Albert Camus stated that “good intentions often do as much harm as malevolence.” Unfortunately, there is no time these words hold more truth than when well-meaning civilians attempt to relate to the lifestyle of a military spouse or partner. At times, curiosity and intrigue can take awkward, irritating, and offensive forms.
In honor of Military Family Appreciation month, let’s talk about what not to talk about.
8 Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Military Spouse or Partner.
1. “You chose this life.”
What a military spouse or partner chose, first and foremost, was a particular servicemember to spend the rest of their lives with, and they continue to chose them every single day. However, choosing them doesn’t mean that military life gets any easier the more you experience it. And yes, the partner they chose willingly made the choice to sign up for duty. They signed up to fight for and to protect our country. Next time, thank a military spouse for standing beside someone who is fighting for our freedom rather than making a blanket statement about life choices.
2. “My spouse travels for work, so I totally know what you’re going through.”
Please do not equate a month long business trip to a 6-15 month deployment. Of course you mean well, but suggesting a parallel between the two situations demeans the level of sacrifice military families make.
Also, when civilian partners are away, odds are they aren’t in any danger. For a spouse of a servicemen, however, they usually know their loved one is in danger. With deployment, there is no hotel name, sporadic communication, and no return ticket with a date firmly stamped across it.
3. “I don’t know how you do it! I don’t think I could manage!”
I get that this is intended to be a compliment, but unfortunately, it can come off slightly annoying. It’s not like military partners have been dreaming their whole lives to be filled with anxiety day in and day out, or to be a single parent for long stretches of time, or to be fanatically attached to their cell phones (yes, even in the shower and yes, even in the bathroom) just in case their loved one gets a chance to call.
Military spouses are no different than civilian spouses and are no more equipped to handle the difficulty of military life than anyone else–they’ve just found the strength to make necessary sacrifices. Saying, “Thank you,” or “I appreciate your sacrifice,” is a better option.
4. “It will go fast. And besides, I’m sure you’re used to it, by now.”
5. “Wait, what? They’re where? Where’s that?”
Anbar Province is in Iraq. Kabul and Kandahar are in Afghanistan.
Brush up on a few facts, too: Muqtada al Sadr is the insurgent leader of the Mahdi Army in Iraq and Sadr City is his home area. Iran is a major threat to America and it’s located between Afghanistan and Iraq. These aren’t secrets. They can easily be heard on the news, read in a news article, or found on a map. Brush up on your recent history with these infographics of our American Wars Timeline (2001-Present).
When civilians know so little, it can make a military spouse feel that you’ve forgotten about their soldier and what they’re fighting for. Not knowing the facts can minimizes both sacrifice and bravery.
6. “Have they ever killed anyone?”
In case you need a PSA, here it is: THIS IS NOT AN OKAY QUESTION TO ASK AT ANY TIME. It seems pretty obvious, but this is a question that is frequently asked to a military spouse or partner. This is not a topic of casual conversation and is definitely rude. This particular question is just as inappropriate as asking someone if they’ve had an abortion or if they’ve ever been raped. This falls into the category of things you should never say to a veteran, too.
7. “Don’t you miss them? Isn’t it hard?”
8. “I’m so sorry.”
Don’t be sorry. A military servicemember is out doing their job. Ask any military spouse and I can guarantee you they’re really proud. So don’t be sorry, be appreciative instead.
A military spouse isn’t equipped with special DNA that makes being an active duty spouse any easier. They have simply risen to the occasion.
President Obama summed it up best for America’s military families:
“Just as our troops embody the courage and character that make America’s military the finest in the world, their family members embody the resilience and generosity that make our communities strong. They serve with heroism in their homes and neighborhoods while they are without the comfort of having loved ones nearby. Day after day, week after week, spouses resolutely accomplish the work of two parents, diligently keeping up with homework and activities, all the while waiting for news of their loved one’s safe return. To these families, we bear a debt that can never be fully repaid.”
To our military families, we say thank you. We truly are forever in your debt.
(Did you know that November is Military Family Appreciation Month?)