4 Ways to Bring Disconnected Spouses in the Loop

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It’s one of the great struggles of modern military spouse leaders: how do we get a generation of spouses who only know to rely on virtual support to come out of their homes and connect in person?

That’s a question Corie Weathers, a licensed therapist and mental health clinician, Army chaplain’s wife and the 2015 Military Spouse of the Year has been thinking a lot about. She wants to see Army marriages last and Army spouses as mentally strong as possible. And she knows that means they need real life, in-person friends in addition to those great virtual support groups on which we’ve all come to rely (like SpouseBuzz).

But she also knows that those military spouses are different from the ones of earlier generations — and that the senior spouses who are often in charge of the programs that help them connect may not understand how to get them involved. We all know that spouses are great at connecting with each other in the midst of a crises. A really tough deployment or a local natural disaster brings people out of their homes searching for that human, face-to-face comfort. But how do make it happen all the time?

It’s not by just ditching all the virtual support and pushing people to only show up for things, Corie said. Instead it’s about combining the two while ramping up the in-person, personal connection efforts. Here are her four suggestions that she gave a few reporters, including your’s truly, at the annual 2015 Association of the United States Army conference.

 

4 Ways to Help Modern Military Spouses Connect

1. Return to some of the small stuff. Corie said we need to bring some of the face-to-face interaction back on the unit or neighborhood level. “We’re talking about things like how do you have a welcome packet that’s delivered to your door where you say ‘Hi, my name’s Corie, if you need me, here’s my number … and if you don’t, that’s OK,” she said.

While the military services do have “sponsor” programs on each base, they often aren’t run well or those who participate don’t follow through. Doing that contact on a unit level could make it even more personal — and better executed.

2. Offer events after hours. “I hear from a lot of spouses ‘the play groups are great … but if they’re not past five o’clock I don’t get to go to them,'” she said. With surveys showing most spouses either employed or wishing they had work, finding time to do events during off-hours is crucial.

3. Ditch the rank-specific events. Corie said while she still thinks the traditional officer spouse level coffee groups serve an important purpose, ignoring rank structure for all other spouse groups is important. “If you listen to the overall culture they’re all saying they’re ready to marry enlisted and officer,” she said. “I think the overall culture is asking for a shift on how we bring all the spouses together somehow.”

4. Help spouses feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Military life is a lot easier to wrangle when you know you’re doing it for a reason. Call it a morale boost, call it mind games, but helping spouses feel like they are a part of something important goes a long way to helping them connect. “I believe that when spouses feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, that’s where they really connect and want to get involved,” she said. “If we can market it in that way, if spouses and families feel like they’re still part of this amazing organization of the military and they get to be part of it, they can feel like they’re part of something great than themselves, and they get to take on this role of being a military family, and they’re going to want to do that again,” she said.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Some Dude

    As a JR E spouse, I see value in giving the more SR spouses something of their own outside of the more businesslike atmosphere of a coffee where folks talk shop. My experience has taught me that the socioeconomic rift is real and trying to make people from such vastly different demographics connect can be as burdensome as what we currently see when rank does play a part. Believe me, I think inclusion is an awesome thing, but as I try to get the Army Officers Wives Club of Greater DC to change their name I am only going after the gender specific part. My reasoning is because I have seen SR spouses or spouses who are married to someone in a leadership position lose friendships over being asked questions about what is going on in command.

    It is also important we know our roles and understand that we are equals, but not always at the same spot or on the same level in life.

    I get her sentiment but I fear if we dont make sure SR spouses keep that a place to sharpen themselves amongst each other, how will they ever sharpen those of us a little rough around the edges? SR spouses need the chance to be unpolitically correct and natural amd raw amongst their peers too. Ive seen too many working hard to keep it together as part of a show as they lead us more JR folks.

    But yes to everything she said. As I listened yesterday to her panel I couldnt help but wonder if part of the problem is we tell people too often to get plugged in. However electronics are what gets plugged in. People step out and step up.

    This lady sounds groovy, man.

    • guest

      I disagree. As an Officer’s spouse, I find I often have more in common with Enlisted spouses, who much more frequently work outside the home. I don’t even both with O-spouse events, unless there is an absolute mandatory fun aspect to them, because I don’t have anything in common with most officer’s spouses.

      • anon

        that’s refreshing. I wish there was someone like this at my base…

      • Enlisted spouse

        It seems you’d only lose friendships that way by having anything to do with command in the first place. I’d never think to ask an officer’s wife what was going on with my husband’s command just like I’d never expect my husband to ask someone at work about my job. It’s not my job period. Why bring that into the friendship?
        And if I did ask for whatever reason, officer spouse should have the foresight to nip that in the bud because it’s none of our business on both sides.

        • jojo613

          I just wish people would stop asking about what other peoples’ husband do for a living anyway! It’s like asking someone how much they make annually. You just should not bring anything like that into any friendship.

          • guest

            Actually asking someone what they make isn’t really considered taboo in civilian jobs anymore (and lets face it in government everyone knows what everyone makes). It’s actually helped to level the employment field in the past 3-5. We typically don’t hire without knowing last employment salary, and I FULLY expect the people I hire to go on GlassDoor etc.

    • Guest

      Well said.

      It is exhausting watching what I say around the junior personnel spouses, just as it is exhausting watching what I say around the CO and General wives.

      There is a reason to have special events where the ranks breakout, and even the command spouses have their own socials where they can let loose and not have to serve as an example to the rest of us.

      I can talk with anyone, and am firm in my stance that spouses have no rank, but they do have responsibility.

      • jojo613

        It kind of makes me sad that people feel that they need to censor themselves around CO spouses. My husband is in command, and I would rather someone be honest with me, and not censor their thoughts than feel that need to watch what they say as to offend me.

        As far as the special events for commander’s/general’s/senior enlisted spouses, they are nice. Just because there are things that you go through when your spouse is command, the command chief, or the first sergeant that the general population of spouses don’t “get.” I certainly didn’t get it, when my husband was not in command. It’s not about letting loose, or being an example, but when your spouse is in command, you kind of lose them to the unit/command. For example, my husband is at a commander’s conference this week here at the base, he is home, but he leaves for work at 6:00 AM, and does not expect to be home until 10:00-11:00 PM at night. I have a capability to do both– go to/host socials for command/leadership spouses AND go to/host socials for all spouses. There is room for both, as long as the socials for all spouses don’t become just spouses of a certain rank. If you are invited and attend– ATTEND… When I host something, I want everyone who is invited to come.

        And you are right there is no rank among spouses.

        • Wayne Perry

          It isnt about censoring themselves around SR folks, its “if we werent part of the military family we wouldnt have anything else in common.”

          It is a hard discussion to have, even moreso on the net, but it is worth having. I find our community tends to go all in on things and while I too believe in dropping rank in nearly every single instance ever…. it is important that birds of a feather do get the chance to flock together.

          Im not trying to take away from what she said in the article because #WoW! She nails it. I just want SR spouses to know we see them too. We see them holding it together for all of us in the corner. Or we see how one command spouse leans on another when tragedy hits another unit.

          It is great to believe in complete unity, but even as a man sometimes I just wanna go chill with the dudes. And talk dude stuff.

          And it isnt that people purposefully bring work to social events. It just happens. And personally, I like when SR spouses let their hair down and kick off their heels. But rightfully so they tend to only do it when they arenin their comfort zone. Typically amongst each other.

          I hope that clears my thoughts up a bit. I just wanna go some place where everybody knows my name. Just like anyone else. #Cheers

      • guest

        This is one of the reasons I don’t like hanging with other officer spouses.

    • the first mel

      I agree command spouses need a group of their own to be real with each other. When my husband was a SgtMaj I attended a few groups for command spouses and it was great to hear the concerns and gripes that were so similar to my own. That group was the only place where people saw me as an equal instead of someone they needed to be careful around. Even where I volunteer one of the active duty volunteers was uneasy around me when my husband was his SgtMaj. No matter what I tried to get him to relax, nothing worked. My husband has since retired and he is still uneasy around me. It’s too bad. I like both him and his wife.

    • Corie Weathers

      I love your comments and agree with them completely! Thanks for listening to the panel- there is so much to talk about and so little time to do it!

  • Sean

    Hey, look at all the male spouses in that picture! Oh wait, there’s isn’t one. Probably because they were never invited to this “spouse function”.

    • jojo613

      According to the people in attendance at this event there were like 7-8 spouses there. I personally would love to invite male spouses, but most of the male spouses do not wish to be on the social roster. Their choice, not mine.

      • Fritz

        It’s a “Catch-22” type scenario. “Spouse” groups, in general, don’t offer anything that most men are interested in so males don’t participate. Since males don’t participate, spouse groups don’t reach out to them. Beyond that, some males spouses have been ignored by FRGs and Clubs, some have been asked not to attend by insecure officers who don’t want “random men” at the same functions as there wives and at least in one case, a male spouse even had nasty notes placed on his car, telling him not to come back because it was his base’s “Spouses Club” was for “women only!”. We often endure more than the occasional “snubbing” by the MilSpouse community and it is an issue that will hopefully be addressed in the future.

        • jojo613

          I had a few men in our unit who planned things, and women attended. You have to try before writing it off as a girly group. Many female spouses are tomboys. I was in the military, I love doing things that make me muddy, sweaty, and fun. I like fishing, I like hiking, I like drinking beer, I like watching football… It’s the assumptions that keep many women and men away. What people have to realize is if they truly want to do the social spouse stuff, they have actually have to be an active participant. If you don’t step up, and plan something you enjoy, it won’t happen. People are not mind readers.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Hey Sean — I was at this event and took this picture — there were a whole bunch of manspouses … if I remember correctly one guy even brought his twins with him. Don’t make assumptions based on a single photo.

      • guest

        But we see in other professions where removing women from visuals related to the profession increase feelings of isolation and exclusion. It’s important to realize what people see has an impact on whether they feel included. Almost every spouse photo on milspouse websites is women. We need more diversity and inclusion. Period.

      • jusmywords

        Was this at JBLM? It looks familiar, and if so I was there and was stoked to see those man-spouses! lol Coming from a sub we don’t see many of those! :)

    • Corie Weathers

      I agree! We need to do more to help our male spouses feel included and welcome!

    • Maddy

      Yes indeed. They keep us safe, the most we can do is make them feel included!

  • Guest

    Activities for spouses can be helpful, but the BEST way to create the opportunity for a mil spouse to fell part of something bigger than themselves is to guarantee (as much as possible) that there will be a JOB available to them everywhere they move, if they are interested in employment outside the home. Some of us work online, others try to find jobs on base, but a huge part of the disconnect is that our military members hit the ground running and instantly have a purpose everyday while we’re left to flounder. It strains relationships when one person feels they have value and the other does not.

    • anon

      well said this person. Exactly…if the military could just allow for that…with the help of the new legislation they are trying to push for split PCS, it really needs to be a reason for wanting (and getting) a split PCS…I read the military.com article and no where did it mention because the spouse of the service member is trying to desperately nail down a job…that would have made my life so much easier about a year ago. I was dumb and thought I would land a job right away no problem. And it still is a fight in our house, because full time work is hard to come by.

  • Thatperson

    One of the things I’ll make a constructive observation on with regards to declining participation: alot of this decline began at the same time there was a huge push for spouses to consider volunteering a “job” and to use volunteering to “fill resume gaps”. What resulted in many cases is you have the wrong people volunteering. They aren’t there to serve anyone but themselves. These sorts of people push everyone out of a natural desire to belong to the organization, because they are not there to be inclusive but there for self gain. I think the way we return to getting more people involved is to ditch this attitude. People need to volunteer because they want to serve, not as some sort of resume bullet. I’ve lead and organized alof of volunteers in my day and every time one comes around looking to beef up their resume I know trouble is afoot for participation. My second observation is millenials almost without exception have no tolerance for hierarchy. They live in a world where information and access are readily available to all, in order to engage them you have to meet them in a flatline stance.

    • anon

      funny thing about that is lots of actual careers don’t see volunteer work at like an frg or frc as work experience, even if you’ve led programs. volunteering doesn’t exactly count as work to many employers.

      • Thatperson

        I 100% concur. When I hire people like to see volunteer work because it tells me something about the character of the individual. But I really don’t consider it at all for competence related to the work they are being hired for.

        • Bob D

          To complete your statement add: unless the volunteer work is directly related to your chosen field of employment.

          • Thatperson

            Agreed.

          • anon

            no, even then it’s like more you didn’t get paid to do this so why should we pay you? you’ll do this work for free…

  • guest

    Wait…1 was actually a thing? He’s coming up near retirement and I’ve NEVER seen or heard of that happening. Heck at the most recent duty station it took me close to a year to figure out how the heck to even make a doctors appointment since his unit had a dedicated team of medical professionals that were outside the main Tricare appointment line.

    2. 100% for sure, nights/weekends is what the current unit does and there is a lot more participation. Even outside of the unit sponsered events we have a rotating group of potlucks with 6 other families on Saturdays only.

    3. Regardless of rank I’ve found dreadfully little in common with most other military spouses. I’ve worked my husbands entire career, sometimes as many hours as he does complete with travel, we didn’t have children until way later in life, I couldn’t give a hoot about clothes, cars, purses, reality TV, or the latest MLM scam (haven’t quite found that chick that prefers hunting and fishing and hiking yet) so that has pretty much always put me as odd woman out at events, and it has nothing to do with rank just life choices.

    I’m already part of something “bigger” then myself, I don’t need the military to be that for me, especially when he’s gone 6 -8 months of every year. You want more participation, deploy less, move less and maybe people wouldn’t be so stingy with the little bits of time they do have with their spouses.

  • Fritz

    Ditching the Officer/Enlisted divide is a great idea but how about we start breaking down all of these divisions? People make assumptions – about a lot of thing. Whether one is a stay-at-home mom of an enlisted service member, or someone married to an officer with a great career, we all endure problems associated with the military lifestyle and these problems can be as diverse as the spouse population. Male spouses are always left out of the equation and when we mention this, we get answers like “We had a beer tasting back in 2004!” The thing is, not all men like beer and not all women like tea-parties. I keep hearing about inclusion and diversity but we are still using the “1962 Betty Crocker” handbook when we try to get spouses together. Reaching out to a community by saying “We’re having a “little black dress” cocktail party on Tuesday!” is not reaching out – it’s throwing a little party based on the whims of the organizers. Without first knowing WHO these spouses are, we’re never going to see the kind of inclusion that is needed within the community.

    • jojo613

      THIS^^^^^

      I am so tired of the assumptions. I don’t care what rank anyone’s spouse is, why should they care who my husband is?!

    • Sean

      Fritz, can I have my Betty Crocker cookbook back? Thanks!

      • Wayne Perry

        He autographs them too.

        #PreachOnFritz

        • Dave

          Sadly, he signs them “Beety”

  • Patsy

    I’m all for leaving rank to the spouses, but I am also all for ditching service-specific stuff. If she’s the military spouse of the year, it’s time to drop the Army specific language and speak to all branches, including reserve and Guard.

    • Wayne Perry

      This lady is speaking my language. I hate trying to remember which resource to guide someone to depending on branch. Great point for here.

    • Corie Weathers

      Thank you for your comment. This interview was at an Army event specifically addressing Army questions and issues. I’d love for you to listen to my Lifegiver podcast (available on iTunes) where I do my best to interview and address other branches. When it comes down to it, though- I’m most familiar to the needs Army branch.

  • jojo613

    Part of the problem is the services are so different based on service too. I am at a “joint” base, and EFMP, is completely DIFFERENT for all branches– Navy has lawyers that go to IEP meetings, AF does not provide ANY education advocacy, the School Liason Officer for the Army will go to IEP meetings, etc… Another example, each branch gets different service hours during deployments. The overall club is joint, even though it is an AFB. But sometimes the services have such different missions and different needs that it can be hard to accommodate everyone.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      There’s actually a push right now to streamline EFMP across the services. I’m really interested in learning more about that.

      • jojo613

        Me too. Personally, the AF often gets the short end on EFMP. I know that when we were having school district problems, I was told that EFMP coordinator could not help us, because we were AF, but she could help an Army family. And when my husband deployed, I could get 10 hours a month of free child care, but if my husband was in the army I would have gotten 40 hours. As the local AMFAS coordinator, it would be nice if stuff was more equal, so I don’t have to look up the regulations for Army and Navy when I’m asked about EFMP services.

        As far as dropping the service connected stuff– there is value in keeping it service orientated. I know that many of my Army friends deploy far more than we do for far longer. My husband often goes on more TDYs stateside than an Army soldier.

  • Meg

    Small events. I am introverted and pretty intimidated by a big group of women who know each other better than I do being boisterous and chatty when I’m trying to get to know people. Big events certainly have their place but casual gatherings of ten people or fewer work well for someone like me, especially if I want to get to know people. I am far more likely to go to a playgroup with 8 spouses than a bunco night with 30. And I hate gatherings that are held under false pretenses (SALES PARTIES). One thing I will never forget was the time I was invited to a Spouse Club meeting that turned into an “impromptu” Scentsy party. We were there for another three years and I didn’t voluntarily participate in ANY gatherings again.

    • Guest

      MLMs are the worst.

      I try and knock sense into my friends before they drink the koolaid on those money sucks, but if I accidentally get invited to one of those ambushes I tear apart the host/consultant on price/value, profit/hours worked and efficacy of the product.

      Everyone says they make a bunch selling this junk, but it’s just not true. Over 90% of MLM consultants lose money, and the bulk of the rest make less than minimum wage while hustling all their friends. It’s awful, and a race to the bottom.