Breaking Barriers and Building Bonds

Breaking Barriers and Building Bonds: Unraveling the Catty Culture in FRGs – A Tale of Connection and Transformation

I’ve certainly experienced my share of FRGs that are down-right caty.

I remember one FRG meeting many years ago in which a senior enlisted spouse said to another, newer enlisted spouse, “You know I don’t like candy. Why in the world would you bring candy to the meeting when you know I can’t have it?!”

The senior enlisted spouse said this to another spouse for bringing a bag of leftover Easter candy to an FRG meeting. The upset spouse then ran out of the room only to return in the worst mood I’ve ever seen from a grown woman in public.

These women didn’t know each other.

The woman who brought the candy was new and shared candy to appear friendly and welcoming. And yet the hostility from one woman to the other was so palpable that it left the rest of us feeling uncomfortable. There we were, having a meeting to discuss action plans for the FRG’s sisterhood, and there was one woman who spoiled the experience for the rest – a senior spouse, no less, who could have used her seniority as a catalyst of how to build a life around the military lifestyle. Instead, she showed us the exact reason why FRGs unravel.

Several women in attendance that day didn’t return to the following meeting because they didn’t want to be a part of an organization that didn’t feel emotionally safe and supportive.

I noticed the opportunity to be a source of inspiration, and I acted on it.

When the meeting ended, I walked over to the senior enlisted spouse to talk. I’m no psychologist, but some people in the room that day could sense that she was possibly going through deep emotional stress. After all, her response was inappropriate for what the situation called for. Perhaps she needed someone to chat with.

Before her brief outburst, she had disclosed to the group that she was a native Phoenician. Having also been born and raised in Phoenix, I wanted to connect with her. (As an aside, isn’t it exciting to meet someone from “back home” when you live far away?!) So, right after the meeting ended, and with everyone watching as they pushed themselves up from their chairs to leave, I walked right up to her in hopes of connecting with her as a step toward positive transformation.

She was sitting in a chair, so I knelt beside her to be above me. I looked up to her to demonstrate a nonthreatening nature, and we began gently connecting about our childhood in Phoenix. We discovered that we went to high schools a few miles from each other. Then something remarkable happened – she smiled. During the whole meeting, she had a dim energy around her. No one spoke to or engaged her in conversation, not even the FRG leader or meeting facilitator. But in the 5 minutes we chatted, her rigidness sanded away, and we connected on commonalities.

She was at least 15 years older and had much more military and life experience than me. Her expertise and abrasive demeanor could have been extremely intimidating for me. I could have easily left the room when the meeting ended, never attending another FRG meeting like many other spouses did that day. But my undying passion to lift up other women and to connect with other military spouses runs deep in my core. That woman’s mood lifted after we parted that day. I made a difference for one woman, which carries the spark to ripple toward an entire FRG.

As military spouses, we’re often all we have – each other. Sometimes when we look like we’re at our worst – which is often apparent in our malice toward one another – it’s really when we need someone by our side, literally, the most. If we don’t step forward to reach out – be a sister to a fellow spouse despite the drama – then it’s likely that our relationships will never change. Breaking barriers and building bonds. This is how we can fix the FRG’s reputation.