How to Make Civilians Understand Us


They say “Thank you for your service.”  They say “Thank you for your sacrifices.” They say “I could never do what you are doing.”  Civilians are all too eager to express their gratitude and appreciation, but no one is willing to dig deeper and to learn more about us — military families.

But why do they do so little to improve their understanding of our way of life? Why do so few outside of the military know about military families?

Is it because less than one percent of the U.S. population currently meets the definition of being military personnel? Is it because anything military isn’t hip enough? Or is it simply because nobody cares about the military any more?

I believe so little is known about us simply because people don’t realize that our lives are so very different from their own. And if people are not aware of the existence of such differences, they can’t inquire and learn more about them.

For those with little or no personal exposure to the military, I believe that we need to foster awareness of our existence.  And we need some sort of medium that helps diminish common misconceptions that currently exist and that are being reinforced by shows like Army Wives.

But will the civilian world listen? How will we get complete strangers to care about us? The answer: let’s try to start approaching and strengthening the bond to the non-military world via those we already share a connection with — our civilian families and friends.

Military families need support, no matter how strong we think we are; support, especially from our own non-military friends and extended families. We love them. We want them to be part of our lives. We want them to understand our way of life.

And that’s why we have to nourish this connection by helping them to learn more about us. That’s why we have to bring our way of life a bit closer to all our loved ones.

While we might not get a complete stranger to listen to us, let’s try to obtain an open ear from our very own families and friends within the civilian world. Let’s educate them about military life. Let’s educate them about us — military families.

And who knows; increased understanding among those we love might broaden and extend to an increased understanding among all those our military protects.

Yvonne Jones is a military spouse of 13 years and counting, who has moved nationally and internationally more than 10 times since the military became part of her life.  After years of direct contact, experience and research in the field at hand, she knows the ins and outs of the issues covered in Closing The Gap: Understanding Your Service(wo)man, a book that is meant to reconnect Military Families with their non-military friends and family members by helping civilians learn more about the life within the Military. 

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21 Comments on "How to Make Civilians Understand Us"

  1. Why is it so important that "civilians" understand us? What are you hoping to get from it? You do realize that we, as military spouses, are civilians. We are to blame for whatever supposed divide exists. This is how I see my life: I take care of my family, I take care of my household, and I volunteer to have further purpose in my life. The fact that I am married to someone in the military does not prevent me from any of those activities. I would do them regardless of my husband's occupation. Granted, due to frequent separations, I often do those things without him but there are other occupations in which the spouse is frequently away from home.
    I do not know the difficulties inherent in being married to someone who is a deep sea fisherman or a person who works on an oil rig in the ocean. I don't need to know what the families go through so why do people need to know what my family goes through? We are not that different. We all have the same emotions and we all have to deal with life's challenges. Maybe if we stopped dwelling on all the differences and how we believe we go through so much more than anyone else, maybe we wouldn't feel like outsiders in the general population.

  2. Maybe because I'm a newbie and have yet to PCS or anything like that, but I don't feel any different than any civilian and I find that your assumption that you are different just irks me! Your SO is the military member, not you, so you should not be expecting special treatment from anyone. Also, if you need help or are pissed off at someone for being a douche, just say so! Never expect special treatment! You need to let your needs be known b/c if you don't, how the hell is anyone supposed to know!!!!!! Yes, my boyfriend is Navy and yes that means long separations and a host of other headaches, but I'm never going to assume that anyone understands my life as they're not the ones living it!!!! It's blog articles like this that make me want to distance myself from the military SO community.

  3. I don't normally have such a negative reaction to things like this but Oh. Em. Gee!!! Yes, people DO appreciate us….AS YOU SAID! They thank the service members for their service or tell spouses they don't know how they do it. That is appreciation! Are we (you) taking the time to get to know YOUR neighbors and other civilians in the community?! Do you focus on understanding their fear of being layed off in this economy? Do you really try to understand their stresses of finding affordable healthcare (we have Tricare). How about your boss (if you have one), do you sit and gripe about his/her decisions/changes or do you really try to understand and defend them? Unless a person is in our shoes (or us in theirs), they will never fully understand. I'm okay with that! My non-military friends are there to lend a supportive ear when I need it. They may even offer to help with things while my husband is gone. If your friends aren't supportive, you may need new ones, not force them to try to understand better. There may be various reasons they are not in the military….it's NOT "because nobody cares about the military anymore." They voice their appreciation!

  4. Raquel, Sometimes you don't want a support group full of strangers. Sometimes you want your family to understand. And when most of your family has no prior military service. You want them to offer a smidge of support and understanding of the military lifestyle. I am pretty certain if you ask a spouse dealing with PTSD they will tell you they serve through the night terrors, in the crowded shopping mall, in the car while their husband is hunting IEDs. You serve by supporting your military husband through deployments, through mutiple PCS, through school, through medical and emotional problems, through being a stable, non-crazy, dramatic spouse. You serve through the hosting of dinner parties, christmas parties and BBQs, you serve in a different way then your husband. But you are still serving a purpose in the military.

  5. Interesting how mean you all are being to a fellow military spouse. Hence why I don't associate myself with most military wives.
    I am a military spouse and I also served for 5 years in the Air Force. I have deployed and so has my husband. Military spouses are what hold the family together, so excuse me for thinking it is harder to be a military spouse than a civilian one. Would you not say your job is harder because your spouse works long hours and deploys for long periods of time? Its a lot like being a single parent.
    My husband is an AF recruiter and the closest base is over an hour away so all we know are civilian families. Yes it is hard to see everyone's spouse getting home at a decent hour while my husband stays at work most of the time till after our kids are asleep. Trying to explain to them why I would rather spend my time with my husband than do girls night is pretty tedious but these people will never truly understand till they have experienced it themselves. You can educate them all you want but it wont help…

  6. I'm a bit on the fence about this. I don't necessarily see the need to "educate" everyone on our lifestyle. I also don't need to know what other people with firefighters or policemen/women for spouses endure. Our own troubles always seem to outweigh everyone elses, and the need for everyone else to just UNDERSTAND is a bit egocentric in my eyes. Could we as individuals use more support from our not military-related counterparts? Yeah. But I don't think we can make anyone understand why at times we struggle with this life. I'd say as with everything else in life, it all boils down to one single sentence. Don't be a dick. Be nice to people, try and hear them out, and maybe, just maybe, they reciprocate and are nice and helpful in return.

  7. I don't usually add comments to blogs but i couldn't resist adding my two cents on this subject. I totally agree that as military spouses we do not want to be seen as special or especially as deserving any kind of sympathy for our lifestyle. We chose this life when we said "I Do" to the man /woman we love and who also happens to wear a uniform. BUT increasing awareness of the challenges associated with this lifestyle hopefully translates into better opportunities for portable careers for mil spouses, equal access to sports, clubs, and educational programs for our kids as we move every two to three years, and the preservation of our pay and benefits as we enter retirement or transition to vet status.

  8. To those of you who that believe military life is no different than the lives of civilians…I would like to take the emotion out of this argument and add some statistical evidence that our lives our VERY different;
    Military spouse unemployment rate 26% Civilian spouse unemployment rate 5.8%
    Military spouse underemployment rate 38% Civilian spouse underemployment rate 6%
    Military spouses suffer an AVERAGE wage gap of 42-48%, when compared to their civilian spouse counterpart (when age, education level, and background are all equal).

    Finally, military spouse's are more educated, when compared to their civilian counterparts.
    84% have some college 24% hold Bachelor Degree's 10% hold postgraduate degrees

  9. What nonsense. The choice to join the military was your significant others. There is no draft here right now, nobody twisted his arm. The choice to marry him was yours, nobody forced you. Many outside of the military have jobs that they do with as much sacrifice and dedication, like police officers, firemen, teachers, nurses and many, many others. It is articles like this that will do nothing to close the gap, but much rather will widen it.

  10. Those of you who hijacked this thread – why did you chose this forum to go back and forth? Repeatedly.

    Regardless of the branch of service, we ALL have varying levels of impact on the service member and their family members. Multiple year-long deployments to war torn areas is an entirely different experience for the person deploying and the family staying behind. Then take it further with the type of job they have. Are they in air conditioned offices or on the front with the enemy. Comparing the military to firefighters or police is not proper. The levels of danger differs greatly with their specific job.

    The opinions here are a bit dramatic at times and encourage me to ignore.

    I need to finish my beer and I can’t type with one hand.

  11. It is not just active duty that is affected about this, once you pick up that tag VETERAN, they all seem to know more than you about your service, and wont listen to you when you try to direct them to a source other than yourself. You do this time and time again, but they still know more than you, or the sources that you provide for them. They just absolutely refuse to look at the sources that you provide for them, because they know better than you. It finally gets to the point where you are ready to give up life long friends over this, because they are treating you like an idiot about something that you have lived through.

  12. Boy!! This is Great reading , and yes! you are Different, But! also the Same!! For Some ,it seems you want Front page Billing ! others Just proud to be a American,doing what Spouses have done for eons! All of you ,are in a Special Group ,most have never talked to a military Spouse,before taking the Plunge! Those Grey hunks of metal that are floating in water,those Shiny pieces of metal with guns mounted on wings ,those big pieces of metal,with tracks as wheels,and a big gun on top of them.Those Platoons of bodies with rifles ,muddied faces ,running towards the enemy ,are the implements of War,those who operate them ,are Warriors ,their the first to die in the Defense of our country . That is what all those days and nights are for ,Training to fight a WAR. Notice anything !!!? Everyone is looking at everyone else !! Dont understand !!? You the Spouse and children are left out ! Why!? Your not on the front lines. you are in a supportive Roll! Just like the Water company ,delivering water to the Fire Trucks . Can they fight a fire without water NO!. Can they fight a WAR without You ? .YES!. Now! that Rattled some Cages . Way before you came on the Scene .I Know! Sailors ,were told ,Your Wife ,was not Issued to you in a Sea Bag.,so that meant The military did not care, in taking Hubby from you at any time they wanted ,they paid him little and the Spouse a little $s to discourage Families ,because of the Nature of His Job. Most Didnt own Cars ,hitched Hiked ,Couldnt get Married without the COs permission , He Said NO! it meant NO! There were all kinds of Barriers for Not having Families Fast Forward!,Big Pay Hikes Seem to be RICH ! Serviceman ,First thing was a New Car ,Expensive ONE! then Move off the Ship or Base ! AH! but Duty Called ! Duty Nights ,Underway at sea, Deployments ,in between ,Getting Married! , having Children ,Buying a Nice House. Disaster after Disaster . He was not home . Like a Civilian ! Money got Tight! ,over spending ,Divorces . The Service stepped in, to give a Hand ,to the Spouses And thats why you have the Services, the Civilians dont have ! NO Where in the Civilian World ,Do they Pay a husband or mother of the worker extra Pay ! Thats Right you couldnt live on the military Pay of your Spouse ! So the Single Service Member gets Discriminated against ,of doing the same job at the same level of pay grade ,because hes/ Shes not Married ,Unfair ! Dam Right ! You have to understand that there are two kinds of Civilians A, 4F and a1A One could Serve ,one cant .Both DONT have to Serve because its Voluntary ,They are hung up on their life ,as you are to yours , Jealous of you ! Some times .you get a 10% Off ,and Sporting a New Car ,No Tax Paid on it (Virginia) until you Retire . Most Holidays Off Special Events most at no cost ,And when their Truck Driver /Salesman/ Foreign Worker comes home!, He sees his kids at Home ,for his home coming ! Yes! You the Service persons Spouse, is one of a kind , You, and you alone are the back bone of the Military Gal or Guy that can and Will give up their lives for people , Who Has no, Idea of what your sacrifices Are !! those Civilians look at you and your friends Funny ,because you talk in Shortened words, Kinda Secret Messages, You live within a Family of mostly Strangers ,that they could never be part of . So dont be sad , when a civilian dont understand your ways !. Smile its Catching ,Say proudly, My hubby or Wifey is A Marine ,Sailor, Soldier ,or Airman

  13. I am a former U.S. military spouse. My father was a German Navy, WWII POW, my brother was U.S. Army.

    As spouses, children, and siblings of military personnel, we are civilians living in a society experimenting with democracy, with an active military segment. Perhaps overactive. We have militarized in our lifetime in a manner similar to what my father described occurring in Navy Germany; standardization of public education, and polarization of the population into Us/Them thinking with scapegoats to target with the fears and furies of an economically struggling nation.

    The military is designed to be a subsystem of the larger social system. Within that military subsystem are different rules and laws creating greater restrictions and responsibilities on the members.
    We are still a civilian society, integrating our military into our civilian culture is needed for both war time and peace time civil activities as human beings.

  14. This article mentioned "MILITARY FAMILIES" 4 times. Not once did it mention "MILITARY SPOUSES." Not once. So why does the majority of attackers here keep on mentioning military spouses? It's not about YOU. It's about MILITARY FAMILIES, which include the Service Member, the Military Spouse, and the Military Child. For heaven's sake, get off your high horses, ladies! By trying to convince everyone that you don't want any special treatment, you completely miss the point of the article and make yourselves, as spouses, the center of attention. And nobody seems to notice.

  15. In response to the main topic statement that civilians feel the "military isn’t hip enough? Or nobody cares about the military any more"?
    I have a long history of family members that made the military a lifetime career. I spent most of my childhood in a military family, and I am a spouse of an active duty soldier. It has been my experience that the military are VERY WELL COMPENSATED for their "CAREER CHOICE" in pay and benefits more so than many other career or profession(s). "It is a very "military / veteran friendly" world right now and I think a lot of veterans (some who have only served a few years) are taking advantage of the times by trying to milk civilians for all the sympathy, recognition, and benefits they can possibly get. I am finding that today's military have a mindset and adamantly feel that they should have a bottomless pit of entitlements and sympathy.
    There are plenty of professions in battles on a daily bases, working long hours, putting their own health and safety at risk, trying to keep things safe at home for you military too. What hypocrites you are!!! Complaining about American civilians you claim you so gallantly protect.

  16. William Fury | March 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm |


    Man ! dont be so hard on them ! Yes! it looks like a lot of Self pitty, try to fill the void of lonely ness . Most Spouses never had any Idea of the Challenges ,they were to Face . Yes ! They are Supporting their Guys and Gals on the Front lines But!! So ! are Thousands of Civilians Doing Much the Same ,Airline Pilots ,Fire Fighters, Truck Drivers,Overseas Contractors, And working in Not so safe Areas, Their CHOICE !! And NO! banners,posters ,or News reports on their return Dead or Alive . YES! Both Military Families and Civilian ones ,are Rowing the same Boat ,PAY! That is a Battle on both Sides . Benefits!! The Military has the Edge on that . Moving ,They too Have that Problem . SO! you really look about even Stevens , Yes! they do wear uniforms !! But No one has to Salute, Except Fire Fighters,and Police Officers . Your Lucky your Military Member, endure the earlier Times , Uniforms 24/7 Liberty Cards, Low Pay .$180.00 for a E5 over 4 yrs a Month. Spouses. Peanuts !! Wernt Recognized for any thing ! No Civilian Clothes! ,Flight & Sub pay was the only extra $$ Exchanges were for Cigrerets , Toiletries and Magazines 1800, Change Uniform of the Day Manditory for all non working Parties and lots of other little Goodies to frost your ****. Yes! you guys have come a long Way The Tears are on both Sides when Tragedy Strikes , NO fun for any one . I survived 41 yrs in the Navy and seen the things ive talked about . Its Rough. but ! youll make it all good ,if you hold your heads up high and SMILE.. ADVICE Take care of the Needs before the WANTS

  17. Some of you need to quit being so catty. Being a spouse, I get where this post is coming from. There is a definite difference between long nights at work and someone's spouse being thousands of miles away in a war zone. I do agree that people who do not have any ties to the military do not understand why my husband is missing from my son's birthday party, or why I'm not able to make it home for the holidays because of my husband's work schedule. It makes me laugh when I see little facebook posts "Oh, I haven't seen my husband all day"… it takes a bit of tongue biting not to reply with "Congrats, I haven't so much as hugged mine in 7 months". There is a definite divide, and that will always exist because it's difficult to place yourself in one's shoes without living their life on a daily basis.

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