Avoiding isolation as a military spouse
I remember the week I arrived to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. I rushed my children outside in a desperate search to find moms and wives to connect to. Although there were some, I quickly realized that there were many stay-at-home moms that were not willing to leave their home. Being new to the military experience, I was told quickly by a new friend, " Many ladies prefer to just keep to themselves, it's easier that way".
I was very confused. Why would anyone hundreds of miles away from home not want to connect? It made no sense to me. Over time, I was able to understand this emotion.
The Realities of the Military Spouse
Being a military spouse comes with a unique set of challenges. The rank, chain of command, and military branch will play a huge dynamic on how the wife is treated. For example, the wife of an E-3 may experience shunning from a wife of an O-3. Although some try to avoid it, the dreaded question always comes up..."What rank is your husband?" During the time when my husband was an E-3, there were many E-6 wives who were not receptive to having relationships with me. This also goes the other way where many enlisted wives can have a bias towards the wives of officers. However, let's be CLEAR, this is NOT ALWAYS the case, there are many great people that could care less about rank. But for some, their husband's rank is a sense of personal accomplishment. It only takes a few times for a woman to be disregarded by a spouse who "wears her husband's rank" before she is no longer interested.
There is also the challenge of "Is my husband in your husband's chain of command?" For some, this is major. When we were stationed in Mobile, Alabama, there was a military spouse who was uncomfortable being a part of the bible study that my family attended. To them, there was a potential conflict of interest and it was "inappropriate". As a young military family, this caused us to feel "less than" and embarrassed.
And let's not forget the camaraderie that comes along with each branch. This can work well if you are a part of the group! For example, all the Marine families in your neighborhood are "besties". This is a great day if you are a Marine wife, but an awful day if you are an Air Force spouse. Your family "may" be accepted but eventually it will be clear "one of these things do not belong". Again, this is NOT always the case. But this can be a part of why you may feel the need to isolate. These challenges are ones that those outside of the military may truly be unable to understand.
Why we Isolate
The reality is that many military spouses are far from home. This can be an exciting thrill in the beginning. However, over time it comes with sadness. Isolation can start the first time we put ourselves out there. Suddenly we realize that in the military world we are defined by our spouse. Being rejected repeatedly, or feeling not good enough will cause anyone to shy away from the crowd.
Most military spouses have experienced having a great military friend. Your kids get along, your husbands are buddies, and you are inseparable. Then the day we all dread happens, our friends get PCS orders and like that we are back to square one. The sadness is equivalent to losing a close family member. As a defense, we protect ourselves from ever experiencing that pain again. Isolation becomes our best weapon. We think, "If I don't get close to her, then I won't have to lose her".
Comparison and Home Difficulties
I remember going into a few homes of my friends when I first moved onto Fort Belvoir. The women, their children, and their homes seemed perfect. I was very intimidated. I recall thinking, "I cannot be like her." Overtime, I would begin to withdraw from these women. However, a couple of these same ladies, I found had very harsh husbands. Things were not what they seemed. Perhaps an abusive spouse or a husband who had a difficult time transitioning after deployment truly spawned their perfectionism. And in the opposite way, some ladies who have shame about their home life will also isolate. They realize if they get too close to someone they may feel the urge to share their life. Keeping to themselves builds a wall between you and them.
Find something that YOU are passionate about. There are many things to become a part of. The Enlisted Wives Club or a play group are great ways to get involved. If you are passionate about children join a group that focuses on children. Try serving on leadership in a group, this forces you to be accountable to connect. Joining a local wives Facebook page may be your step one for this. You can even find things that stimulate your thoughts outside of the military base. Perhaps, joining a local church or gym will be what gets you involved in something new.
Start A Group
If you love to crochet, start a group. After living in my area for over five years, I can say there are at least 100 Facebook groups where women connect. These groups start online but end in great meetups. This gives you the opportunity to meet with those with common interests. Many times, what ties you together will supersede rank and rate of your spouse. Find those who are like minded.
If you have been hurt in the past, remember that is your PAST. Your neighbor could be the friend that will change your life. However, you will not know because you have never tried. Start with intentional moments. Invite them to dinner, bring them cookies, or even spark a conversation at the mailbox. If they don't seem interested after a few tries, TRY AGAIN with someone else. Remember for some it's not that they don't like YOU, it's that they are truly busy or going through their own pain. Don't take it personal.
Pray for the Lord to illuminate people around you that you should connect with. He will guide you to exactly who you need in your circle. Be open, they may not look like YOUR typical friend. For me, I tend to attract women about 10 years older than me. This used to bother me. Now, however, I recognize that there is something about them that I need and vice versa.
Proverbs 27:17- As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
Remember isolation hurts YOU more than anyone else.
Now is the time to stop peeking out the window of everyone else's life and start making bonds. Things may not go perfect. But isolation eventually leads to depression. You were not meant to do life alone. We need each other! This year can be the start of victorious friendships! Friendships that survive against ALL odds! I challenge you to take a step away from isolation this week.
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