Male military spouses cope with added challenges, expert says

  • Published
  • By Elaine Sanchez
  • American Forces Press Service
Brian Campbell knew some challenges were in store for him after he left his Navy career to follow his military wife across the country.

But what he didn't count on were the additional challenges brought on not by his status as a military spouse, but by his gender.

"I was the first (nonmilitary) male spouse in that command ever," Campbell said in a podcast posted on Military OneSource.

Seeking social connections, Campbell looked for a spouses' club at their new installation, but instead, found a wives' club.

"I didn't fit into that organization very well," he said. "In a lot of instances, when you're talking about a spouses' organization, you're going to be the only male in the room."

Campbell eventually found the social interaction he craved by reaching out to men within his wife's command. These connections are vital, he said, and can "help build that social organization that can be lacking for you as a male spouse."

As a small segment of the overall military population, it can be difficult for service members' civilian husbands to figure out where they fit in, but building strong support networks can help to ward off feelings of isolation, said Scott Stanley, a research professor from the University of Denver and a military family expert. According to the 2010 Military Family Life Project, just 5 percent of active duty service members' civilian spouses are male.

"While things have changed a lot in society and changed a lot in the military, it's still more typical for people to think of the male as the warrior," Stanley said in a Military OneSource podcast. "There's a lot to work out and a lot to figure out, and it's clear that it's difficult for some couples."

Stanley cited a study he's part of that's following Army couples over time to gauge how they're doing. Evidence shows that civilian men married to a service member are twice or a little more than twice as likely to divorce, he said.

"It's really clear even in the divorce data that this is something that's even trickier than what the average military couple is going through," he noted.

Part of the difficulty, Stanley explained, is people don't understand the male role when it's the female service member who is deployed.

"A lot of these men are sort of swimming in a whole new part of the pool, if you will, without really knowing exactly where to go or what to do or what sort of supports to seek," he said.

Compounding this, some men may find their spouse role clashes with their sense of who they are as a male, or their perception of who they're supposed to be. And in some cases, he said, men may be less inclined than women to seek support or to open up about their struggles.

"They may feel extra uncomfortable, at least some men might, because of the nature of this: 'Well, my wife is going off to war, and I'm here watching the kids,'" he said.

Military families have access to a vast array of support programs, Stanley noted, however, many are focused on connecting with the service members' wives.

"You have all these support systems where it's really easy for the wife of a service member to walk in the room, immediately see a lot of other people like her, and start connecting in an environment that's been created to be female friendly," he said.

While service members' husbands may feel out of place in these settings, they still can create a strong support network and social connections. Stanley suggested they develop friendships with other couples who have the same dynamic. That way, he said, they'll gain a friend with whom they can "blow off steam," as well as someone who can relate to their complaints and concerns.

Chaplains and counselors, he added, are other avenues of emotional support. People can connect with a counselor through the TRICARE military health care system or through their installation's family support center. People who live away from an installation can call Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647 to connect with a counselor.

Campbell advised his fellow male spouses to look into installation-sponsored trips or to find other men who share the same interests, such as bike riding or chess. The local community also can be a great source of support, he added.

"If you can find an organization, a club, a church, a civic group, something in the local area that you can feel a part of, that's what you need to do," he said. "That's what's important: feeling like you belong in the community."

While male spouses may feel isolated at times, Stanley noted, they're not alone.

"They may or may not be talking about it with other guys, but there are a lot of men out there who are going through this and feeling it," he said.

"But you are really in this," he added, "so you have to kind of figure out what's going to work for you to cope with this in the best way you can at this time, because that's going to be the best thing for your marriage, best thing for your family and the best thing for you down the line."