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Don’t Ditch Your Civilian Friends

Almost every day on one of the several military-focused websites, forums, and social media groups I belong to, I see mentions of how civilian family and friends “just don’t understand” military life. I’m pretty sure that at least once (and probably more!) in the years I’ve been married to my service members I’ve said the same thing.

Over the years, though, my feelings have evolved. I encourage milspouse friends to embrace the opportunities that military life offers them—new places, new friends, new learning experiences. Now, I think we need to add that embracing the new doesn’t mean abandoning the “old.”

I consider my experience as a military spouse to be a positive one: I am involved in several local military volunteer organizations, deployments taught me I was stronger than I ever thought I could be, I’ve met and formed friendships with amazing people that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise, and I can literally count heroes as friends.

All those wonderful things fail to account for this incredibly prevalent idea that civilian friends just can’t support us.

Here are the most common complaints I hear and how military spouses can respond:

1. Their business trip is nothing like a deployment.

Does everything have to be the same for someone to sympathize with your situation? Why? I don’t only talk about my hair with friends who also have stick straight blond hair (although I always ask them who cuts their hair if I like it). There have been plenty of moments I’ve been annoyed by someone commenting that they don’t know how I do it or that they don’t think they could handle a deployment, but to be honest, I have been just as frequently annoyed by milspouses who seem determined to argue  about who has it the roughest. “Your husband is deployed? Well, my husband is deployed, I have more kids, and there’s a black hole in my bathroom.” My civilian friends may not have equivalent experience, but they also aren’t trying to compete in some sick misery contest. There are days that I just need to be the saddest person in the conversation.

2. They don’t know what it’s like to have to move around all the time.

I have two reactions to this.

First, in this very tough economy, I’ll take the uncertainty of imminent PCS orders over the financial uncertainty many of my civilian friends are living with. Fighting the fear that we won’t be able to provide for our family (at least the basics of a roof, food, and necessities) isn’t something my husband and I have had to deal with.

Second, many in the civilian workforce are moving much more frequently than in former generations. Being a civilian doesn’t mean you will be able to find a job that provides for your family in the geographic area you desire. So, we don’t exactly have a monopoly on the moving for work thing.

3. I have a special bond with my military spouse friends because we’re going through the same thing.

That’s true. I feel you, but I also have a special bond with the friends I played on the monkey bars with in elementary school, the girls I got ready for prom with, the college friends I pulled all-nighters with, and the people I trusted while learning to be an adult.

Now, don’t get me wrong—my battle buddies are an extraordinary group of spouses who tackle the challenges of military life with humor, grace, and a mind-bending willingness to give. That doesn’t mean, however, that my civilian friends don’t also bring a welcome breath of “other” for the days that I simply can’t bear to think about the military for one more second. While as military spouses we make wonderful friends, there is so much value in friends who knew you before the military came into your life and have watched you evolve and grow.


For me, the civilian vs. military friend debate is a piece of a larger struggle—finding the balance between making the most of military life and letting it become my identity.

I am proud of being a military spouse. I love my military community, but I am more than that, too. I am a photographer. I’m a bit of a foodie. I am incurably curious. Each of those parts makes the whole stronger. In the same way, the diversity of our support system—family, friends, military, civilian—makes the whole stronger.

What roles have non-military family and friends played in your military journey? Do you ever feel that you have pulled away from civilian friends?




  1. Bethanne Strasser

    haha. what is a black hole in your bathroom? 😀 It’s an interesting topic. Always a balance that must be found. And really, it’s thoughtless sometimes. I don’t pick and choose who to call based on their life circumstances… I just call by instinct.

  2. Ashley Martinez

    I love this 🙂 thank u.

  3. Kathy Silvie

    I am breaking my rule about not commenting on blog posts… everything you have written is true and positive!

  4. Jennifer @Got HarMoney?

    Great points. For me my relationships are different to a point between my civilian friends and mil spouse friends, but all in all I’m blessed with amazing friends on either side.

  5. Military Spouse Bloggers

    The great thing about social media and culture shifts within the military is that a lot of us spouses are breaking out into new social circles and are creating lasting relationships with civilians. Even though they might not “get it” most people are very empathetic. As a blogger, we’re definitely getting our stories out to non-milspouses eager to learn more about what our lives are really like!

  6. Girl at War

    Fantastic post. To be honest, I feel closer to my civilian friends and military friends than I do with most of my military spouse friends. It just feels as if we military spouses have such a sense of entitlement and become so engulfed in being a military spouse that we negate the rest of the world and the genuine feelings, interests and concerns of others because “they don’t go through what we go through.” Sometimes it feels as if it’s an “us against them” mentality that just really turns me off. Anyway, thank you for this post. I’m definitely sharing this on my blog’s fan page.


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