Do you remember what it was like to be a new military spouse? Do you remember having to learn an entire new language? Do you remember being confused about the rules, not understanding Tricare, or simply being lonely and scared because you were new and didn’t know anyone?
I remember exactly what it felt like and I remember the spouses from my husbands units working hard to narrow the gap that spread between us, whether from distance or personality. Reserve spouses often do not live near each other. We don’t always have a base near by, we have no built in community that understands us and we have no one to help us navigate the “system.” And when my husband deployed shortly after we were married, I was not the only newly wed spouse in the group who had no idea what I was doing or who to ask for help. So I turned to someone who I thought was my friend.
She was a spouse whose husband was previously active duty. She had been through other deployments, she understood the system and we all looked to her for wisdom. I remember calling her all the time, even though we were so far apart. And I remember how she made me feel. She made me feel weak, inferior and stupid.
She belittled my feelings about the deployment because her other experiences had been worse or someone had gotten hurt. She used her position of authority in our unit to bully spouses and tell us that we were just reserve spouses and didn’t know what the real military was about. She reminded us constantly that she had been through other deployments and that the deployment we were experiencing was nothing.
But it wasn’t “nothing.” Everyone experiences things in a different way for different reasons. And being a newly wed with a spouse you haven’t heard from in over a week is stressful and scary. Living in a new town where you don’t know anyone and have no support is stressful and scary. And not understanding Tricare, benefits, paydays and the chain of command or who you are supposed to call and when, is stressful and scary.
I’m disappointed that I still hear about spouses doing this to other spouses. It saddens me that so many fall into the One Up Game. And it makes me feel my hurt, weakness and inferiority all over again to know that there are still spouses out there telling new brides that they don’t know anything. Of course they don’t, does anyone know that much about being a military spouse when they are first married?
There is no need to tell another spouse that they don’t know anything because you have been through A, B and C. There is no need to constantly one up everyone with your military sob stories. Instead, think back to being that newlywed, scared, alone and unsure of what do and lend a sympathetic hand and heart. Help them learn without belittling their feelings or invalidating them. Show them what makes military spouses great. Show them how we support each other and understand each other in the unique milspouse way.
Because we all started somewhere and learning the hard way is a pretty terrible way to learn. What I wouldn’t have given to have had a supportive person in my life to help me navigate this life and help me cope. So, think back to the people who have helped you and remember that they started somewhere too, and we can all use a hand in this life, so offer yours to someone instead of judgement.