify relationship goals, with parents receiving education and resources to enhance these vital relationships. It is also possible for children to attend sessions with their parent as appropriate.
  • Communication Refreshers. Communication can be one of the most important parts of a healthy relationship. This track offers individuals or couples educational webinars, inventories and services to improve the way they communicate with one another. This is an excellent path for those seeking to enhance communication with a spouse, colleague or family member.
  • Staying Connected While Away. Part of military life can come with deployment and separations due to military duty. With this track, a consultant can assist service members or adult loved ones with identifying goals and resources to assist with emotional coping and keeping connected with that family member during these times.
  • Reconnecting After Deployment. When service members return from deployment, a major shift can occur for the entire family. This track is tailored to the unique period of reintegration by assisting service members and/or family members with identifying goals and providing materials that can ease stress and shape resiliency.
  • Blended Family. Couples may encounter new family dynamics when partners have children from previous relationships. This track focuses on co-parenting as a way to build a solid leadership unit for the military family, accounting for unique experiences and dynamics. This is an excellent path for those couples who are trying to introduce civilian children to military life.
  • MilSpouse Toolkit. From education on military culture to navigating resources, this track is beneficial for new spouses who may feel disconnected from their family and want to identify a support system in their new community. This track focuses resources to assist new and current military spouses with adjustment to the military lifestyle, developing coping skills and resources for resiliency.

If one or more individuals do not speak English, your consultant can facilitate a three-way call for simultaneous language interpretation.

Start building healthy relationships

Since this consultation is available by both phone and video, you can get started anytime. Call 800-342-9647 or start a live chat to schedule an appointment with a Building Healthy Relationships consultant. OCONUS/International? View calling options.

Relationship Support for Military Couples

couple looks out over bay

When you are part of a military couple, you and your partner share the pride, benefits and challenges of service. Permanent change of station moves mean you get to experience new parts of the country and world. But these frequent moves can also bring stress. Deployments allow the service member to put their training into practice, but being far from home can be hard on a relationship.

Fortunately, couples counseling and many other free and confidential resources are available to help you and your partner build a relationship that can thrive amid these and other challenges.

Expert help for military couples

Free and confidential non-medical counseling and other programs provide professional support for military couples with relationship concerns.

  • Non-medical counseling. You and your partner don’t have to figure it out on your own. Talk to someone who understands military life and its unique challenges. Non-medical counselors are experienced professionals who are available through:
  • Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultations. These consultations include coaching sessions, practical tools, resources and problem-solving techniques. Consultations are available as specific tracks that focus on the area of your relationship that needs attention. The tracks include:
    • Strengthening the Couple Connection. This track targets the common issues military couples face and provides tools to support a strong relationship.
    • Communication Refreshers. You and your partner will be given the resources to improve the way you communicate.
    • Staying Connected While Away. You and your partner will learn ways to stay close and cope with being apart during deployments and other separations.
    • Reconnecting After Deployment. This track is tailored to the period of reintegration after a deployment.

Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultations are available by phone or video by calling Military OneSource at 800-342-9647.

Virtual resources for military couples

These free tools and resources are available to you and your partner 24/7, on your own schedule.

No relationship is perfect. But with attention and a commitment to one another, you and your partner can build a foundation strong enough to weather any challenge while providing you both with a source of happiness and fulfillment.

Reconnecting With Your Partner at Home

Couple connecting at home

A romantic getaway may seem like the perfect way to reconnect as a couple. But, that’s not always possible – and even if it were, it may not be the answer you’re both hoping for.

A more lasting solution is to look for opportunities to grow closer in your everyday interactions. Practice mutual respect, carve out time for one another, tune in more closely to each other’s needs. These and other simple ways to express love and affection for one another will strengthen your relationship.

Seeing each other’s side and managing your expectations

A first step toward reconnecting with your partner is to open up to each other and to be honest with yourself. As a couple, you can use these insights to forge a deeper connection based on mutual understanding. Here’s where to start:

  • Check your expectations against reality. Examine each other’s ideas of how your relationship should be. Where did those expectations come from? Are they realistic? Accept that no relationship is perfect all the time. Relationships also naturally change and evolve. The romance in its early stages may deepen into a reliable partnership that can be equally fulfilling, if not more. It may be time to update your expectations.
  • Stand in each other’s shoes. It can be truly eye-opening to hear each other’s perspective. It’s important in all relationships, but particularly for military couples when one partner is new to military life. For example, the demands of a service member’s job may make it impossible to have dinner together every night or talk on the phone whenever you want. By listening to each other’s needs and responsibilities, you will develop a greater awareness of and appreciation for each other. You may even be able to come up with creative ways to meet halfway, such as having breakfast together each morning or checking in during a scheduled break.
  • Avoid angrily criticizing each other. This will put each other on the defensive and shut down communication. Instead, name the specific action that bothers you and how it makes you feel. Then work together toward a solution that will work for both of you.

Ways to connect at home

No matter how busy you get, it’s essential that you and your partner make time for each other. Here are ideas for keeping your relationship fresh and meaningful.

  • Describe your perfect date together. Write down or tell each other in great detail what your ideal date would be like, right down to your outfits. Describe the setting, how you will get there and what you will do when you’re there.
  • Have a date night. You probably won’t be able to pull off your fantasy date, but you can aim for the emotional connection it would create. Plan a special night at home if going out is impossible. If you have children, ask a neighbor or friend to watch them for a few hours. Put away your phones, so you can focus on each other. Have a special meal, watch a movie. Dance. Do what makes you both happy.
  • Ask each other 20 questions. It doesn’t have to be 20, but there are probably many things you don’t know about each other. Do you know your partner’s favorite movie? Favorite recording artist? What would each other’s superpower be and why that one? The questions are endless and can open up new insights into one another.
  • Exercise together. Run, bike, hike, lift weights, sign up for an online fitness class together. Encourage each other and have fun together.
  • Go on a walk. Try to fit walks into your regular routine with your partner, even if it means getting up early. If you have young children, bring them along. Walking reduces stress and can lead to great conversations.
  • Take a long drive together. The car is another good setting for conversation. Enjoy the scenery outside your windows while catching up with each other.
  • Share your favorite childhood foods. Incorporate family recipes into your meals or order regional treats online. This is a good way to learn about each other and share an important part of your personal histories.
  • Take a class together. Experience the excitement of learning something new together. If you can’t get out, sign up for an online class. You should be able to find whatever you are interested in online, from cooking or learning a new language, to dance or drawing.

Resources for connecting with your partner

The Department of Defense, through Military OneSource and the Military and Family Life Counseling program, offers resources to help service members and their partners reconnect at home.

  • The Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultation is a free and confidential series of personalized coaching sessions to help you deepen your relationships. Strengthening the Couple Connection track focuses on issues common to military couples.
  • Non-medical counseling is another option available to couples or individuals. Free and confidential sessions with a Military and Family Life counselor are available on your installation. Military OneSource also offers non-medical counseling.
  • The Love Every Day app is a fun way to practice your relationship communication skills and rekindle your romance.
  • Visit the Re the We page on Military OneSource for access to articles, tools and resources to rekindle, repair or reset your relationship.

Military OneSource is there for you 24/7 to help you and your partner thrive in your relationship. Call 800-342-9647 to connect with a consultant. OCONUS? Use these international calling options.

Commissaries and Exchanges

The McGuire Commissary at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., won the Director's Award as DeCA's Best Superstore.

Love paying sales tax and full price? Right. Who does? Fortunately, you’ve got a sweet inside deal — the military commissary and exchange systems, with tax-free shopping and discount goods and services.

What’s an exchange?

It’s basically a retail store, typically set up like a department store or a strip mall, with smaller shops and service vendors nearby. Many installations have an exchange, some with uniform shops, barbershops, laundry and dry cleaning, gas stations and convenience stores, fast food outlets and lawn and garden shops.

Every service branch has its own exchange system — either a PX (post exchange), or a BX (base exchange) — and they’re all operated separately.

Service branch info and locations

  • AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service): Shop My Exchange and AAFES store locator
  • MCX (Marine Corps Exchange): My MCX and MCX store locator
  • NEX (Navy Exchange Service Command): My Navy Exchange and NEX store locator
  • CGX (Coast Guard Exchange): CGX and CGX store locator

Why shop the exchange? Let’s count the reasons.

  1. You save cash. Shop tax-free. Get name-brand stuff for less than department store prices. Keep more of your hard-earned paycheck.
  2. Support your community. A large portion of the profit from your exchange goes right back into the installation. The exchange system also employs a lot of military family members.
  3. Shop safely online. You can shop 24/7 through secure websites. Get free shipping on purchases of more than $49 when you use your Military STAR® credit card.
  4. Pay and return easily. Your exchange accepts all major credit cards, your Military STAR® card or personal checks (with identification). And most exchanges have generous, no-headache return policies.
  5. Get all your uniform needs. You will find everything from standard uniform needs to the perfect shade of shoe polish, as well as gear and wear that shows off your pride.
  6. Get special deals overseas. Discounts can make deployments easier. For example, you’ll save on calling cards. And if you’re stationed overseas for at least 30 days, you may be able to buy a car tax-free and ship it back to the U.S. at no cost.
  7. Find everything you need in one place. You can find electronics, tactical gear, clothes, small and large appliances, bath and personal care items, cellphones and computers, fitness equipment and food gifts at your exchange. You name it, and you can probably find it.

Who can shop at an exchange?

You can shop at the exchange if you’re in one of these groups:

  • Active, reserve or retired uniformed services members
  • Medal of Honor recipients
  • Wage marine personnel and retired wage marine personnel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Department of Defense and Coast Guard civilian employees on service agreements overseas
  • Certain full-time employees of non-federal entities hired in the United States and assigned to work on a U.S. military installation overseas
  • Certain military members of foreign nations
  • Federal government civilian employees who reside on military installations in the United States or the U.S. territories and possessions
  • Authorized family members
  • Delayed-entry program participants
  • Veterans with service-connected disabilities
  • Purple Heart recipients
  • Former prisoners of war
  • Primary family caregivers of veterans enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
  • Department of Defense and Coast Guard civilian employees in the United States and U.S. territories and possessions
  • U.S. citizen employees of firms under contract to the DOD employed overseas
  • All honorably discharged veterans (at online exchanges only) as of Nov. 11, 2017
  • Retired DOD and Coast Guard civilian employees (at online exchanges only) by fall 2021 (check back for updates)

So what is a commissary?

Commissaries are basically your neighborhood grocery store, located on military installations worldwide.

  • The commissary sells food and household items at prices that are often below other grocery stores. On average, you can cut nearly a third off your grocery bill compared to in-town prices.
  • Save up to 50% or more during commissary special case lot sales.
  • Added bonus: Stateside commissaries are rolling out in-store Wi-Fi so you can download digital coupons for even greater savings.

Who can shop at a commissary?

Commissaries are exclusively for the benefit of service members and their families. Check here for details. Basically, you can shop at a commissary if you’re in one of these groups:

  • Active, reserve or retired uniformed services members
  • Medal of Honor recipients
  • Wage marine personnel and retired wage marine personnel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Department of Defense and Coast Guard civilian employees on service agreements overseas
  • Full-time employees of non-federal entities hired in the United States and assigned to work on a U.S. military installation overseas
  • Certain military members of foreign nations
  • Authorized family members
  • Veterans with service-connected disabilities
  • Purple Heart recipients
  • Former prisoners of war
  • Primary family caregivers of veterans enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
  • Defense Commissary Agency employees

The Defense Commissary Agency operates 240 commissaries, including those overseas. Check out its website, Commissaries.com. This site offers rewards cards, coupons, online ordering, curbside pickup, savings, sales events in communities for Guard/reserve members and more.

What’s the Status of Forces Agreement and what does it have to do with military stores?

Bilateral agreements ─ which address the status protections of DOD personnel ─ often termed Status of Forces Agreements, determine the framework under which DOD personnel, DOD contractors and dependents may operate in a foreign country. It does not apply to U.S. citizens who happen to live in that country by personal choice. These agreements often address issues pertaining to taxes, fees and customs regulations, and may include limits on who is allowed to shop at commissaries and exchanges and the types or purchasable quantities of certain products.

  • Sales might be restricted because products sold in overseas commissaries and exchanges pass across international borders, making them custom-, duty- and tax-free (limiting them).
  • Depending on location, certain rationed items may be limited or not purchasable (e.g., alcohol and tobacco in some countries).
  • Finally, there are limits on items that could be resold on illegal markets outside the installation.

Military OneSource MilTax – Benefits

Military OneSource provides service members and their families with easy access to a suite of tax services, including easy-to-use tax preparation and e-filing software designed to address military-specific situations, and information and resources on a variety of tax-related topics. And it’s all free.

MilTax assistance includes providing answers to any questions about your economic impact payment or coronavirus disease 2019 tax implications, such as if you are a military spouse and experienced job or wage loss due to  COVID-19. With MilTax, there are no hidden surprises.

MilTax consultations

MilTax consultants have extensive knowledge of the tax benefits for military members, families and survivors, and can help you get all the tax credits and deductions you qualify for. MilTax consultants are specially trained to understand all kinds of military tax situations. Assistance includes:

  • Alerting you to tax requirements and deductions related to military life
  • Identifying important tax regulations that apply to service members
  • Answering your questions so you can confidently complete federal and state tax forms
  • Addressing any tax-related questions you have while preparing your federal and state tax returns
  • Connecting you to MilTax software for secure online preparation and free tax filing.

MilTax software is available mid-January through mid-October. Get virtual support anywhere, anytime. Call 800-342-9647, 24/7 to schedule an appointment to speak with a MilTax consultant. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

MilTax tax preparation and filing services

MilTax free preparation and e-filing software is made to be convenient for the military community. It was developed with the realities of military life in mind – scenarios that civilians rarely encounter – including deployments, combat pay, multiple moves and multi-state filing. This self-paced tax software allows you to:

  • Complete and electronically file your federal return and up to three state tax forms.
  • Check on your electronic filing status.
  • Rest easy knowing that a tax software provider is by your side if you get audited.
  • Get 100% accurate calculations, or the tax software provider will reimburse you up to $10,000. Terms and conditions apply.

MilTax e-filing software is easy to use, and free technical assistance is available if you need it. The system protects and safeguards the security and confidentiality of your personal information by using industry-recognized safeguards.

For technical assistance, such as login issues, using the software, printing returns, etc., call 855-897-8639 and follow the prompts.

Earned income tax credit

Understand whether you can obtain an Earned Income Tax Credit to put more money in your pocket. These are federal income tax credits for low- and moderate- income working individuals and families. Be aware that:

  • The credit can generate a refund if you do not have any taxes to pay.
  • Service members and families may have an easier time qualifying for the credit because some forms of military income – such as pay earned during service in a combat zone or basic allowances for housing – are non-taxable and aren’t included as part of your total income.

To find out more about the credit or tax help for military members and veterans, visit the IRS website.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program

  • You can meet with a military tax consultant for face-to-face assistance via the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program at no cost – for tax advice and preparation, return filing and other tax assistance.
  • This IRS program offers free tax preparation and e-filing at sites on and off base. It also has sites overseas to help military members and their families.

Find a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance location near you.

Financial counseling

Should MilTax consultants help you get a tax refund, schedule a free financial counseling session with Military OneSource to figure out the best way to apply that refund to long-term savings goals.

According to the IRS, filers received on average $2,577 in direct deposit tax refunds in 2019. So if you are expecting to get a refund this year, file early and replenish your savings.

And you don’t have to wait for your refund in the mail. Through Military OneSource MilTax, you can sign up to get your refund sent straight to your bank account through direct deposit.

To take advantage of MilTax and other potential tax benefits, call 800-342-9647 or live chat to schedule a free consultation today.  CONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

Working in the Gig Economy: Taxes on Self-Employment

Woman working on a laptop in a cafe

Many military spouses – and even some service members – have started a business or side job in today’s gig economy. And being your own employer means you are responsible for additional taxes and tax reporting.

In addition to questions about self-employment taxes, this year you may also wonder how changes due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic could affect your tax returns.

Read on for the latest tax information related to COVID-19 and to learn the basics of self-employment taxes.

Free MilTax Services

MilTax’s tax preparation and e-filing software is available from mid-January through mid-October. And MilTax consultants are available year-round to help with your tax questions.

Special COVID-19 provisions for the self-employed

Certain COVID-19-related provisions may affect people who are self-employed, including:

COVID-19-related tax credits. If you were unable to work because you or a family member contracted the coronavirus or quarantined, you may be eligible for a qualified sick leave or family leave tax credit under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Unemployment benefits. People who are self-employed may file for unemployment benefits if they have lost their source of income because of COVID-19. These benefits are taxable as income. If you received unemployment compensation, you must report it on your tax returns. The agency paying your benefits will mail you a 1099-G form with the total benefits you received in 2020.

Schedule C and tax filing

In most cases, self-employment income and expenses are reported on a Schedule C. The net profit, after expenses, of Schedule C income is then reported on your federal tax return. It is the responsibility of the taxpayer to keep track of all their sources of income, even if the source does not report it to you or to the IRS.

Self-employment tax

In addition to regular income taxes on your profits, you’ll also be subject to the self-employment tax. This is the Social Security and Medicare tax paid by those who are not employed by someone else. Anyone who has total self-employment income in excess of $400 per year is required to file a Schedule SE and pay self-employment taxes.

State tax filing

Military spouses may report self-employment income just like their regular income, using the state they are permitted to claim for purposes of taxation.

Non-military income of active-duty service members is not protected under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and service members with income from sources other than the military must file with the state in which the income is earned.

Self-employment can bring tax questions. Military OneSource MilTax offers free online tax preparation and e-filing software, as well as free telephone consultations with a tax professional who understands the special needs of military families. With MilTax, there are no hidden surprises.

Schedule an appointment to speak with a MilTax consultant or financial counselor by calling 800-342-9647, or by starting a live chat. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.