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“My husband is not made for war”: problems between military and civilian families and how to solve them

Published on May 9, 2024

In the third year of the full-fledged war, Ukrainians are stressed-out and exhausted, and finding a common language becomes harder, especially between families of those at the front, and families at the home front.

Ukrainian article of the week published in the 28th edition of the "What about Ukraine" newsletter on May 9th, 2024. The article was written by Olena Panchenko for The Village and was translated for n-ost by Olesia Storozhuk. 

Check out the complete edition of this week's newsletter

In the third year of the war, more misunderstandings are occurring between the relatives of those serving in the military and civilians. We are all exhausted due to the stress of hiding in shelters, listening to sirens, and sleeping in bathrooms with kids and dogs because of the “shaheds” overhead, air alerts disrupting our plans, horror stories about a possible nuclear catastrophe or total blackout, and news about the deaths of acquaintances and strangers. Apart from this vortex of worries, some have one more concern: looking for an “+” symbol in text-messages, which indicates “everything is ok, I’m alive”, or at least two ticks on the outgoing message, meaning “delivered”, showing there is still someone on the other end, reading those words. Yes, the relatives of both the military personnel and civilians worry. They strive for the same thing — for their families to be safe and for Ukraine to win. But no, the relatives of military and civilians are not in the same position. To find a common language, the first group must take one step forward, while the second should take an even greater leap.

Together with the I.AM project, Riy foundation, created to support military personnel’s wives who are pregnant or have children, we discuss how women can find a common language without blaming each other.

1. What we misunderstand about each other:

One way or another, conflicts between the relatives of military personnel and civilians revolve around one thing: Some men are there, while others are here. Military personnel’s wives feel a sense of injustice and may hit out at women whose husbands do not serve in the army: “Why does my husband/father/son have to protect you and your family?” In turn, civilians’ wives don’t understand what they have done wrong, and this leads them to think: Military personnel’s wives behave like ‘everybody owes them something’. Accusations are mutual.

The longer the war continues, the more difficult it becomes to stop vilifying each other and reach an understanding, says psychologist Maryna Cherednyk.

“Accumulated fatigue becomes chronic,” she says, “and the more tired we get and the greater our feeling of insecurity, the less resources we have — both emotional and cognitive — to adequately react to the surrounding reality.”

Vika, the wife of a serving military personnel, says:

“Civilians’ wives don’t understand that our lives are on pause (while time flows by), we can’t plan anything, and every day is like a groundhog day: getting up, receiving an sms ‘everything’s ok’ or an ‘+’, doing the household chores, going to bed, and so on, in a circle. What we want is rather trivial: to live as an ordinary family, where, after work, the father eats dinner with his family and, on the weekends, together we visit our grandmas.”

Inna, the wife of a serving military personnel, says:

“It’s sometimes challenging to communicate with civilians (those who are ‘too civilian’ and have nothing to do with the war, and distance themselves from the war), as today we see life in different colours. Our hearts hurt for our husbands and their brethren. We constantly feel worried about the news from the frontline and the future of our country, while civilians mostly become detached from this life and such feelings. So, conversations between us fail.”

There are instances where the families of military personnel and civilians distance themselves from each other. Those with loved ones at the front feel lonely, as they can often share their worries only with people going through the same situation. “But it’s not always possible to find someone in a similar situation to you,” says psychologist Yulia Dycherenko. Civilian families distance themselves from military families because they simply have no idea how to speak to them.

Valentyna, the wife of a serving military personnel:

“As for other families, I wish there was more understanding, as I am a mother with two children without any help and when I tell people my husband is at the frontline, people rarely react in a normal way, usually they say: ‘ok, he is fighting, so what?’ But it’s not ‘so what’. It means my husband’s absent, and I spend my energy not only on the children, but also on trying not to go crazy due to the worries. When I hear an explosion while talking to him on the phone, my heart pounds, but if the conversation isn’t interrupted, I realise he’s alive and I can breathe again. But people around don’t get it, and some extra ‘kind’ people even say: ‘At least he earns some good money and you can afford everything’. I’ve heard this only once during all this time (in June 2024, my husband will have served for two years), but I’m still shocked. We’ve spent so much money to protect him, raised funds for a car and a laptop, and now he pays a lot for vehicle repair, so from the ‘millions’ he earns, less than his peacetime salary remains.”

Anna, the wife of a serving military personnel, currently pregnant with his child, adds:

“Some phrases [people say to me] really hurt, like: ‘Well, you knew with whom you got pregnant and had a baby. You knew he was fighting’. He is fighting, so what? Shouldn’t we have the right to life and support? We also want to live and enjoy every moment. I know that expecting our baby keeps my husband balanced, and this is a highly desired child. This enables him to dream and to plan. He often says that in morally difficult moments, he imagines how we will take a walk with our son and go fishing. This motivates him. In such moments, I wish to be supported not only by people who really understand me because they are in a similar situation, but from society in general. Of course, I wish there was understanding of and respect towards the families of military personnel, since now we’re treated like lepers. But these are the people who protect you as well, get it? That’s very heartbreaking, and, at such moments, I want to give up.”

Sometimes, servicemen’s wives feel as though other women undervalue their feelings or express negative views on their husband’s service. How can this happen?

“Women whose husbands do not serve, on the one hand, feel ashamed and guilty about their husbands [and their lack of combat experience], while on the other hand, they are happy to have them at home,” says psychologist Yulia Dycherenko. “This inner conflict causes great pressure, and communication with military personnel’s wives becomes impossible as it enhances the latter. Feelings of guilt and shame are the emotions that are difficult to handle — and it is easier to protect yourself from them. But how? By devaluing the contribution of the men who went to the war to protect the country. Indeed, such reactions can result exactly from the desire to get rid of shame and guilt.”

How do we deal with that? The psychologist recommends recognising your feelings. “One should try not to hide these feelings in the unconscious, but to honestly feel and live them through,” she says. “When we see them, we control what is happening when we face these feelings. If we displace them, there come projections, we begin to defend ourselves, and many other things happen, which we would like to avoid.”

The psychologist adds that helping others can reduce stress and lessen the feeling of guilt. “If you experience trouble communicating with military personnel or their wives, try this mechanism. When we help others (anyone), donate, feel that we do something good, and contribute. It helps reduce stress and eliminate shame.”

2. How to find a common language

Psychologists suggest that before you invest your energy into a relationship, make sure you need this person in your life.

“Due to our total fatigue, we are currently unable to build relations with the whole world. Therefore, we might need to choose,” Cherednyk says. “Ask yourself: is this relationship important to me, do I want to develop and continue it? If this is some stranger on the street you encountered for three seconds, you probably don’t need to build such a relationship. Sometimes, breaking a contact that is unnecessary, unimportant, random, or unwanted is easier. Relationships require great resources, so you need to consider how much energy you have.”

“I understand you” or “I understand how difficult it is for you” are the phrases that psychologists say civilians’ wives should avoid when communicating with military personnel’s wives.

“Women whose husbands are not on the frontline can’t understand what servicemen’s wives feel,” Dycherenko explains. “They can’t know what a woman feels living under constant threat to her husband’s life, what a woman feels when her husband distances from her emotionally, and what a woman feels when her husband can’t support her, either emotionally or physically, and who stays [in Ukraine] during the war, not only with all her personal worries, but also with the children, while there is a threat to all their lives. No one who has not been in her shoes can understand that.”

If someone without a similar experience claims to understand her, it can cause a military personnel’s wife to become angry, Cherednyk adds. That woman will perceive such words as fake: “How can you understand how difficult it is for me?”

Instead, it is better to say, “I can’t understand what you feel now”, “I can’t even imagine how painful it is”, or “I will never understand your feelings, but I really want to help and support you. Tell me how I can do that?”

“One should neither sympathise with servicemen’s wives nor pretend nothing happens,” Dycherenko agrees. “There is an algorithm to follow when we want to help someone, but don’t know how. We can always ask, ‘How can I help you? Maybe you need physical help or simply want someone to listen? Shall I just stay with you or your children?’ A civilian can always help a serviceman’s wife in some way. And the best way is to ask about her needs.”

But suggest help only if you want to provide it, experts add.

3. How to avoid conflict

Conflicts arise when we cannot handle the emotions that overwhelm us.

“If you sense a very strong emotion, try to stop for a while and ask yourself: what do I feel now, and why do I feel exactly like that?” Cherednyk recommends. “Once you identify the emotion and understand its origin, you can speak more constructively, and identify issues. For example: look, you’ve said these words, and I feel uncomfortable with them — they evoke anger, hate and pain. Another person might not realise what’s happened. But discussion leads to a dialogue where common ground can be found.”

Dycherenko suggests focusing on common issues in the communication between the relatives of military personnel and civilians.

“Firstly, we are ordinary people, ordinary women, ordinary mothers,” says Dycherenko, “and only secondly, we are the wives of military personnel or civilians. So, every communication should start with the idea that we are all humans who may have their own weaknesses, feelings, worries and pains. Even if a woman is not a serviceman’s wife, it doesn’t mean her life is easy. If we express this sometimes, even servicemen’s wives will be ready for dialogue, as they are ordinary people, ordinary women like others. We all function in the same way. We are all from one country, we live in war, and everyone has their own life and unique problems. We should look for what can unite us. For example, trouble with little children is an issue where mothers will always find a common language.”

If a relationship is essential, psychologists recommend speaking honestly to each other about your feelings. But first of all, you have to be honest with yourself.

“You can say, ‘I feel ashamed about the fact that my husband is not at war, but at the same time, I’m glad and happy he’s here with me’,” Dycherenko suggests. “Servicemen’s wives can say ‘You are my mother (sister, friend), I love you for this and that, but at the same time I feel angry when you say this’. You can even openly say, ‘I’m envious of you because your husband is here, he can hug you, you can sleep each night in one bed, and you don’t have to worry about his life. And if people are really close and can express their feelings aloud, they will listen to each other.”

Cherednyk advises using the “I-messages”. For instance, you can say, “I feel pain”, “I think you can’t fully understand me, but it is very important for me to keep our relationship.”

She suggests outlining a list of sensitive issues and defining the rules according to which these issues can be discussed (or agree not to discuss them at all).

4. What triggers servicemen’s wives and how they should react

Servicemen’s wives often lack support and understanding from society in general; they are hurt by the feeling that, for others, the war is “over”.

Valentyna, wife of a serviceman:

“What saddens me most is the fact that while the families of military personnel ‘stew’ in uncertainty, and most people have not changed their lives. Very few of my close friends are fighting. And when my husband comes home for his vacation, our “friends” and acquaintances are not even ashamed to tell him how they hide from receiving a summons to fight, and the tricks they use. Some people deliberately avoid meeting him to detach themselves from the war. Military personnel don’t really have their own life, their aim is to fight and to survive, if possible. I am very afraid that it will be difficult for my husband when he returns.”

Vika, wife of a serviceman:

“It’s really annoying when individuals start expressing their opinions on the war like ‘couch experts’, as though they have a better idea about something than military personnel. But most frustrating are the words ‘my husband is not made for war’. As if my husband was born a soldier! Very unpleasant is also the phrase ‘everything’s gonna be fine’. I’m optimistic by nature and try to believe in the best, but no one can guarantee that everything’s gonna be fine — this is war. In fact, there are lots of phrases that make me angry, like ‘It’s the MPs who should go fighting’, ‘I’m fighting on the economic front’, ‘I donate’, and ‘No one has forced you to go there’.”

Alina, wife of a serviceman:

“A civilian’s wife lacks understanding of and respect for the feelings and emotions of a serviceman’s wife or undervalues them. Often, a civilian’s wife talks about how much she worries that her husband might get summoned, and easily talks about the methods their family uses, so he doesn’t join the army. The triggering phrases are ‘I’m so glad my husband’s reserved [working in a job which is part of the critical infrastructure on the home front]’, ‘It’s your choice, you knew he’s military personnel’, ‘We didn’t send him there’, ‘At least he gets a good salary’, ‘He has so much concussion, aren’t you afraid to be close to him?’, ‘Don’t you want to leave him before it’s too late?’, ‘Why did you let him go there?’”.

Inna, wife of a serviceman:

“It’s hard to hear women whose husbands are not protecting the country saying that ‘My husband will not be able to fight, he is not like yours’, or ‘My husband is a draft dodger’, especially when it is so proudly expressed. Triggering are words like ‘so you see, he went to the army, was injured, is undergoing treatment, and the state doesn’t care about him; no one needs those disabled people except their family’.”

Here are some typical phrases military personnel’s wives hear often from civilians, and which make them uncomfortable:

“My husband is not made for war”

“Your husband may be at the front line, but he earns a lot”

“Why did you let him go there? I wouldn’t let mine go”

“You knew with whom you got married/had children”

In some cases, psychologists recommend ignoring such phrases and pretending not to have heard them. “Don’t defend yourself, just pass on by,” Cherednyk says. “It’s possible only when told by strangers who have no value for you.”

If you cannot ignore that, try responding with the words that would force the other side to think about the meaning of what they are saying. For example:

“Are there people who are made for war? Do you think that some people are born to fight?”

“If you have calculated that military personnel earn a lot, you can try it too. Please, do try if you believe it is indeed possible to earn a fortune there.”

“Why did I let him go? Are we talking about an adult man or a small boy? Because if we are talking about an adult man, how can one forbid him from going anywhere? How do you imagine that?”

“Of course, these [words] can’t influence everyone, as people are different. But you can try,” the psychologist says. When speaking to those close to us, they should be honestly told that their words are saddening. “Not all people, unfortunately, can understand that they hurt another person,” she adds.

5. How can servicemen’s wives resist blaming others?

“I don’t have a definite answer,” Cherednyk says. “What counts, probably, is whether a woman can express her emotions safely, speak about her feelings, be heard, and be supported, and whether she gets help with her children and the household. And if there is help, such a woman is likely to feel better. She can analyse the situation, her feelings, and understand how adequate or destructive they are.”

If a woman lacks help and support, it would be better for her to try to find some. If a serviceman’s wife does not feel safe in her usual social circle, she could try to socialise with those whose husbands are serving. The key is not to stay alone with one’s worries.

“It is crucial to understand your feelings and to go into therapy if possible, as this pain and anger have accompanied us for more than two years already,” the psychologist says. “This is very exhausting for our nervous system. It’s time to try to relieve our psyche and work through our emotions. The container we load our emotions into is not boundless. And it is sometimes very hard to cope with such feelings on your own, especially with our background, where we were taught not to understand, but to hide our feelings. I even think that when the war is over, and there is no immediate threat, our psyche will discard the defence mechanisms, and there will be a regression. It is essential to work with professionals in the present day, and not to ruin oneself fully in the future.”

It is vital for women whose husbands are far away to have not only moral, but also physical support.

“If there are no relatives or friends around and not enough funds to pay for help, it is ok to ask other people for help, even if they are not close to you. It is important to find those ready to help. You will find out about their readiness by simply asking. That way, you will give these people a chance to help a serviceman and his wife. This can be important for them, as this gives them a feeling of being useful to our soldiers and contributing to our victory,” says Cherednyk.

“Asking for help shouldn’t be embarrassing,” adds psychologist Maryna Shymkova. “What is crucial is our experience, and what such requests mean to us personally. Often, this is about fear. A fear of refusal. But asking for help will benefit you — the work will be done. Focus on that if you are again overwhelmed with fear. We often believe another person should guess [that we need help], but we have the gift of communication. Let’s train that skill. Try to ask someone for help daily regarding minor things. Let it be a small, neutral request, such as to hold open a door. Over time, it will become easier to do that.”

Alina, the wife of a serviceman:

“It is so heartbreaking to constantly see the social network photos of civilian families joyfully and actively spending weekends together, not being ashamed about sharing envy for my husband’s salary, without realising that this money is hardly enough to donate to other soldiers’ families, to support wounded brethren, while saving on basic needs. Moreover, these salaries are worthless compared to health and human life.”

It is often difficult for soldiers’ wives to see other families spending time together. It is natural to feel pain in such situations, psychologists say, for at that moment, a woman wishes her husband could be close to her and they could relax together. Experts recommend trying to look into the matter:

“Think about that: among those taking a walk outside now, could there be military personnel dressed as civilians?” notes Cherednyk. “Yes, there could be. Could there be males performing some important work: doctors, critical infrastructure workers, and those providing various logistics for the army? Just looking at a person, we can’t know what they are and do.”

“Consider what holds you together with your husband now, recall the time together, dream about your future journeys and plans,” Shymkova also recommends.

6. What triggers civilians’ wives and how they should react

Civilians feel uncomfortable when military personnel’s relatives act aggressively, blaming them personally or even wishing death on them and their husbands.

“We should understand that any feelings or emotions a soldier’s wife faces are natural,” says Dycherenko. “Even if we think she is overreacting in some situations, we should remember that such a reaction is normal for her in her state.

How do you react to such a person being aggressive? “Our reactions depend on how much energy we have,” the psychologist believes. “If we lack energy, we should understand that we can’t feel this woman’s pain and just stay silent, if possible. We should explain to ourselves that this aggression is not directed at ourselves but the woman is simply unable to cope with her life situation and her emotions have found a different way to the outer world. It has happened not because something is wrong with us, but because it is hard for her now. If we have enough energy, we should listen to this woman, support her, and say we see she is struggling fiercely.”

Still, psychologists admit that it may be difficult to react calmly in an emotionally loaded situation.

The first reaction to aggression can be aggression in return,” says Cherednyk. “And with great fatigue and stress, it becomes much harder to react calmly. Still, we should remind ourselves that this woman, a serviceman’s wife, is overwhelmed with great pain, and she is crying out loud. If civilians can hold in their emotional reactions, they can offer supportive words and show that they see this pain, which may appear destructive at first glance, that they understand that the outcry is not intended to destroy someone, but signals a great pain inside.”

Although servicemen’s wives are very vulnerable, sometimes it makes sense to defend yourself from their aggression, Dycherenko adds. “People are very different, some of them can behave aggressively no matter what is going on in their lives,” says the psychologist. “In some situations, it makes sense to defend yourself, to care for yourself, especially if it happens in front of your children. We can also tell them about our feelings and that we feel uncomfortable or in a difficult position.”

7. How our children can get along

Yuliia, the wife of a serviceman:

“Their father is at war, and our children miss him a lot. Especially the youngest: every evening, she asks when her dad will return home. But others don’t notice the sadness and pain in my children’s eyes. I wish there was more cohesion in our society and less indifference towards military personnel.”

Inna, the wife of a serviceman:

“Our kindergarten and school educators are very loyal to and caring about all the military personnel’s children. Psychological support is offered if needed. Charitable events are often held and donations for the army are collected. Children are engaged in activities like drawing, netting, and making tasty snacks for our defenders. As a volunteer and a soldier’s wife, I am very pleased. I greatly respect all these people who support and help our defenders’ families. I wish everyone finally realised that it’s not the army’s or the volunteers’ war, but our shared challenge.”

Anna, the wife of a serviceman:

“We are waiting for our first baby now, but I’m already worried about how our child will grow up without their father’s permanent presence.

How the children of military personnel and civilians will get along in kindergartens and schools will depend on educators and teachers, psychologists say. However, it is also important that parents talk to their children. They should explain why some fathers stay with their families, while others joined the army; they should also be informed that some friends from their group or class do not have dads anymore.

“Of course, we can tell our children that those kids’ fathers are heroes who defended the country,” Dycherenko believes. “We can tell them that the reason they can still go to kindergarten is thanks to that boy’s dad who has fallen, defending all of us, that the boy’s dad has sacrificed his life to help the kindergarten stay open. We can explain such simple things to children of any age. A child of any age will take something from that.”

With younger children, one can talk about difficult issues through fairy tales, she adds. “There are numerous therapeutic fairy tales now that explain death, war, and everything that happens in Ukraine. They can be found on the Internet; you can ask a psychologist about them or write one yourself. What is important is not to keep silent, not allow [any issues] to run their course, talk to your child — and demonstrate situations using your own example. A child sees how we communicate and what we express and will copy our behaviour.”

Schoolchildren can be told that speaking about fathers can be sensitive to their classmates, whose dads are not at home. “You can advise them not to discuss the issue with a child whose father is at war or died. If a child wants to offer help or support, you can recommend doing it face-to-face since such an offer in public can be painful. A child can approach another one, saying, ‘I can’t understand how painful it is for you. But I regret you have to go through this. If you want to talk about that, I’m here for you’. But to offer such support, a child should indeed be rather empathetic. If not, they can just say, ‘I’m sorry all that is happening’.”

Іnna, wife of a serviceman

“Recently, my daughter, aged 11, came from school and told me about a classmate boasting that her father is a draft dodger — it was so painful for my child. I calmed down my kid and explained that people have different views on life and they are still children and may not realise many things.”

8. How can you explain to a child that their father is away, defending the country, while other kids’ dads are still at home?

Psychologists recommend not insisting on one explanation for other people’s actions, but suggesting several options.

“Firstly, there are people who do a lot for the army but are unable to serve,” Shymkova says. “They contribute a lot with their work [on the home front]. Secondly, maybe this man is waiting for his summons, and his time is yet to come. Thirdly, perhaps he avoids the army.”

In that case, Cherednyk adds: “You can say, ‘I don’t know the exact reasons, but I think he is afraid. Maybe he is more afraid than our father. Maybe boasting is a way of expressing the joy that he can avoid the danger of which he is afraid. But, of course, it can be difficult for a soldier’s wife to say something like this.”

Then, it is worth asking the child what they feel. “A child with a rather developed emotional intelligence might reply something like that: ‘It feels insulting’, ‘I am angry’, or ‘I feel disgust’,” Cherednyk says. “If a child doesn’t differentiate emotions yet, they can say, ‘I feel bad, I don’t like it’. In that case, their mother can help the child to identify specific feelings: ‘I think you feel anger, disgust, insulted’. If the child confirms this, it is necessary to go on explaining that it is all right to feel these emotions in such situations. If their mother feels alike, they can express that. She can say, ‘My dear, I understand you. this is painful for me too’. This will be very supportive to a worried child. They will realise that their feelings are natural and can be shared with others.”


  • Admit your feelings and think about their origins. Realise that we can’t understand other people’s feelings without the same experience. Therefore, don’t say: “I understand you”.

  • Talk honestly about your feelings to your interlocutor, if this person is important to you.

  • Don’t spend your time and energy on a random person, if they are toxic, try to ignore them.

  • Offer your help and support — and thus decrease your level of stress.

  • Ask for and accept help — and thus help yourself and the person who provides that support.

  • Talk to children about what is going on. Ask what they feel about the situation, and share your worries.