Civilian military husbands are slightly less common than anesthesiologists in this country. There are about 30,000 anesthesiologists and about 25,000 civilian male spouses. What’s my point? When was the last time you met an anesthesiologist? Even when you go in for surgery, she’s just one more masked face telling you that you’re about to feel sleepy and please count to 10.
Male spouses account for seven percent of all military spouses. About half of that seven percent is comprised of dual-military marriages. Although these marriages face many unique challenges, both spouses can sympathize with each other’s experiences in a way civilian spouses cannot. What I’m interested in here is the civilian husband who doesn’t understand military life and doesn’t have access to an effective support system.
Why does this matter? Last year, according to Pentagon statistics cited by the Associated Press, female service members were more than twice as likely to get divorced as male service members. Enlisted women were more than three times as likely, with 9 percent experiencing divorce last year.
Military marriages fail for all kinds of reason: deployments, frequent changes of duty station, the impacts of serving in a war zone all put stress on families and more. The best way to cope with such intense pressure is to nurture a supportive home front. Unfortunately for many inexperienced male spouses, they have no idea how to provide the support their wives — and their marriages — need.
No Maps For These
On a regular basis, a reporter will contact me to talk about life as a male spouse. They usually ask some version of the following questions: Why do you think marriage to a woman in the military is so difficult? And what more could the military do to support military husbands?
The answers are simple: We’re weird. There simply are not very many people who have shared our experiences. We’re pioneers, in a sense, exploring the emotional and psychological terrain of our marriages for the first time. Others may have gone before, but they haven’t brought back any maps.
Gentlemen, we need to start drawing more maps.
A New Kind of Club
I have always been an advocate for spouses’ clubs and family readiness groups. All spouses – male and female – should take advantage of them. But I think we’re overdue for a new kind of support group.
It’s clear to me after being married to a Navy girl for nine years that most husbands are simply not comfortable with the traditional support network that is available to them. And this is not the fault of female spouses. In my experience, they’re a universally welcoming, caring bunch.
No, the reason guys are uncomfortable in unit-based spouses’ clubs goes back to the numbers cited above. As supportive as military wives are, military husbands sense that their experiences are different. And if they’re going to talk about them at all, it’s going to be over a burger and a beer – with another guy.
The answer to the second question above (how to better support military husbands) is that we need to make it easier for military husbands to connect with each other and share our experiences. We need to make it easier to say, “Dude, I know exactly what you’re going through right now.”
That might mean creating regional support networks for military husbands. It might mean using social media. But one thing is clear: We need to do a better job supporting our female service members, and that means lowering that divorce rate. The best way to do that is to get a map and a guidebook.
Shining Service Worldwide is a charitable organization that supports all women who are part of the military family. Our goal is successful re-integration back into civilian life