I’m guessing there are a few different people that are reading this post.
A. You are a military spouse looking for support. You had one of these phrases said to you and you googled “what not to say to a milspouse” to see if you are the only one bothered by these phrases. “Am I being too sensitive?? ” you ask. I’m here to say no…and yes. If one of these phrases is said to you it probably wasn’t out of malice – but ignorance. Try to have grace for the civilians in your life. They don’t get it and probably never will. Take a deep breath and let their hurtful comments go in one ear and out the other. It’s not worth your sanity – it’s hard enough staying sane while your husband travels.
B. You are a friend or family member of a military spouse and you actually care about not saying something insensitive. You don’t want to make an already difficult deployment or separation even more difficult than it needs to be.
No matter who you are, I hope you find this list helpful. And if you’ve said one of these things to me, know that I’m not upset with you. They just aren’t helpful.
When talking to a military spouse (especially one whose spouse is deployed), think about what you’re going to say. Ask yourself if what you want to say is helpful or hurtful. When in doubt, wash some dishes or show up with a bottle of wine or dinner.
8 Things Not to Say to a Military Spouse
1. “I bet he cheats on you”
Oh I’m sure. Having a career that takes him away for long periods of time just automatically makes him a cheater, huh? Okay, maybe YOUR spouse has that little self-control and that little respect for you but NO not my husband. Or just because you know such-and-such and that person cheated >> yup, again not my husband. Thanks, no thanks.
Also, equally as bad “A lot of military wives cheat on their husbands” or “what happens in Korea stay in Korea.” Really? Nope. Don’t say this stuff to me. It’s 1. not the truth and 2. unhelpful and a rude thing to say.
Alternative Phrase: You married a good one. (Or you could just say nothing at all. That works too.)
Not that it’s any of your business, but if you want to send a gift to a married military couple consider the Military Edition of the 5 Love Languages. It has lots of suggestions for staying connected with your spouse over long distances and time.
2. You Chose This Life
Let me ask you this, why would you say this? Is this helpful in anyway? This was probably said in response to your friend or family member unloading hardships and stress to a trustworthy person. They are unloading fears to YOU because they trust that you won’t look down on them for struggling or being fearful. Saying, “well, you choose this life” doesn’t help. It tells your friend that you don’t care to hear about their hardships or their struggles are somehow invalid because they choose to marry their husband.
And yes, we did choose to marry our spouses and we most likely knew that the military was part of the package. But that doesn’t mean that we completely understood the sacrifices that we would be making. The military recruiters and civilians have a way of romanticizing military service. But it’s hard, we didn’t know what this life would bring, and we didn’t know how well or not we would handle this life.
Also, let’s turn this around. Do you ever complain about your job? Next time you complain about your job and you’ve said this to me, I’m going to say, “well, you chose that job. Suck it up buttercup.”
Alternative Phrase: Wow, I can’t imagine how hard it must be. Let me take the kids for a couple of hours so you can pack a few boxes without chaos/get your haircut/take a nap/insert whatever here.
3. That’s not that long of a deployment!
This belongs in a group of different phrases. “Oh, at least it’s only one week” “I have a friend and her husband used to have 18 month deployments” << these phrases are equally as bad.
We all know that some separations are longer than others. Some jobs have a 6 month deployment every couple years. Some have 1-2 weeks gone every month. Some have 9 month deployments.
This is something you need to know:
No matter how long a separation is, it’s difficult to be alone.
Some people like being alone. Some people absolutely hate it. Some are struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety and they struggle getting through a normal 9-5 workday. Don’t downplay your friend’s pain. When you say things like this you are telling her that she shouldn’t feel so worn out because such and such survived a 12 month deployment without going crazy. You are just making her feel worse about herself.
Alternative phrase: Dang. That sucks. Even one night away from my spouse is hard.
Consider sending your friend a small gift like this book for military spouses called You Are Not Alone.
4. I’m praying for you
Let’s get this straight:
God does not need for you to tell me that you prayed
for the prayer to “work.”
I’m probably raising a few eyebrows here with this one. If that’s you, say a little prayer for yourself right now that your heart can be opened to what I’m saying.
This phrase is not welcome out of the blue. Do you find yourself randomly messaging your friend once a month, or every other month, or even once a week? What does the message say? Does it by any chance say “I’m praying for you…”?
If that’s the only dialogue you have with just small talk here and there…the I’m praying for you line is not okay. You can pray for me but keep it to yourself.
You are only welcome to say this if we have a close friendship
and we talk often, or if I specifically ask for it.
When I get a random message like this I feel like you are trying to do the bare minimum and not actually help me. Just praying for me wasn’t enough – you had to tell me too. Was that about me? Or was that about making YOU feel good – like you did something?
Alternative Phrase: I was thinking about you so I decided to sent a $5 Starbucks gift card (or this cute mug). I love you and hope you have a good day. Thank you for your sacrifice.
^^So much better. It actually took a little effort from you and it might actually lift my spirits. If you send me just a prayer-filled text you probably just pissed me off. Now to go put some of my Happy Mama Blend on because this is stressing me out! lol
5. I could never do it
This is another iffy one. If you are saying this is an uplifting way – go for it. If it could be followed by “you amaze me” then it’s probably a good tone. But, in that case, just leave out the first part. Just say the happy stuff.
I could never do it can feel judgemental like I shouldn’t do it. If the phrase is followed by “it’s too hard on the kids” or something similar, it’s not welcome.
Alternative Phrase: You amaze me.
6. At least he’s not a “real” soldier
Wait, you said WHAT?
So because my husband isn’t infantry, he’s not making a real sacrifice? His job can be very dangerous – and crashes do happen. He’s gone days or weeks every month and he serves 3-6 month deployments downrange and all over the world. Please don’t insult my spouse’s service.
Alternative Phrase: Thank you for your sacrifice and service. How can I help you today?
7. What if he doesn’t come back?
Don’t go there. Shut your pie hole. Believe me, I think about it at least once every day while he’s gone. I don’t need you to make me think about it again. Never say this, ever.
Alternative Phrase: Are you guys planning a trip for when he gets back? You should!
8. Back in my day,…
If it starts with this phrase it probably isn’t helpful. You just make your friend feel worse about struggling through her own deployment. SHE gets FaceTime and in the olden days they only got the occasional telegram. I get it. I have it soooo easy. But then explain to me why I cry so much! It just makes me feel worse about myself.
Alternative Phrase: Back in my day,…but it’s still hard to be alone no matter what. Would you like to have dinner at my house next Tuesday?
What crazy things should people never say to a military spouse? What has been said to you? What rubbed you the wrong way? What are some things people could say instead?