Can I be friends with an officer’s wife?

(Photo: Unsplash, Sam Manns)

This is an opinion piece that does not necessarily reflect the views of MilitaryOneClick.

Whether or not military spouses like to admit it, there is a divide between the enlisted and the officer community. If you aren’t aware of the division, it may be because you’re an officer’s spouse.

As an enlisted spouse, I have seen this divide at one duty station after another during my husband’s 17 year military career. It’s an unfortunate element of military culture.

On military bases, housing neighborhoods are divided by rank, with officer housing typically in a separate area from enlisted housing. Enlisted families don’t often venture to officer housing without an invitation.

The military rules of fraternization don’t make enlisted-officer friendships easy. My husband rarely invites officers to our house. Since the officers are the ones filling out his FitRep (annual review of his work performance), it’s against the rules to be too friendly with his supervisors. Although some military wives get a bad reputation for claiming their spouse’s rank, my experience has been that very few people actually do this. But I frequently hear officer wives complain that they are avoided by some who are intimidated by their rank. Yes, that is a real thing. Let me explain why it happens.

I thought military spouses don’t have a rank?

Although the military can set rules for fraternization among service members, the good news is that there is no rank among spouses. When I meet another military spouse, we talk about normal things: children, recipes, hobbies, local activities, etc. We could chat for an hour without rank ever coming up. And that’s a good thing! For the most part, we all want more friends, regardless of what our husbands do for a living.

But here’s where things get tricky. What if I (an enlisted spouse) meet another nice mom at the playground. We want to hang out again for coffee or a playdate … then I discover that she is an officer’s wife.

Is it ‘dangerous’ for an enlisted spouse and an officer spouse to be friends?

I can tell you what will happen next. As an enlisted spouse, I am intimidated by high-ranking officer wives. Even if they are friendly and welcoming, I know my place. If I make a rude comment or offend an O-4 wife, it could have negative repercussions for my husband’s career.

For us, there is a danger when I befriend an officer wife.

I know there are some who will judge me for saying this, so let me explain why this is real. Years ago, when my husband was an E-6, I became casual friends with an officer’s wife from his unit.

My husband was scheduled to return early from that deployment because I had given birth while he was gone. He told me he gave up his seat for the officer. I’m still not sure why, since the officer didn’t have a new baby.

This meant I had to wait an extra month for my husband while caring for three young kids. Meanwhile, the officer’s wife was posting family pictures and joyous moments all over her Facebook page. Was I angry and jealous? Yes. So I stupidly posted a sarcastic comment on one of her pictures: “Enjoy your family time, because my husband gave up his seat for yours.”

Yes, it was dumb, and I’m not proud of that comment. I’m just telling you the facts.

The wife did not reply. Instead she told her husband. The officer waited a few weeks until my husband returned from deployment. Then, the first day back, he called him into his office, chewed him out, and threatened to revoke his post-deployment leave. All because of one stupid Facebook comment. My husband came home furious at me for not holding my tongue.

So when I tell you that enlisted-officer friendships are dangerous for an enlisted spouse, I’m speaking from experience. The sad fact of military life is that one wrong comment from a spouse can impact a service member’s job.

So: should enlisted spouses avoid officer spouses?

As we have gotten older, the number of available friends in my husband’s rank has grown increasingly smaller. It is sometimes slim pickings. We are now at a point where I often have more in common with an O-2 or O-3 wife than an enlisted wife. (I have a Master’s degree, a job, and four school-aged kids). I now have some great friendships with several officer wives. But I also have rules:

  • Approach an officer friendship carefully. Always let them make the first move.
  • Don’t invite them to your house until they have invited you to theirs.
  • Don’t friend them on Facebook unless they friend you first.
  • Do not discuss the service member’s job or repeat things your spouse tells you, especially if they are in the same unit.
  • If there is tension or drama for any reason, work to resolve it quickly without getting the service members involved.

I’m sure that officer wives are not aware of these rules, and that’s okay. I don’t blame them. There isn’t as much risk in the friendship for them. But these are my recommendations for any enlisted spouse who wants to be friends with an officer spouse.

What do you think?

By Lizann Lightfoot,

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6 Replies to “Can I be friends with an officer’s wife?”

  1. Stupid comments by what i can assertain is an immature woman based on her “rules”. Growing up as an the son of a career enlisted Air Force man and then retiring myself from the Army as an officer I can say that I’ve seen my share of officer/enlisted relationships. If you are foolish enough to avoid meaningful relationships because of your fear for reprisals on your husbands/wife’s careers then all the more power to you. Don’t spread fear amongst your peers though. It is both illegal and immoral for officers to hold military members accountable for things like you describe in your story. Both my wife and I continue to have amazing relationships with people from multiple rank structures. The people who have problems are the ones who want to create this artificial caste system among family members for some unknown reason. Be a normal human and enjoy normal human interaction and everything will be fine.

    1. Completely agree. And I’m an officer’s wife of the non-traditional type; my husband is an Army dentist, so a lot of the rules are very lax in his command. I have enlisted and officer wife friends. The divide that this article talks about should not be taken as the norm in the military community. Yes, I feel as though I would not have as many issues with enlisted/officer get-togethers if there was not a fraternization rule, but it is in place for certain reasons such as to prevent officers from sleeping with enlisted members or to prevent enlisted soldiers from getting special treatment than other enlisted soldiers bc they are friends with commanders.

      In addition, I have noticed that enlisted wives can surely be more “catty” than officer wives, especially on Facebook, and like I would tell anyone including enlisted wives – you have to be careful what you say on social media. No matter how resentful you are towards someone or something, it can come back and bite you.

      So please don’t spread this garbage. There are reasons for the rules. Be careful what you write on social media regardless of whether you are an enlisted or officer spouse or whoever. And you can be friends with enlisted wives even if you are an officer’s wife (w/o strings attached).

  2. Jennifer Hernandez says:

    It is unfortunate this happened and has shaped your view. While I am all too aware these things happen, it still saddens me not just as an officer’s spouse, but as a military spouse in general. Especially since some of my dearest and truest friends are enlisted spouses. Yes, there are some unwritten rules. However, none of those ever prevented me from becoming friends with all military spouses. There is a practical reason for this: my husband commanded at the group level, how do you think he knew what was going on before his squadron commanders informed him?

    I am very careful not to wear my husband’s rank. All I can say is I connect with other military spouses because of who they are and how they support their military member. Plus, if I never reached out or opened my heart to ALL spouses I would have missed out on some of the best friendships throughout our 25-year career as well as those I am excited (and honored) to meet in the future. Keep forging friendships and don’t let the “rules” prevent you from taking care of your family.

  3. Dr. Inkpen says:

    I believe this is garbage. I could care less what the rank of any of my friends spouses are of were. I’m more educated than many commanders and general officers. I was born and raised in a military family and married my husband while he was active duty. If this Major really threatened her husband his actions were inappropriate and definitely show he does not deserve to be in a leadership position! I’m sure if the spouse gave up the seat for him there were other reasons. Posting a hateful comment was inappropriate, which she acknowledged. We have many friends who are dual military and officer/enlisted couples. Please don’t assume that the rank of any spouse has anything to do with their education level or the education level of their spouse.

    1. Dr. Inkpen says:

      Sorry_ autocorrect – should be “or” not “of”

  4. I agree with you. My dynamic was different because I was the Enlisted, Active Duty female, and I ended up friends with a Major’s wife, Army. There were some severe opinion differences, though we were not associated together in the services in any way. I’ve had this happen before, so my opinion isn’t just on a one-case platform…. Officer wives have a different perspective from Enlisted, period. Yeah, I’m sure there’s exceptions, like with every stereotype. And stereotypes don’t exist, right? Whatever. I work customer service now. Stereotypes exist for a reason. At any rate, the enlisted/officer mentality exists. Even though you admitted your wrong-doing in remarking about your husband on Facebook, I feel that the family should have, at least, thanked your family for that sacrifice, and tried to make amends, not tell the O and bring it to the professional table. I stopped trying to associate with O’s and O wives at all. Venus vs. Mars, Acid vs. Base. It’s two different worlds living together that have no reason, IMO, to mingle. Retired? Maybe. But not active….

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