Why I Hate Navy Wives – From Guest Blogger Janethegreat

Today’s guest blog from Janethegreat is on a topic that should be near and dear to all our hearts: faux sympathy, empathy and patriotism for those that protect the country and their spouses.

For the record both the writer and soldier mentioned are dear friends. 


Why I Hate Navy Wives

Before anyone jumps to the attack, let me say I have been a girlfriend for eight years and wife for eleven to the same man, a Naval Special Warfare operator. My feelings are not directed against individual spouses but rather the culture of martyrdom, which is propagated at times by us and is embraced or magnified by the civilian community.

Yes, I married a man with a challenging, dangerous job. I don’t want to glamorize him or me – romantic perceptions of my husband’s job exacerbate the very issue I’m writing about. Yes, it’s damn hard work to maintain a healthy family under these circumstances but I went into my marriage with eyes wide open. Other families deal with different, but equally arduous circumstances. I’m not comfortable being pitied or elevated to some lofty level because my husband wears a Navy uniform. I have lost count of how many non-military people (mostly women) ask with incredulousness and/or pity in their voice “Wow, how do you do what you do?” and I never quite know how to respond. Like any other marriage, it’s either mostly good or mostly bad, and if it’s the latter, the couple probably gets divorced.

Recently at the Post Office I saw framed prints of a “prayer for military spouses”. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not terribly inspired by the image of an admiring wife staring up into her uniform-clad man’s face with a soft focus American flag waving in the background. The words did not resonate with me in the least and I don’t remember more than the opening line – something about differentiating between love of family and duty. I’m not sure who’s buying these items because I’ve never seen one in any military home. Mind you, I’m not diminishing personal faith (we have an Episcopal Prayer Book for the Armed Services and prayers 16-23 relate to family). I’d just like to see a more realistic version: a mother sitting alone in an emergency room with a sick child or two and in the background a soft focus takeout carton or empty wine bottle with the words “Dear God, please let me get through this day”.

I cringe when I see ads for Stacker weight loss products or shows like “Biggest Loser” featuring military wives. I briefly attempted watching “Army Wives” but could not bear the ridiculousness. Granted, I approached the show with an ornery outlook and may not have given it a fair shake – but I did notice the conspicuous absence of any actress who looked like she needed Stacker II supplements…

How do we, as military spouses, internally encourage unhealthy self-perception? Two words come to mind as a generalization: wives’ club. At one point there was a joke among my husband’s peers that if you wanted a divorce, get your wife to join the wives’ club. To be fair, I’ve had one very good experience, but unfortunately several bad ones. The best was a gathering of secure, strong women who generally liked each other and had enough in common that we didn’t talk much about our husbands’ jobs. We spoke of common stressors but there was no one-upmanship about who had it harder or easier. We shared difficult feelings but didn’t perseverate on them. My negative experiences with wives groups were characterized by self-congratulatory tendencies, competition, and insecurity. I once commented to another wife that my husband called upon arriving somewhere with her husband. I thought this would be a reassuring update but she became angry because her husband “told [her] that he couldn’t call for while”. These groups can also foment a false sense of strength that is driven by underlying anger: “We are so awesome because we tolerate our husbands’ rotten jobs”.  When surrounded by complaints about your situation, the perceptions of your own experience tend to become more negative. Having a safe place to vent is needed, but these groups can’t (and shouldn’t) screen for membership, so you never know who is in the mix.

I also dislike bumper stickers and T-shirts bearing the words “Navy Wife: Hardest Job in the Navy”. I don’t need to tell the world that I married a sailor and I don’t need affirmation of my commitment. I’m also doubtful that my “job” is actually harder than his. No one is shooting at me and my colleagues when I go to work. My role is legitimately hard in different ways and while I expect acknowledgement and respect from my husband, I don’t demand it from the public at large. My marriage and family life is neither horrifically bad, nor is it highly noble because my husband is a serviceman.

I sometimes think about our current generation of military wives versus older ones. My grandfather enlisted in the Army during World War II – he was 32 years old and married with two young children. My grandmother recalls that his recruiter called to see if she wanted to dispute his enlistment and she declined, knowing full well he would go to war. For over two years she raised her family on food rations and got only a handful of telegrams or the occasional letter, which usually arrived months after it was mailed.  In her era there were no wives’ clubs or sanctioned supports like an Ombudsman – a person (usually a spouse) designated to be the conduit between families and the command. My grandmother never puts herself on a pedestal. She laughs about learning to love liver (an affordable protein source) and still drinks plain black coffee because she got used to having no sugar or extra milk. Even though she’s fifty years older, I sometimes called “Nana” perspective and reassurance during my husband’s last deployment.

As a military spouse I truly appreciate sincere, simple statements like “Tell your husband thanks for his service” or the occasional comped drink. I don’t mind open-ended curiosity because it’s natural for people to be inquisitive about a foreign experience. These questions have a different feel than ones that lead towards an anticipated response. My choices and my commitments are my own – I don’t need reminders or kudos. I live these things on a daily basis and am comfortable with them.



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