The Challenge of Making New Friends as a Military Spouse

I stood on tiptoe at the edge of the crowd, craning to see my girls march out with their Irish Dance group at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Ramstein, Germany. My husband had recently deployed, and both of my older kids were at work. As I often do, I stood alone, solo parent style.

Suddenly, my friend Laurie appeared at my elbow. “Are we too late??” she asked breathlessly. Stunned, I looked past her to see her husband and another friend Susie, who was accompanied by her husband. Tears sprang to my eyes as I made room for them. Speechless for once, I looked at Susie.

“We wouldn’t have missed this for the world!” sang out my sister from another mister.

It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was to me. I know how busy families get with their own lives, how busy mine gets. But these families knew how much my girls were missing their Daddy. So they took time out of their busy Saturday to watch my kids make their way—a bit clumsily, but with the biggest smiles pasted on their faces once they spotted our friends—through their first Irish Dance performance. I will love them forever for that.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  (Maya Angelou)

Even though I grew up near a military base, I honestly had no clue when I was young about what military or other transient families went through. People would move in and out of our town. Some of them became my closest friends. But I never thought about how hard it must have been to start over. Again and again.

Now, I get it.

I know what it feels like to constantly be new, to feel alone though surrounded by people. To wonder…Will I make a friend here? Or will this be a duty station I just get through? To know that paralyzing insecurity and loneliness. To trust that it will get better, like it always has….but that for right now, at this moment, it just really really sucks. To wish I could gather up all of my wonderful friends from around the world, and fill up a room with them and sit. And visit.

With no goodbyes.

That would be the best.

In spite of the difficulties, in spite of the goodbyes, in spite of locations where I couldn’t seem to connect (OR got close to someone right before one of us moved—I hate when that happens!), I know the time invested in friendship is worth it.

I’ve heard some military spouses say they are fine on their own or they don’t want to get hurt by having to say goodbye yet again.

I hear you.

But I will challenge you to take another look. Friends can be what make an austere location bearable. When memories of a location or assignment fade, friends will be what you remember.

I’ve had friends watch my kids while I was ill, and I've checked the porch of a friend late at night to verify it wasn’t really a robber but a blowing tree branch instead when her husband deployed. That's what true friends do.

While on bed rest years ago with a complicated pregnancy, one sweet friend (Phyllis!) showed up at my door with a cleaning caddy on her arm and announced she was there to clean my bathrooms. She didn’t wait to be asked—she just came. She scrubbed the holy heck out of my bathrooms while I lay on the couch, humbled by her kindness. (Phyllis, you know I love you and will never forget this!) In fact, she brought us so many meals during that time that we now have names for certain items that she gave us the recipes for—“Phyllis ribs” and “Phyllis beans.” (P.S. she is an outstanding cook!)

My friend Kim and I met at a duty station when our kids were all small, stayed in touch after we both PCS'ed and even visited through the ensuing years, then reconnected later at another duty station--both our homes full of teens by that point. Though we've been long distance friends for a couple of decades now, time and distance make no difference when it comes to, in the words of Anne Shirley, bosom friends. I have been singularly blessed by these life-long friendships.

Did you know that studies show that those with active friendships live longer than those without a circle of friends? Having friends is even linked to a decreased rate of depression. I’ve learned so much from my sweet friends, including how to be transparent, how to laugh at ridiculous circumstances, when to shut up and when to speak, and most of all, how much I need these wonderful people in my life!

This all sounds well and good, you're saying. But I just moved here and don’t know a soul!

How do you make meaningful connections when you have to start over and over again?

I’ve been there. I know the feeling of loneliness when the dust settles after a move, your kids and spouse are caught up with their own activities and busy schedules, you haven't found your place or can't find work yet, and there you sit…alone. I’ve also learned to be quite specific about praying for God to bring me a friend or to have great neighbors!

So…How Do You Find Friends?

There are no easy fixes, but here are a few ideas if you are trying to connect without success:

  • Check your installation’s paper, Facebook page, or website for lists of spouses’ groups or clubs.
  • Visit your local library or coffee shop and check their bulletin board or newsletter for like-minded groups (I found a great homeschooling group—and friends—this way from a flyer I saw at Starbucks!)
  • Get off the base! Visit the local sights and get yourself out there. Invite a neighbor or acquaintance to explore with you.
  • Most military installations have briefings for new military spouses or those who've recently moved to an area. The active duty member should be receiving this information, but if not, can easily find out for you. Ask your spouse to remind you when there’s one coming up, gather up your bravery, and go! You never know who you might meet.
  • Volunteer. This is one of the best ways I’ve found to meet others. Working together for a common cause is one way to break the ice.

And are worth knowing!

Are you lonely? Look around. I’d bet there are other military spouses who are lonely, too! There are potential friends all around. Sometimes it takes so little to reach out: take a chance, ask someone over for coffee, knock on a new neighbor’s door, make a point of saying hello. Try it—you might be surprised! 

For more content like this, I invite you to take a look at my book, You Are Not Alone, now available in print and Kindle!

About Me: As a milspouse of nearly 30 years, I'm also now the mom of an active duty son. We've been through what many military families go through: years of separation due to deployments and TDYs, frequent relocations, separation from extended family, hoping we're doing right in raising our military kids...all of it.  

We've been stationed all over the world, including several overseas assignments, and I know what it is to start over and over and OVER again. 

I can look back now and recognize one thing I wish I'd known as a young military spouse...that I wasn't alone. That the experiences we faced were common to other military families and I wasn't crazy! It took me some time to realize that. 

I hope I can be that person for you--the one to let you know you're not alone and to whisper, "You've got this!" during the hard times. I'm here to tell you that you can not only survive military spouse life, but thrive and create your own wonderful life.