Written by: Kalin Goble, M.S.
My fiancé recently applied for a position within his company that would put him on the night shift for the next two years. When he was on that shift before, it had adversely affected his mental health. I full-heartedly supported him and his ambition for a senior management role. But I was anxious about him going back to work that shift. I was nervous about the changes it would require of our lives and routines.
Framing within Military Life
While reflecting and processing my feelings about how his employment changes would impact our lives, I thought of the lives of our military families. The fear of the unknown and the looming stress of potentially managing daily life alone is felt by many spouses/partners of service members. They each hold unique experiences and daily lives that deviate from the expected norms of a 9 to 5.
Their lifestyles are shaped by:
- Frequency and length of spouse’s/partner’s deployment,
- Their branch of the military,
- Number of children,
- And the spouses’ own employment, employer, and job status
The impacts of these factors often take a toll on mental health.
One of the things that can be so difficult to deal with is the lack of knowing when those things are going to happen. Even though the military does attempt to establish dates for major things like deployments, those often tend to wiggle around quite a bit. And it can be very frustrating as a family to not know where you are going to be living in a couple of months.” – Jennifer Novak, Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders and Military Life OneOp webinar
Emotional and Psychological Stress
“Military families move, on average, every 2.5 years, every move bringing great change and the need to start anew for each member of the family” (1). Separation from the service member during deployments or training can be emotionally challenging for spouses.
Disconnected from Traditional Support
I moved away from my closest friends and family when my fiance and I bought a house. So, when thinking about his potential new shift, I also thought of how my responsibilities and availability would transform.
Military communities can, and often do, provide a sense of camaraderie. Yet, some spouses may feel isolated or struggle to connect with others. Especially when away from family and friends. The transient nature of military life can make it difficult to build lasting relationships when away from traditional support systems.
Importance of Mental Health and Well-Being
Military life is a culture in and of itself. Additionally, partners often balance loving their service members, supporting their children, and finding ways to love and support their mental health.
Mindfulness techniques such as observing one’s inner experiences (feelings, emotions) and nonreactivity (capacity to regulate feelings/emotions) lead to enhanced mental well-being and improved parenting relationships and practices (2). Discussing routines with my partner, voicing my feelings, and talking through how things would be different (and protective factors) with my provider helped me feel more comfortable with the possible changes that were coming our way. Working with clients to strengthen foundational mindfulness and well-being skills strengthens the whole family. For providers, addressing challenges with military family members requires ongoing support and resources from military and civilian communities.
Efforts to enhance policies that support the direct needs of military families are also vital. The DoD is surveying military spouses via their 2024 Active-Duty Spouses Survey. If you work with military spouses, bringing their attention to this survey will allow them to share their experiences of their strengths and where they need support regarding their lifestyle.
Flexibility is a part of the lives of the service providers supporting military spouses/partners. Knowing when and how to refer clients prepping for a PCS or when they/their parents are called to active duty are opportunities to offer support.
OneOp has programming for military spouses and around military relationships and family support. Below are webinars you can watch around this area of support:
- Webinar | Public Health Approaches to Suicide Prevention: Working with Military Spouses and Families
- Webinar Series | A Close Look at Relationships: Supporting Military Couples
- Webinar | IECMH: Practical Strategies to Support Attachment Relationships
(1) Military Family Advisory Network, n.d. Moving and PCS, Effects of Moving on Military Families
(2) Zhang, N., Zhang, J., Gewirtz, A. H., & Deater-Deckard, K. (2024). Linking observing and nonreactivity mindfulness to parenting: Moderated direct and indirect effects via inhibitory control. Journal of Family Psychology, 31(6), 1090-1102. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0001152