‘Happy wife, happy soldier’: How the relationship between military spouses and the military institution influences spouse well-being

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The family and the military are both “greedy institutions” (Segal, 1986) and their competing demands can lead to conflict between work and family life for personnel. The demands of the military can also extend to military families via experiences of relocation, separations and reunions, and deployment, resulting in poorer mental health and well-being among military spouses. An additional, but under-researched, stressor for spouses is the relationship they have with the military as an institution. Military policies and procedures rely on personnel to be the conduit between the military and families, preventing spouses from feeling that they are fully participating in the military community. The community established by the military on-base can result in spouses being subject to gendered expectations to provide a range of gendered, informal support services and roles for other families. While most of the research in this area has been conducted in the US, this study explores experiences of the relationship between UK military spouses and the military institution and the perceived influences on spouse well-being.

The findings indicate that tensions between the boundaries of the military and the family, and the participation of Service personnel in both institutions, can influence the well-being of UK military spouses. Challenges to identity arising from institutional practices that bonded spouses with Service personnel in everyday military life and expectations to “assume rank” by performing informal, unpaid roles indicates that the two-person single career is still evident within the UK military community. Participants described a perceived lack of agency because of the control the military wields over daily life and the resentment this could cause, not only toward the institution but toward Service personnel. Yet despite these negative influences, the military institution was seen to provide a sense of connectedness for spouses through a community established by military housing, with isolation and disconnection described by those housed at a physical distance from the community. Proposed changes to military housing in the UK may mean that spouses no longer receive one of the most positive influences on well-being, with potential impacts on how military families come to view the benefits and losses of military life.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Politics of Military Families. Tensions between State, Work Organizations, and the rise of the Negotiation Household
ISBN (Electronic)9780429026492
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


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