34 Things You Should Never Say to a Military Spouse During Deployment

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34 Things You Should Never Say to a MilSpouse During Deployment

I was sitting in a performance evaluation meeting in my principal’s office around April. My then-fiance had been deployed since June and although it had been a tough year, I was starting to feel excited for his homecoming, for our wedding, for my move to where he was stationed and for our brand new life together.

And, I’m not going to lie, I was having a pretty awesome evaluation too, until another administrator walked into the meeting. He spent a few minutes engaged in small talk with the principal and me. And then he asked me if I was afraid that John was cheating on me in Afghanistan. After all, he wouldn’t let his fiancé be in the military—there are too many men there, too many sweaty people. Didn’t men and women shower together? He just didn’t know what he’d do if his fiancé was in my fiance’s position.

I’m not a fiery person. I’m a writer, not a public speaker. More often than not I think of the perfect thing to say hours after the incident…but of course, never during it. This was no different. I mumbled something that I can’t remember now. I felt my face flush red and I felt myself become a very impotent, less-muscular Hulk. I was furious, but my evaluation was being discussed, so I tried to refocus. (And trust me, that was tough too.)

But I’m not alone when it comes to idiotic, well-intentioned or downright mean sentiments during deployment. We threw the question up on NextGen’s and Jo, My Gosh!’s Facebook walls:

What stupid things have people said to you?

We got an earful.

They broke down into a few categories and we’ve quoted them here, directly from the mouths of military spouses. Ready to go down the rabbit hole?

34 Things You Should Never Say to a MilSpouse During Deployment

Tough Love

It seems that many people have a sincere need to remind military spouses and significant others that we’ve chosen this life and so we should shut up and move on during deployment. Perhaps it’s meant to be empowering—that we’ve been the masters of our fate—but it often is incendiary and a tough pill to swallow.

Especially when we really have very little control over the logistics of our own lives and absolutely 0% say over anything the military does.

  • “Suck it up buttercup. You knew what you were getting yourself into.”
  • “You talk about your husband so much and it seems like you think his job is better than anyone else’s.”
  • “He missed your daughter walking? At least it’s not like a first day of school or a sweet 16.”
  • “You people are used to this sort of thing. I don’t know why you are crying.”
  • “At least your son won’t know his daddy missed the first 3 months of his life.”

The D Word

About a month after John deployed to Afghanistan, I was hanging out with friends at a bar when one of them asked me why John even had to wear dog tags. After all, few soldiers die by bullets now—most of them blow up. What good would dog tags do then?

At the time, I was consumed with worry since John’s base had been under attack twice in a week. I was so worried I literally couldn’t taste food. (Seriously, I even tried to eat Reese’s. I didn’t finish one cup.)

That whole hanging-out-and-getting-a-drink-with-friends thing? Yeah, it was ruined by reminding me that John was in constant danger…along with a really distressing mental image.

Again, I am not alone. There was an overwhelming response that people—even strangers—would ask about death and dying when they found out about a loved one’s deployment.

Thanks, guys. Because that’s not something we worry about for the entire deployment, from start to finish.

  • “It’s not like he’s going to die or anything. Stop crying.”
  • “Aren’t you afraid he’ll die?”
  • “How much life insurance do you have on him?”
  • “Is he in like, a combat zone? Is he being shot at?”
  • “Hope your husband doesn’t get blown up.”
  • “If your husband gets killed it won’t be so hard for you because you’re used to living without him!”

Meh

Let’s be clear: service is service is service. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the Coast Guard with a keen eye for drug runners, in the Reserves kicking down a door in training, flying a refueling plane, a Marine MP doing base security or a Navy EOD tech dismantling a bomb. We need all kinds of people to ensure that the job at hand gets done safely. Truth bomb: No branch is more special or more awesome than any other branch.

  • “He is in the air so there is no danger. Not like anyone will shoot at him…”
  • “He’s only in the Navy. He doesn’t know what a real deployment is.”
  • “Oh, it’s his second deployment? You must be used to it by now.”
  • “But he’s on a ship, right? So, it’s not like he’s really deployed.”

Really Awkward, Extremely Personal and Totally Clueless

I really try to see the best in people. A lot of the things people say when they find out about deployment comes from both a place of empathy and ignorance.

Talking about deployment can be tough since there are so many layers to it–from politics to the emotional anguish to the military’s rules and regulations. It can be harder if you’re taken off-guard, don’t know how to respond or have no idea what the logistics of a deployment (or the military) are.

Let’s be real—with only 1% of U.S. citizens serving in some military capacity, the vast, vast majority of people we meet will most likely have no clue about what a deployment actually means.

Still, no matter if the words are coming from charity or malice, they can still sting pretty deeply.

  • “Did he kill anyone?”
  • “How does it feel to be married to a killer?”
  • “Are you planning a vacation to Afgh[anistan] to see him?”
  • “Since he’s in the medical group, how can he help save the enemy too?!”
  • “I heard they cheat with female soldiers deployed. Aren’t you worried about that?”
  • “So do you get free stuff when your husband’s deployed?”
  • “At least you get to pocket extra deployment money.”

I Couldn’t Do It

Truly, I believe that most of the statements that fall into this category are supposed to be compliments of our loyalty to our significant others.

Case in point: during John’s deployment, one of my very dear, wonderful friends told me that she didn’t know how I could go on without John. As if her love for her husband or their relationship couldn’t stand up to a yearlong deployment—and that’s simply not true.

“If you had to to stay with Pete, you would in a heartbeat,” I said. Really, it’s that simple and once I framed it that way for her, she agreed.

  • “How can you live like that? I mean with your husband always being gone.”
  • “Wow, I would kill myself if my boyfriend went to Iraq.”
  • “I could never deal with that! Do you think he’s cheating on you?”

The One-Uppers

These are the comments that left my blood boiling when I read them from our Facebook walls. These are the comments from people who feel the need to demean the significant other by one-upping them. And many times these comments come directly from military spouses who should know better and help to lift each other up, not passive aggressively put them in their place.

  • “It’s only three months. I could do that with my hands tied behind my back!”
  • “At least he’s only in Afghanistan.” (Said by other spouses whose husbands were deployed in Iraq.)
  • “Only 5 months? Psshh.”
  • “Don’t talk to me about needing a break, I homeschool.”
  • “I think deployment is so much harder with small kids.”

Weird Relationship Advice

I couldn’t round out this list without the unsolicited relationship advice that is ubiquitous during a deployment. I’ll just leave it at that.

  • “Well, that’s nothing but good for you. Now you can at least do what you want.”
  • “I wouldn’t let my husband do that.”
  • “He’ll be back soon. Next thing you know, he’ll be annoying you and you’ll be wishing he was deployed again.”
  • “If he loved you and the kids, he’d choose to stay home.”

We want to hear from you! What’s the worst thing someone’s ever said to you during deployment? How did you respond?

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I was told by a female Soldier that I had no right to be worried when my husband waa deployed because he is in the Navy. This waa at a time during his deployment when he was positioned off the coast of Syria and communication from his ship had been shut down for 17 days. But he wasn’t on the ground so at least I knew he was safe, she said (even though I hasn’t heard from him in 17 days…. And it would be 5 more before I finally would!)

  2. I have to say, civilian comments rarely bother me, it’s the condescending, one-upper, minimizing of your experience compared to their own by military vets or spouses that really are hurtful. And they are commonly said and several spouses will all chime in at once to let you know your situation is a piece of cake. I had one seasoned spouse on her way out shout at me, Call us if you get lonely! Right. Don’t take it upon yourself to call me to check on me….
    As for what to say, ask if they have holiday plans and/or invite the spouse to your festivities, create a weekly gathering like Taco Tuesdays to hang out so you don’t end up at the end of the deployment realizing you never really did manage to get together, offer your own or your husbands services for heavy lifting/car repair, babysitting, etc., ask how the communication is going along with the deployment, and ask how they are doing/feeling and validate those feelings!! Send cute texts or emails saying you are thinking about the person/family.

  3. I was the Ombudsman for our crew while everyone dealt with a year-long deployment. And most of the spouses chose to go home to their families. And then I got asked Oh are you staying in town because you’re the ombudsman or are you just too lazy to leave. I just kind of stared, never answering the question. I understand why some people choose to go home, I chose not to because it was a year and what happens if his next duty station was exactly where I was already at? Then I would honestly feel like I moved for nothing. Sure I’m across the country from my family but I have skype and my phone. I can make it, but I honestly can’t stand the “Why didn’t you just go home?” I wanted to say because I’m not in college and this isn’t my summer break. I have a life here and I’m not going to cut it short for just any reason. Yes I’ve been through several deployments and I have never once said anything about people heading home to their families. I just hate to move and didn’t see the point. Guess that makes me lazy.

  4. “Well, at least you don’t have kids. Deployment is so much harder with children” (by civilians having no military affiliation) This is usually around the same time I’m asked why I don’t have kids, a whole other topic. I can not comment on the difference of deployments with or without children. I can however confirm that it tears at my soul every minute he is gone, and every deployment breaks my heart over and over again. I am NOT denouncing the effects of deployment on children, simply stating an inappropriate thing said to me time and time again.

    • I’ll be the first to admit that for me, my husband deploying to Africa for a humanitarian mission was less stressful than having the kids home while he was in Iraq. Both were difficult, but not having to worry about getting them where they needed to be, keeping them busy and distracted was a relief since I knew they were with their Father, safe and happy. I was able to focus on getting my husband where he needed to be and keep myself distracted. But both were hard, I missed him a lot until the day he came home, even when he was stateside in quarantine, or when he’s TDY or in the field.

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