10 Things Military Spouses Wish Civilians Understood About Military Life

Rona Wiggins, a Marine wife with Marine Medium Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, claps following a line dance during a Military Spouse Appreciation Night aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
Rona Wiggins, a Marine wife with Marine Medium Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, claps following a line dance during a Military Spouse Appreciation Night at the Bob Hope Theater aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., May 9, 2014. (Cpl. Michelle Piehl/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

When it comes to the ups and downs of military life, spouses have a lot to say. Visit any military spouse Facebook group or other online forum, and you'll encounter plenty of opinions on topics ranging from installation housing to spouse employment to child care. And that's not to mention hot-button topics such as the PACT Act, PFAS contamination or that frustrating construction by your base's gate that never, ever seems like it's going to end.

It's unsurprising that spouses have strong opinions about military life, yet they are too often pushed into the background. After all, the needs of the U.S. military always come first -- and those are not necessarily the needs of spouses or families. That might mean moving to a less-than-desirable installation, saying goodbye to their serving spouse for a year, or leaving their job because they need to care for their children when no consistent child care is available.

Here at Military.com, we always want to hear what military spouses are thinking and feeling about their experiences in the military community. That's why we handed them the microphone and asked them to share what they wish people who haven't experienced military life knew about the challenges they face. Here's what they had to say:

1. No, We Don't Know "What We Signed Up for"

Really want to rankle a spouse? Tell them that they "knew what they signed up for" when they married a service member. The truth is, military life is nuanced and unique; it's hard to anticipate the future because so much can change so quickly.

"There is no way to really 'know what you signed up for' when you marry a service member. World events and politics often decide the tempo for service members, and by default their families," wrote Ali, a Navy spouse. "While military spouses and families seem like they are so resilient, please understand that they are really doing their best and this life is hard. Spouses sacrifice careers, time and proximity to their own families, and much more to support their service members and care for their children."

2. Spouses Juggle a Lot

Military spouses often find themselves faced with extra responsibilities at the drop of a military-issued cover. Nearly half of military families also have at least one child under 6, which makes the inflexibility of the military's scheduling that much harder and stressful.

"The spouse does everything," wrote Barbara, an Army spouse. " [The military] spouse is on the hook for contractors, housekeeping, repairs, lawn care, family care, dealing with Tricare (don't get me started), social calendar, just everything. You get used to being in control of your time and space, then [your] spouse returns home and it all changes again. It's a series of discussions and adjustments, over and over, in ways that civilians cannot comprehend. I always felt it was like trying to walk on a flimsy raft."

3. Visit Us When We Come Home

Military families usually live far from home and have to make decisions about how to spend their leave and their precious time together. Coming home can mean a substantial investment in time and money, as well as neglecting another vacation in favor of visiting family.

"I wish civilians were more understanding about the effort it takes to come home for a visit," wrote Meg, a Marine Corps spouse. "It would be lovely if folks would be more gracious and come to us, where we're staying or at a meetup spot, rather than expecting the military family to zip around."

4. Moving Every 2-3 Years Takes a Toll

More than three-quarters of military families have moved on military orders in the last two years. The toll of uprooting, finding a new house or apartment, changing schools and integrating into a new community is massive.

"Maybe we have moved a lot, but life situations keep changing that make the dynamics of a move hard, especially with kids," wrote Amanda, a Space Force spouse. "Families and service members have to make so many sacrifices."

5. Military Families Are Not a Monolith

The U.S. military continues to become more diverse, and so do its families. That doesn't mean that wider society has gotten the memo that the military looks a lot like the country they're serving.

"Gay couples exist in the military, and it doesn't make my wife's service any less valid because she is married to a woman," wrote Sam, an Air Force spouse.

6. Military Life Is Not for the Faint of Heart

Let's just call military life what it is: difficult. Of course, this doesn't mean that it can't also be rewarding, memorable or exciting, but too often, spouses make it look easy because they've learned how to operate under extreme stress.

"I don't think a person can understand military life without living it. It's such an emotional, mental, logistical, and financial gauntlet," wrote Jennifer, an Army spouse. "As a society as a whole we need to be more aware and supportive of other people's experiences."

7. We Have Chosen Family Because We Need Them

Without a network of relatives and lifelong friends nearby, military families rely on their neighbors, religious institutions and connections at new installations. No one is an island, even in the transient military.

"Many military families depend on each other for support, family and love, out of necessity," wrote Kimberly, an Army spouse. "We make lasting relationships with total strangers because we are separated from the comfort of immediate family, raising our family independently with minimal support. We take care of each other and are there for each other, through the good times and our darkest hours."

8. Appreciation Hits Differently When You've Experienced Military Life

There's something that shifts your perspective when you watch a loved one step onto a plane or a bus, whether they're headed for a deployment or basic training.

"I wish [civilians] understood the pride we have for the soldiers," wrote Rachael, an Army spouse. "I never truly appreciated service members and our military until my husband joined. Lots of people say 'thank you for your service,' but I think few people really grasp and appreciate the lifestyle and work these service members and their families do."

9. Military Families Still Need Support in Peacetime

Peacetime can be just as busy, with just as many deployments and separations for military families, as wartime. In fact, some branches are experiencing higher operational tempos now than they did during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those trainings, rotations, missions and deployments can be invisible to folks outside of the military.

"Even when there's no war going on, our service members still deploy or have training or other duties far from their families," wrote Sarah, an Army spouse. "These separations affect military spouses and military children, and we still need and want support from our schools and communities."

10. Military Spouses Are Not Stereotypes

We won't rehash spouse stereotypes here. You likely know them already. What we will say is that modern military spouses defy preconceived notions every day ... and they're sick and tired of them.

"Military spouses do a lot more than they are given credit for," wrote Karen, an Army spouse. "We are educated, smart, driven, [and] can pivot on a dime."

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