Kill It With Connection

Spouses Eating

Carrie Livengood has been married to the military for 11 years, stationed at four different bases, gone through two deployments and is prior service. You could call her a ‘seasoned military spouse.’ But she still battles loneliness during deployment.

Jeni Zherebnenko, a reader, has been an Oklahoma National Guard spouse for five years, is prior service, has several family members in the service and is about to face her second deployment. She says feelings of being alone are one of her greatest challenges.

Zherebnenko and Livengood are not the only ones. In our recent poll 26.8 percent of you said loneliness is the greatest deployment stressor on you and your marriage.

Whether National Guard, Reserve or Active Duty, a missing spouse can leave a gapping emotional hole  — and can lead to major emotional and mental stress, military support experts say. We all know that’s true.

But how do you fix it before you go crazy?

The experts say “connect.”  Spouses who link-up with support groups are much more likely to avoid extreme mental stress, says a 2009 study out of the University of North Carolina (UNC). The challenge — and where the military should, but doesn’t always, give its greatest help — is in making that connection.

“There’s a lot of evidence that the better the relationships are … the better (spouses) do,” said Dennis Orthner, who conducted the UNC study. “The more we can do to strengthen those relationships the better … outcomes we get.”

But isn’t that more easily said than done? Military spouses know that finding a supportive group of women who share your interests and don’t cause more drama than they’re worth can be an overwhelming challenge. How many Family Readiness Group horror stories do we know?

The military does offers a variety of counseling programs to make sure spouses have someone with whom to talk, such as the Family Life Consultant service, which has 1,100 consultants available nationwide, and Military One Source, a dial-in help line.

“I think one of the most important things to do first of all is to help spouses understand what they’re going through is normal and they are not alone,” said Mike Hoskins, a Pentagon official who oversees the military and family life consultant program.

But after voting in our poll, many of you said that loneliness isn’t just about pining for lost companionship. It includes, you said, that terrible, overwhelmed feeling that comes from tackling everything — childcare, housework, bills — without your helpmate.

That’s where the power of a support group comes in, said Denise Fettig-Loftesness, a Family Readiness Group official with the Marine Corps in Japan. Counseling can be great, but there’s something particularly powerful about being in a group of people going through the same thing you are. She founded a spouse support group in Japan for III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF) for that very reason.

“When it’s a bunch of women just having coffee it’s not hard to start a conversation,” she said. “We talk about ways we communicate … the spouses have an opportunity to understand what they’re going through better together.”

Charlene Lewis, a chaplain’s spouse at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Wash., started a Bible study for the spouses in her battalion during their Afghanistan deployment last year. Meeting weekly for a faith based activity, she said, helped them deal with the large number of casualties within their unit.

“It was a beautiful time where we were all knitted so closely together,” she said. “Everyone had someone that they could call up, we all prayed together we all received notifications together. We were able to pick up each other. … I knew that deployment was trying, but I was really blessed that we were able to journey and track together.”

Of course knowing that these groups can help isn’t rocket science  — it’s making the effort to find the right group for you that can be tricky. It’s like Livengood, who was a part of the JBLM Bible study, said:

“I definitely could’ve found something else, but it wouldn’t have had that camaraderie and understanding. It definitely would’ve had a little more feeling of ‘well you just don’t get it.’”

But stress, military support experts say, can even cripple a person’s motivation to look for connection. Often those who need the most help, Orthner said, are those who are the most difficult to reach.

That is where other military spouses come in. If you are reading this blog you at least have a desire to reach out to others, if only from the comfort of your couch (and who are we kidding — I wrote much of this while wearing my pajamas). It is people like you that can motivate the most lonely and stressed into action. Tell us — what are some of the best ways you have found to fend off the Lonely Monster?

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Joan D’Arc

    For me, I realized just how helpful it is to live in a military community and/ or be a part of a Family Readiness Group while we were at an ROTC assignment. We lived 3 hours from the nearest military installation and I felt “lost” without that community. My husband was gone for 2 summers while living there and it was really challenging for me to make “connections” like I so easily seem to do in the military community.

    I did have friends in the area, but none of them knew what it was like to have their spouse gone for an extended period of time and do “all things wife and mommy/daddy” while they are away.

    And after 13 years in the Army I have found that the people I connect with at each duty station “make or break” that assignment. It’s important for military spouses to identify their own specific “needs” while their spouse is deployed and then go about having those needs met (i.e. loneliness). Seeking help is extremely important, whether it’s from a professional or someone you can trust.

  • Jeni Zherebnenko

    Joan – That was the hardest part for me, not feeling that connection to other military spouses, you know that feeling that someone understands why you feel the way you do, who can tell you if its normal or maybe you are about to swan dive off the deep end. (I apologize, I have a bit of a gallows humor.) I’m a pretty independant person, and tend to have the “superwoman” complex when hubby is away, but there are those times when as much as my family & friends, including my retired Army sister, want to be there, just look at me having no clue.

    I expected the lonliness from hubby being gone, but unfortunately being a Gaurd family we do not have the blessing of the built in community on post. It is a whole different monster, in my opinion, and even though we were lucky enough to live the next town over from hubby’s unit last time he deployed, he did not go with that unit, but was “loaned out” to another unit, which unfortunately was quite a ways away. Even in his home unit there are guys who come from quite a distance, which can be prohibitive to building relationships that form more naturally when living in the same proximity. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the spouse of one of a soldier from same battalion, different company whose hubby was deployed with mine about 1/2 way through and found this blog. Both were sanity savers to say the least.

    Since his first deployment he’s TDY’d, the battalion has reorganised and with this next deployment he again is being loaned out. Unfortunately I have no idea what my FRG is up to. However, having been through it once before & reading this blog I have learned some of the questions I need to ask, which led to the other factor of my feeling alone: Who do I turn to, to get information, his home unit or the unit he deploys with. I never knew where to go for answers to my questions. He went to drill for the first time this weekend with the unit he is supposed to deploy with, and I asked him to please make sure to bring me back contact information, especially for their FRG. While they are several hours away & I may not be able to make many or any meetings, maybe there will be a spouse or two closer to me who I can get to know. We’ll see.

    In the mean time I will continue rely on my family & friends and lurk on this blog.

  • Jolene

    I agree with your blog and the two comments already posted. My husband is Active Duty Army National Guard. Military life was no surprise to me, we live it every day, unlike other Guard families. An FRG is a great concept. I wish I had the experience of a nearby post to see if it really works. We fell into the FRG Horror Story category. I won’t go there. I always felt (maybe wrongly) that living a military life in a civilian world leaves much to be desired. The civilian world is just not aware of what military families are going through on a daily basis. I don’t fault the civilian world – it’s just a fact.

    I have a wonderful family, great church family, and great friends. But even with all of the “support” – I still found that no one understood. Sometimes it was just too much work to explain what I was feeling or what was needed.

    I found online resources were my best friends through the year, especially the site – it was my saving grace! Finally a place where real military spouses were chronicling their real military experiences intertwined with their faith. Without that site and the few women who did reached out and formed a small long-distance (mainly email) bond in our “FRG” , I don’t know how I would have made it through.

    I am glad that I am not alone in recognizing this gap – I wish I had a better idea of how to fix it so other families don’t have to experience the same!

  • Jeni

    Thanks for the link to wives of faith. I checked it out & have joined. What an answer to prayers, thanks again.