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What Not to Say to a Military Spouse

1. “But, that war is over.”

When my husband was serving his fourth deployment, his second in Afghanistan, a stranger in the doctor’s office asked me why he was there, and added, “But we pulled out, that war is over!” I reminded her that no, we pulled out of Iraq, not Afghanistan, and given the explosives constantly hurled in my husband’s general direction, I’d have to argue that we’re still at war. I truly appreciated her concern, but let’s study up on our foreign conflicts, or at least read a newspaper before we make statements like that.

2. “Do you really think the military is the right environment to raise a child?”

Yes. There are moments it’s awful, and my heart breaks for what they go through, and I silently loathe myself for allowing them to endure it. Our oldest son has been through all four deployments with me since he was 5 weeks old, and it rips me apart to see him say goodbye over and over again. But the thing about this lifestyle is that it strengthens our children, makes them flexible and tighter-knit as siblings, and kind to the new kids in school. Trust me, I grew up this way, too, and we’re teaching our kids about service, sacrifice, duty and love.

3. “Can’t you just go visit him?”

Prior to deployment number four, a friend of mine was solicited by an overzealous timeshare salesman. When she told him that they weren’t in the position to buy a timeshare right now, her husband was deploying in the next few weeks, he proceeded to tell her that it was the perfect time to buy one. “After all, you could use it to visit him in Afghanistan! I believe we have a few units there!” Dude, this is war. Not Club Med.

4. “You must think men in uniform are sexy!”

Well, yeah! Except for one thing: It’s not that I find any man in uniform sexy, it’s that my man in his uniform robs me of just about every thought. It’s not about the uniform, but the guy wearing it. I also like my husband in a suit, a tux or even his worn-out hoodie. This military gig only lasts about 20 years, and I’ll find him sexy long after we retire the uniform.

5. "Don’t all military wives cheat when their husbands are gone?"

No. Just, no. Sure, we get lonely, but that’s why we have Skype, email, text messages and phone calls. I’d rather wait forever and have my husband. Besides, he’s already house-trained, why would I want anyone else?

6. “Oh, 'Army Wives,' just like the TV show?”

While out with friends in my husband’s hometown of Scranton, Penn., two ladies went on to tell me they knew all about our life because they tuned in to the show every week. My reply? “Our life is just as much like that TV show as vampire-slaying is to Buffy.” I’m not against the show, or for it. But it’s a drama, ladies, not real life. However, I wouldn’t turn down hair and makeup professionals every day. Oh, and the friendships? Those are real.

7. “Man, I wish my husband would deploy.”

Oh, but you really don’t. Another army wife said this to me during the 18 months between deployments three and four, when he was gone more for training than home, and I basically bit through my tongue. No matter how annoyed you are at your husband, or where he left his boxers, there’s no amount of “needing a break” that would constitute wanting to put his life in danger through a deployment. Ever. A weekend TDY so you can catch up on the "Vampire Diaries"? Yeah, I get that.

8. “Where can I get that pretty gold star pin?”

That pretty gold star is the most expensive pin known. As the mark of a Gold Star Wife, it costs the life of your spouse. The woman wearing it has paid her highest sacrifice in the cause of our nation. Maybe you wouldn’t think of this woman a military spouse any more, since she is technically a widow, but we, the other spouses, always will see her as a sister. And these pins don’t just designate widows, but also the parents and next-of-kin of these deceased heroes. You really don’t want one.

9. “ I know just how you feel, my boyfriend has business trips all the time.”

My eyebrows always go up at this one. Unless your boyfriend is getting shot at in meetings in Cincinnati, then you can’t really know exactly how I feel. Heck, I don’t know how you feel. And no, being gone for a week or two does not in any way equal 9 to 18 months of a deployment, and missing years out of our kiddos’ lives. Missing someone is a universal feeling, yes, but let’s not compare apples to turkeys.

10. “Marriage must be so much easier when he’s not home to annoy you!”

One of my closest friends said this to me in a moment of marital non-bliss. Military marriages have their challenges, too; our divorce rates are similar to our civilian counterparts. While he may not be “annoying” me, our five kids have three different hockey teams, the washer is broken and I’m mentally blaming my husband for one of our sons telling me that I’m just not as fun as dad. Sure, we have the utter elation and honeymoon period after a homecoming, but we also have to learn to live together again after adjusting to being self-sufficient for so long. We nurture our marriage through love letters, care packages, Skype dates and getaways once they’re home. It’s in no way “easy,” but it is always worth it.

11. “So, has he killed people?”

Well, he flies a 61-million-dollar death machine, do you really want to ask this? Secondly, what answer are you hoping for here? Let’s just say he’s good enough at his job that you can sleep safely, but sometimes he’s the one having trouble sleeping at night.

12. “Have you thought about getting in shape during deployment and surprising him?”

Wait. Did you just insinuate that I’m fat? Really, a lot of spouses make the drive toward getting healthier during a deployment, it’s actually easier without your husband bringing you ice cream. In fact, I dropped 70 pounds during the last deployment. But no, I didn’t surprise him, because I needed his support and encouragement when I started running like a madwoman. But mostly because I wanted him to recognize me quickly at the homecoming ceremony.

13. “Aren’t you scared he’ll die?”

Yes. Constantly. It’s why I can’t sleep when he’s deployed, why the first thing I do in the morning is check my texts, emails and Facebook messages. Then I check the news, and if I haven’t heard from him, I start Googling “helicopter crash, Afghanistan.” But just in case you caught me in one of those rare moments that I’m not thinking about it, well, now I am. So, thanks.

14. “Will he ever get that scar fixed?”

My husband has a six-inch scar down his neck from being in a landmine explosion during his first deployment, the first year of the Iraq war. When an acquaintance asked if it could be surgically corrected for cosmetic reasons, I told her that I barely see it any more. It’s simply a part of him. When I do “see” it, that scar reminds me of how close I came to losing him, those millimeters that spared his life. It’s a living memorial to the medevac crew that landed in a hot LZ to get to him, only to fall a few months later. So no, we won’t be removing it. Besides, scars are sexy.

15. “You knew what you were getting into.”

Ah, my biggest pet-peeve comment. No military spouse ever really “knows.” Even growing up as an army brat, the emotions of a child with military parents are completely different from a spouse whose husband goes to war. No amount of “knowing” can prepare you for the fears, the responsibilities, or the loneliness of a deployment. It’s impossible to know how you’ll react to that situation until you’re in it.

16. “I could never do that.”

You could. If the man you loved also happened to wear the uniform, you could do it. Military wives are just normal women who fell in love with extraordinary men. We may endure hardships, but we also know beautiful moments of joy. Our ups and downs may be a bit more dramatic than civilian relationships, but they’re no more or less as beautiful as your own, and if you had to live this life, you would find the strength to do so. I honestly never wanted to, having grown up in it, but after 12 years of being an army wife and loving this incredible man, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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