“The families don’t get it”. Or Do They? Military Wives, Isolation and Social Media
Military wives and partners have a sophisticated awareness of social media risks including those which relate to the wider defence community by virtue of their everyday, mundane use of mobile apps and digital media. At the same time that they deploy strategies to manage these risks, however, they also regard social media as a “lifeline” that helps them overcome the isolation of military family life.
These findings emerged from the results of the ‘User’ strand of the DUN Project which sought to understand why and how military wives and partners use social media and how they understand risk. We conducted a series of focus groups with the wives and partners of military personnel from the three services of the Armed Forces.
What these group discussions revealed was that our participants had a complex awareness not only of their own exposure to risk through social media, but also how their social media use might impact upon the wider Armed Forces community. As a result, they had developed strategies for using social media and managing the associated risks, particularly in relation to the reputational and security concerns of the defence community.
But the discussions also revealed that social media had become critical to their ability to overcome the isolation they experience as a result of having to regularly move home, form new social networks and be separated from wider family. Wives and partners claimed that social media, especially Facebook, enabled them to more easily seek new friendships in new military settings and maintain contact with previously established relationships despite geographical distance:
Facebook and all these other things really are a lifeline for me … I left a very social kind of world to come here [military posting with husband] and everything changed. So if I hadn’t had Facebook I wouldn’t have a life at all.
My God it’s a lifeline, if you’re outside of the wife loop, they [Facebook] do an invaluable service for somebody like me.
These findings become important in the context of the results from the ‘Strategic’ strand of the DUN Project where those in senior positions within the Armed Forces – including members of the Ministry of Defence – identified family members of military personnel as those who generate the most risk. Here, our strategic interviewees suggested that wives and partners lacked the knowledge and understanding to grasp the implications of their social media use for defence. As one interviewee stated: “…the families don’t get it”.
In contrast, our findings suggest that maybe ‘families do get it’ because of the vital role that social media now plays in their attempts to combat isolation and loneliness.
Moreover, the findings from our focus groups with wives and partners also raise critical questions about the long-standing and deep-seated social and cultural challenges of military family life. As our participants highlighted:
I struggle. Yeah. I didn’t probably make friends for about four months. Five months. I was on my own. It was hard.
We don’t go out, because you don’t just leave your children with random people. Because you haven’t got any family and friends…you just don’t have that normal stability, like a normal civilian family.
…you do get that mass sense of family [in the military] but on the other hand being a services wife can be one of the most isolating things in the world where you don’t know anyone. And I completely understand that I chose to marry into this, my husband was a soldier before I met him, I knew exactly what was going on, I’ve got family who were forces so I didn’t walk into this blindly and go yes. But I don’t think you realise quite how isolating it can be until you physically do it and there are days where you kind of go, oh.
Because we don’t have that normal life, like civilians…a lot of civilians live around their family, don’t they? …they can just go round for a coffee and see their grandchildren. Or, “Come over for a Sunday lunch”. We don’t get any of that. You know?
In short, the adoption of social media among military wives and partners may not only be obscuring fundamental issues that need addressing, but may also be revealing how the everyday isolation they experience can be – in part – overcome.