How to support your uniformed partner when you’re not in uniform

Whether you’re new to the military community or you’ve been part of the military family for a while, you might wonder how you can best support your partner in uniform. Military Service Members aren’t often allowed to disclose the details of their jobs, missions, or trainings. This lack of sharing can feel like a barrier to connecting with your partner in meaningful ways, which can contribute to feelings of loneliness and less intimacy. Try these tips to support your partner.

  • Learn more. You’ll probably feel more connected to your partner when you better understand military culture, the different branches of service, your partner’s job title, and as much as possible about basic duties and what military environments are like. Find out what you can about the potential stressors of your partner’s role. Read about security clearances and what they mean for the level of detail your partner can share about work so you’re less prone to hurt feelings.
  • Practice good communication skills. Listen, provide encouragement, and ask some questions when your partner shares information about the job. Ask your partner how you can best give support. Sometimes it can be tempting to offer advice, but it’s often better just to be a good listener. Validate your partner’s thoughts and feelings without judgment.
  • Be flexible. Accept that change is a part of being a military family. Try to adapt to the demands of military life, whether it be your partner working long hours or having to PCS every few years. Brainstorm specific solutions to help solve problems together, such as what school to send your kids to or how to adjust your budget in your new location. After a move, explore new places and activities together to keep your relationship strong.
  • Find connection and support outside your relationship. Other military families, chaplains, healthcare workers, mental health professionals, family members, and friends are all important sources of support you and your partner can talk to. Build up your network with others who know or are learning about military family life.

It can be difficult to support your partner when you don’t fully understand what he or she is going through. Reduce stress and build a connection for you, your partner, and your relationship by learning more about military culture. Read more HPRC articles about military family life here.

Resources

Allen, E. S., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2011). On the home front: Stress for recently deployed Army couples. Family Process, 50(2), 235–247. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.2011.01357.x

Fruzzetti, A. E., & Worrall, J. M. (2010). Accurate expression and validating responses: A transactional model for understanding individual and relationship distress. In Support Processes in Intimate Relationships (pp. 121–150).

Johnson, M. D., Horne, R. M., & Galovan, A. M. (2016). The developmental course of supportive dyadic coping in couples. Developmental Psychology, 52(12), 2031–2043. doi:10.1037/dev0000216

Nicoleau, A., Kang, Y. J., Choau, S. T., & Knudson-Martin, C. (2016). Doing what it takes to make it work. Journal of Family Issues, 37(12), 1639–1657. doi:10.1177/0192513x14543852