What to Do About Toxic FRG Members?

Ultimate dirty dash

When do you move??  For the past 12 years, I’ve volunteered with the local installation or the Family Readiness Group wherever we have lived.

When I meet a truly negative spouse in the FRG, I’m able to retract and wait for one of us to PCS. Or I divert my efforts and attention elsewhere, away from conflict with the toxic FRG member.

But this time it is different.

This time our unit has a spouse who is spreading a wave of negativity, distrust, and animosity across the entire organization. Her sly comments and catty behavior are dragging everyone down. What can we do?

She makes many passive-aggressive and demeaning comments made towards the FRG Leader, the Command Team and the other volunteers. The derogatory statements have pitted several spouses against one another and left the majority of them to withdraw from the FRG.

She recently had the audacity to tag me in a comment on a post about resiliency and the FRG. “This is exactly what my vision for our FRG was. So sad things worked out the way they did!” she wrote.

The information the FRG team shared with her in the beginning of her participation explained our desire to move in a direction similar to this … we brought her into it, but she makes sure everyone thinks these were her ideas.

She talks down to the FRG leader, and constantly criticizes her. She asks WHY things weren’t done a certain way or WHY she wasn’t included in the decision-making — despite the fact that she holds no official position.

This is why I don’t participate in the FRG

Please don’t reply that ‘this is the reason I don’t participate in the FRG.’ Anyone can say that. I think it takes more fortitude to work on interpersonal problems and come to a solution.

So I am really looking for advice from people who have encountered the same kind of person and figured out what to do. Is there something I might have done wrong that permitted or encouraged this behavior? How could I have prevented it? How can I mitigate her toxicity moving forward?

Nikki is an Army spouse currently living on the west coast.

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  • guest

    Ha…I had one of these when I was the FRG leader. I was working 60 plus hours a week so we couldn’t do more than a couple of events a month and this woman did nothing but whine, complain, spread rumors, demand every free ticket or thing that came through the organization, she even wanted to use MWR funds to buy her husband recreational sporting equipment. When she was told she couldn’t use if for individual recreational use (but could rent it from MWR), she went to the battalion commander to say we “weren’t supporting families”. Our FRSA was terrified of her. I won’t even get into the drama/rumors she started on FaceBook during deployment.

    What did we do, well long and short the battalion commander and my husband both ripped her a new one (I already had spoken to her, but in a nice way) and in the end her husband ended up getting kicked out of the Army. He was spending so much time dealing with her crazy that he wasn’t focusing on work and was coming in late, failed a couple of PT tests and BOOM, it was all the entire command team needed to put him out. And they all said that they probably could have worked with him, but they couldn’t stand the issues she created. So she essentially tanked his career. I don’t think he would have made it through the past 2 years of cuts either way, he wasn’t the most stellar of soldiers according to his NCO’s.

    Upon getting told he was getting the boot she proceeded to try and pull every stunt in the book to get him to stay in. Including calling everyone in their brother and saying he was making suicide threats when he wasn’t, both her husband and mental health said he was fine, and that she was making it up, mind you he’d only been in 3 years and never deployed, in fact, he never even PCS’d. She tried calling IG for a toxic command complaint.

    When all of that failed miserably she then told him one of the 5 kids wasn’t his…to which he put his hand through a cabinet, and she proceeded to call the MPs and have him arrested saying he slapped her. She then came down to the unit and started going crazy screaming about how dare they kick her husband out and how are they going to feed their family followed by breaking stuff. The MPs were called but the guys had to restrain her from breaking anymore equipment. She ended up getting into a fist fight with one of the female MPs…she lost.

    I have never met someone so entitled and crazy in my life, and passive aggressive was her MO to a T at first, before she went full crazy…Just document EVERYTHING and make sure the FRG lead knows what is going on. People were afraid to tell me about her when I came on, but dear god I wish they had warned me. I wouldn’t say bring up the petty crap or snippy comments, but the major stuff they need to know about since it can influence workplace dynamics. I had close to a dozen spouses come forward with their own stories after all this went down, apparently she was threatening them etc and they were all afraid to come forward and say something.

    • ken

      I like this approach. Someone needs to stand up against abrasive FRG members.

  • SEG

    I’ve had a few conflicts like this in my life, and I always go back to the advice my mother gave me. Put yourself in her shoes. Imagine how unhappy she must be in her life to be acting this way. Maybe she’s struggling at home. Maybe she’s had others treat her this way at prior FRGs and it’s a defense mechanism. Whatever the source of her negativity, it’s likely got nothing to do with you or your FRG other than it provides her what she feels is a “safe” place to vent it out.

    If there’s someone in the group who feels comfortable checking in with her on a more personal level – how are you, is there anything you need help with, etc. – that might be helpful. Otherwise, to mitigate it, is there a project or activity you would feel okay letting her take the lead on? Does she have a particular skill you can use in a way that makes her feel useful? If you can come up with something like this, and maybe involve her in the process — “We’re concerned that you’re not happy with your role in our group. Is there a specific project you’d like to work on? Do you have any awesome skills we haven’t tapped yet?” — then you can start to build trust with her and demonstrate that she is valued to your group, in spite of the way she’s been acting. Over time, that might change her disposition. Or, it might not, but by giving her something that’s her own, you may also be able to confine her area of influence and mitigate the all-encompassing negativity you described above.

  • Alana

    In my experience with people like this, there is really no easy solution. What has helped in the past is straight forward, honest confrontation. This woman is overstepping boundaries left and right. If she has opinions about how things run that is fine – but the avenues that she is taking are immature and inappropriate. She needs to be told that while her opinion is valued, using passive aggressive tactics to get her point across will not be tolerated by the group. Perhaps your FRG could come up with a list of values and procedures that all members should agree to utilize. If you can’t follow the rules you will be asked not to participate. I’m sorry this has happened, but there are always people who never learned about boundaries, communucation, or appropriate behavior.

  • Ashley

    Last year, we had a spouse like this in our FRG…very toxic, very difficult to deal with.

    We went through the appropriate channels and told her she was no longer welcome to participate in FRG meetings or activities because her behavior was not representative of the goals our FRG was trying to accomplish, and did nothing for unit cohesiveness, since her behavior affected the way soldiers were interacting with her husband.

    Her behavior and actions ended up causing her husband to be transferred to a new Battalion and we have not had problems since.

  • Kate

    I’ve had a leader that cherry-picked on who could participate. This was based on whether she liked you or if her husband personally liked your husband. They were supremely judgmental people. So much so that if you had one bad hair day, they would judge your entire existence on that. There were some wives that were getting no information on purpose, for personal reasons that were arbitrary. I wished I could have whistleblown on them, but they had too much clout with higher command. The fallout wasn’t worth it, so I just ignored them. A very toxic work environment that leaked into the FRG.

  • Cyndia

    She sounds like a very unhappy person who likes to spread discontent. Ideally, not having her be a part of the FRG or the functions would be ideal, but that is much easier said than done. Confronting her about her behavior would be key, as would be documenting that. If she doesn’t improve, you could then present your complaints about her to the chain of command and see what would happen then.

  • jojo613

    I know that the FRG in the AF is command sponsored and run. My husband is the commander, and when we went to class the AF made it emphatically clear that it was a command team initiative. We were told at “mentors” that if there were toxic members of the group, that it was something that the first sergeant and commander should handle. I don’t know if this is the same in the Army.

  • AGRspouse

    Toxic people in FRGs are really a pain when you are remotely stationed. I have run into two(Not bad for twenty+years) The last one took over the FRG for me and proceeded to scream at me at what was to be our last family day before retirement. She was pushy, mean, lying and had questionable financial dealings with FRG funds. Her kids were the ones running around screaming(she didn’t believe in discipline of any kind–for her darlings. The rest of us were expected to make ours toe the line) She literally pushed me out of her way(I walk with a cane) when I was talking to the commanders fiancee. Not even an excuse me–just I want you to meet this reporter, said to the fiancee. If my friend wasn’t there, I would have been on the floor. Probably with a broken bone. New commander wanted someone else to be in charge of the FRG. Toxic had only been in charge for less than a year and he had already heard rumblings of dissent–not from me, from other family members as well as soldiers. She didn’t attend hubby’s retirement ceremony. I don’t wonder why. The commander had to tell her hubby it wasn’t a good idea for her to be there because he didn’t want her drama. Thank goodness for good commanders.

  • Bob

    Retired 30+ years ago. What the hell is an FRG?

    • the first mel

      It is a Family Readiness Group. With 9/11 and the subsequent high tempo of deployments, the need for additional support for families came into being and FRGs evolved. Things have changed pretty fast. But as the drawdown occurs, along with less doing combat deployments, I believe the FRGs will fade in importance.

  • Tina

    1) Upfront, state that drama-llamas and alpacalypses will not be tolerated.

    2) Keep documentation and email communication.

    3) Always use proper channels and chain of command. Always cite “leadership”, which is the commander and 1SGT, to add a more professional element.

    4) If there is an issue, send it up the ladder before it gets out of hand- this means rumors, misappropriation of funds, etc.

    5) Avoid unnecessary personal confrontations. It sounds cowardly at first, but the FRG belongs to the commander- not the spouse or whoever is leading. Just make sure you’re above reproach and don’t engage in your own drama.

    • jojo613

      THIS^^^^^ We were told this at Command School (for commander’s spouses)… The FRG/Key Spouse is NOT a spouse program (as in the final word on things are the commander’s not the spouses)… Report her to the shirt or commander, and let them deal with her.

  • IAgal

    While the FRG issues may need to be dealt with at the command level, you may also find useful a conversation tool I learned many years ago. I have used it in everything from an unusually withdrawn husband on a casual evening, to a public slam from the MIL…

    First, state objectively what you have observed. (“I see….”). It has to be a totally objective, non-emotional statement of observation.
    Then pause.
    Often, this is all that I need to get a reasonable conversation started about the situation.

    As appropriate or if silence continues, step 2 is to make a statement of what you think is going on for them. (“I imagine that…”).
    (Notice that both steps 1 and 2 start with the word “I”. This is very important. You are not making statements on their behalf. You are only stating what you have observed and what you believe in your brain to be the reason for it.)
    Again, a nice pause allows for them to engage in conversation about what’s going on.

    Step 3 (which I almost never get to, because by now the person has had an opportunity to open up or to correct any misconceptions that I have had) is to state your feelings about it. “I feel…”. NOT “I feel that you…” but truly “I feel….(fill in the blank: lonely, sad, hurt, disrespected). These are your feelings, and they are what they are.

    The other best piece of advice I have gotten for dealing with difficult people is that when you do choose to talk with them directly about their behavior toward you, to leave them an out to save face. People who are cornered will forever feel resentful about it. Planning in advance various actionable truces you can live with gives you something to offer them in acknowledgement that like it our not, they are part of your world for at least the time being, and it’s best for all to be on speaking terms.

  • LM5

    When I arrived at a new unit everyone said “Welcome! But I have to tell you I am never coming to another unit function again – FRG or otherwise.” It was all because of Toxic Spouse. I was the Senior Spouse Advisor for the unit and I told all of them that I would stand by them if they didn’t feel they could participate anymore, but if they wanted to change it together, I would be there with them. My advice to everyone was to have a “catch phrase” ready to use with toxic spouse. If they ended up in a conversation with her and she was negative, gossiped, or started rumors, they could say this catch phrase that was already planned. They said something to the effect: “I disagree with your negative opinion and now I am going to go.” or “I don’t want to listen to gossip (or negativity) and now I am going to go.” Then they had to walk off not staying to listen, argue, or engage in any way, except maybe a “See you later.” Just go. If the conversation was about policy or some event, the spouses reminded toxic spouse that this was not the proper time to talk about that and told her to bring it up at the meeting or in an email to the leader. Then they ended the conversation. The FRG leaders had their planned responses too. If they heard “Why wasn’t I asked, included, told, etc.”, they said “The person responsible took care of it. Now I am going to go.” If there was complaining or rudeness they said something like, “I don’t want to listen to your negativity/rudeness right now and I am going to go.” Then they LEFT, again no arguing, no engagement. I also told the FRG leaders that if they continued to feel bothered by this person to tell toxic spouse to talk to me instead. I told the leaders they had other things to deal with and I would stand in the gap with toxic spouse for them. I had some conversations with toxic spouse about how she wanted everything done. I told her what the Commander’s guidance was and how it was going to be done and if we could use any of her suggestions we did. Once this person could not get a reaction out of anyone, saw the leaders as strong (because they wouldn’t engage with her) and realized she did not have any POWER anymore – she quit. Toxic spouse would meet up with her few other negative friends and bad mouth everything and sometimes the spouses heard it at Bunco, on facebook, wherever, but they could all roll their eyes and smile knowing they had turned their group into a great, functioning, supportive, FRG. Once in a while I would get a message about “people” unhappy, neglected, etc and I would have a conversation with her about what she thought was happening, her suggestions and then what the unit policy was for that situation. I reminded her that “people” could always talk to their FRG leader or me and told her I would talk to Commanders, 1SGs, and FRG leaders about her concern. But the toxic part of it was out of the unit. Amazingly everyone took a stand in their own way and changed the situation for the positive. This is just something that worked at the spouse level, but definitely agree with above that FRG is a COMMAND program that belongs to the Company Commander and we were just supporting the Command actions with ours.

  • Lisa

    Is there policies in place regarding inappropriate behavior of spouses of military members in the FRG? If not,there needs to be and if there are, they need to be followed.

  • berddog2004

    I’m sorry that you have a toxic spouse to deal with. The best advice I could give would be – treat others as you would want to be treated. It’s possible that her opinion may not matter much at home and she is trying to push her opinions onto others elsewhere in order to feel important or needed. Or it’s possible she could be a “Negative Nelly” and that’s just the way she is. If you’ve tried your best to communicate/empower/empathize and her attitude doesn’t change, you may need to ask her to leave. It’s better to toss out one bad apple than to lose the whole tree.

  • OSUwendy

    Dealing with the same issue myself. I am the FRG Leader and I have one wife that causes nothing but grief. She is nice to my face but constantly complains, talks behind my back and points out every mistake or flaw she thinks I make. She was a volunteer but was fired for telling off the Commander.

    I have tried putting myself in her shoes. She is obviously hurting and has very low self esteem. I have tried to reach out to her but she causes me so much anxiety. What I don’t understand is she has started her own “FRG with another wife”. They have their own FB page, have started their own activities and do their own thing yet she still wants to complain about what I am not doing. I try not to have any association with her anymore. I tried being nice, lifting her up, saying good things about her in public and being supportive – it is too exhausting and it doesn’t change things.

    Some people are just jealous and I think this might be the case with this one.. I am a high achiever. I work full time, stay in shape, have amazing kids, successful marriage, immaculate house, gourmet cook and am involved in a lot of different activities. I am educated and I am a Veteran. From the outside she probably thinks I have a “perfect” life or that my life is so easy. This might be what you are dealing with too. You can’t change who you are so you will always have haters out there no matter what you do. I think you are brave for staying on as FRG. When this tour is over, I am done. Too much drama for me.

    I have let the Commanders know that she is still causing grief and creating stories. They are aware of the problem and not afraid to take it to the next level. If you have a good command and good relationship with your commander they can help resolve some of the issues. Don’t be afraid to take it to them. Good luck and thanks for the work you do. It is a tough job with very little appreciation.