Battling against military spouse stereotypes

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Battling against military spouse stereotypes

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Okinawa

When my husband joined the military years ago, I had no clue what to expect. Visions of spouses dressed in their finery with pearls draped around their neck danced in my head. As we delved into the military experience, I was happy to see the visions in my head were nothing but old-fashioned stereotypes. However, this isn’t anything new. Being a military spouse means battling your way through a barrage of different epithets and negative connotations. It can be a lot to deal with, from the derogatory term of being a “dependa” to the portrait of ultimate entitlement. Here are some ways to fight back against the stereotypes.

Please don’t buy into it. In the event you haven’t heard the term “dependa,” here’s a quick rundown of the slur: A slovenly, obese spouse with a brood of unkempt children who tricked her spouse into marriage for benefits and money. This spouse is often depicted as a gold digger who is unfaithful to her spouse and eventually divorces the active-duty service member and bleeds him dry financially. You can see where the red flags are. While the stories are out there, a good majority of military spouses fall very far from this description. Most are just regular, everyday partners doing the best they can with the situation presented to them. If you refuse to buy into the stereotype, it helps reduce any veracity to the claim.

Stop the gossip. As humans, it’s easy to have a penchant for drama and gossip. Especially when it has nothing to do with you. Unfortunately, the hot tea you spilled about your neighbor or fellow spouse has real consequences and can assign a negative label that is hard to shake. If you take a moment and stop it when it reaches you, it helps protect that spouse and shows kindness and trustworthiness on your part.

Don’t assume anything. A friend of mine recently went to a workshop at a helping agency where someone told her she shouldn’t be looking for employment. She should relax, enjoy the European vacation and live off her husband. Offended, my friend informed the employee that she wanted to work and that it wasn’t fair to assume that she depended solely on her spouse. Making these types of assumptions perpetuates negative stereotypes. By knowing the whole story, it helps put those misgivings to rest.

Be compassionate. We’ve all been the new spouse in the unit. We’ve all had rough days dealing with extended TDYs, unexpected deployments, sick children or pets and the veritable loneliness that occurs from time to time. Rather than label someone, try a little extra compassion. Remember the moments you’ve had and how you’d feel if someone judged you unfairly on your worst day.

Find a new perspective. Let’s face it; we’re all guilty of labeling fellow spouses at some point or another. For instance, there was a spouse I’d met who was challenging to get along with. This person was constantly negative and couldn’t understand why things didn’t work the same in our host country as they did in the States. Admittedly, I would get frustrated and continually think of this spouse as entitled and choosing not to embrace the local culture. However, after one particularly contentious meeting, I took a step back to try and see things from this person’s perspective. After realizing there were many family issues and adjustments to living overseas, it gave me a better understanding of this spouse. I was able to figure out how to communicate better without jumping to the wrong conclusion.

Military spouses are most definitely not one-size-fits-all. We come from incredibly diverse backgrounds, stay home, go to work, run our businesses, create amazing things, raise families, travel and so much more. There’s no mold to fit into and nor should there be. Stand up to the stereotypes and just know that you are much, much more.

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