Coping Spouse 101

5 Ways to Manage Military Spouse Stress

By: Dr. Kendra Lowe, Air Force Spouse

Over the past 15 years as a soldier, spouse and researcher I have become increasingly aware of and concerned by, the amount of stress suffered by military spouses.

My concern did not come about hastily, but rather through the accumulated experience of my mother, mother-in-law and sister-in- law. We have all shared the role of being the spouse of an active duty member.

More broadly, as military spouses, we all experience the best and worst military life has to offer.

It was through these shared experiences that I began to study and later research the trials and tribulations expressed by those whose lives are dedicated to their families while married to a spouse serving in the United States Armed Services.

What I found is astonishing.

Drawing upon the ratings of more than 200 military spouses, the data suggests that at any given time, 27% of military spouses report significantly high levels of stress. Furthermore, of this group, 20% have a higher, more clinically significant, level of stress.

The following graph helps visualize the magnitude of my findings.

Dr Kendra Lowe Graph

In short, this research suggests that at any given point in time a substantial portion of military spouses exhibit measurable signs of moderate to clinically significant levels of stress.

“At any given time, 27% of military spouses report significantly high levels of stress.”

In other words, approximately one in four military spouses wake up every day under a heavy layer of stress which builds day-by-day, week-by-week and year-by-year.

Unsuspectingly, many military spouses perceive such stress as normal, unaware of how dangerously close they are to clinically significant levels of emotional, social, or physical distress.

A touching encounter with an exceptional military spouse reflects such concern. After completing several research questionnaires, one military spouse asked if it was okay to talk privately.

Of course, I agreed.

During our hour-long discussion, she admitted that she had always felt an obligation to uphold the strong “image” of a military spouse. When applied to military spouses such labels as Spartan wives, unsung heroes, and pillars of strength, while honorable in intent, may have unforeseen consequences of sizable portion for military spouses.

As noted by this spouse:

“You brace yourself for the big stuff: the year-long deployment, the pending PCS, the fear of death, but it’s the everyday stuff that wears you down. Certainly a resilient military spouse should not be brought to her knees when her five-year-old son sobs when he has to say goodbye to his best friend due to an unexpected move. But it did. It was difficult to admit this to anyone, but not knowing how to deal with the “small” stuff seems to affect me the most.”

As the above self-report suggests, stress isn’t a thing but rather an accumulation of a lot of things.

As a consequence, it can impact your mental wellness, emotional stability and physical health.

The greatest weapon to combat these negative consequences is to recognize the symptoms of stress and equip yourself with ways to cope when they occur.

Here are 5 key ways to fight and manage military spouse stress:

1. Be aware

Reading this article hopefully increases your awareness that spouses are currently functioning at significantly high levels of stress. Share this awareness by talking with other military spouses about stress.

Help validate everyone’s unique struggles.

2. Be accepting

Acknowledge that your role as a military spouse places you under a tremendous amount of stress; do not minimize the challenges your role presents. Recognize that stress comes in MANY different shapes, sizes, and colors, and affects us all differently.

What may not be stressful to you could be another military spouses’ personal hell.

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