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Sometimes referred to as “invisible spouses,” the male counterparts of servicemembers carry a heavy load and often go unrecognized.
Each November during Military Family Appreciation Month, pink-branded ads and articles go out signaling support for female military spouses while men doing the same job are somewhat overlooked.
Military families come in endless shapes and sizes, but they all share common experiences. They know what it means to come together as a family unit to make it through long trainings and deployments. They learn how to overcome physical distance creative communication tactics and teach their children the value of sacrificing personal time to serve something greater than themselves.
Military spouses—both men and women—keep their households running while their loved ones are away—an act of service and sacrifice in its own right. They provide the invaluable emotional support that is so vital to service members’ mental health and well-being and put in the behind-the-scenes work that often goes unseen and uncelebrated.
This month, we’d like to recognize the hard-charging men who take up the baton at home while their spouses serve our country. In this post, we’ll discuss one of the most common struggles male military spouses face and offer tips for thriving through them.
The Importance of Developing Community for Male Military Spouses
According to an article on male military spouses by Sgt. 1st Class Corinna Baltos and her husband, Peter, “While men share the same experiences as their female counterparts, they often feel left out of the military community because the built-in social network is more or less set up for women.”
“While nearly every military unit and base have some sort of spouses’ organization or Family Readiness Group (FRG) to help spouses integrate, they can feel alienating to some men. Many male spouses frequently avoid joining spouse groups or attending unit activities because they feel like it isn’t for them.”
Rather than turning away from the female-dominated community, however, Peter Baltos worked to make the FRG at Fort Bliss more inclusive as the organization’s sole male leader.
Other male military spouses find community in their friends or work groups, but frequent PCS moves can make it difficult to maintain and cultivate new friendships.
In a recent Healthline article, male focus group participants discussed the challenges of making friends. Here’s what they said:
- Making friends as an adult man is hard and
- They may want more friends, but they really want deeper
- They speak wistfully about their high school buddies or college bros and wish things could be like that again.
- The idea of “making friends” is mysterious and serendipitous.
The article goes on to identify two approaches to making and keeping fruitful friendships:
- Keep showing up. Find a practical way to be in the same place with other people you respect and like and make it your new hangout spot.
This will work, but it’ll most likely take a lot of time and is particularly difficult for military spouses who are often on the move and have friends who live across the country.
- Get vulnerable. The other option is to learn and practice the skill of being direct, honest, and asking for what you need. In other words, practice vulnerability.
In a nutshell, vulnerability is the willingness to be uncomfortable and to sit in that discomfort long enough to make a connection. On that subject, the article’s author offers the following advice:
The discomfort includes the willingness to be in an awkward moment, the willingness to be rejected, and the willingness to share what’s true.
But here’s the cool thing: Men have a long history of doing uncomfortable things to better their health. We do hill sprints, we sit in ice baths, we drink terrible protein shakes.
In a way, seeing how uncomfortable we can be is a pretty common male trait. It’s culturally accepted. Now we just have to co-opt it for our social and emotional health.
Finding friends is awkward. Here are some tips on how to do it, anyway:
Since 92% of military spouses are women, the likelihood of finding other male spouses stationed at your base may be low, but there are several online communities for male military spouses. For example, Macho Spouse is a popular Facebook group.
It’s also a good idea to check out your local FRG. Expect the majority of participants to be women, but you can also expect to connect with other spouses and talk about your shared experiences (like using your VA home loan benefits and navigating the homebuying process through long deployments).
When it comes to finding friends the old-fashioned way, start by identifying a few people in your life you’d like to be closer to (if you’re brand new to a city, build a hypothetical example of someone you’d like to meet). This could be a specific work colleague or simply the idea of someone who plays club league soccer or shares one of your common interests.
Here comes the hard part—being vulnerable. The next step is to reach out and make a connection. Ask your potential work friend to grab lunch. Go out and sign up for club soccer and see who you meet.
Tamara Tapman is a military veteran’s community representative and certified Texas Real Estate Commission Mandatory Continuing Education (MCE) instructor. As the former Mortgage Lender Liaison and Branch Manager at the Texas Veterans Land Board for more than two decades, she has been a devoted military advocate, helping veterans to take advantage of their benefits and obtain low-interest home loans.