Life as a military spouse can be tough. Moving house repeatedly, being separated from partners on deployment, maintaining a home base, raising a family, finding new friends and seeking employment are just some of the challenges facing spouses of Australian servicemen and women every day.
Two years ago, Beck Rayner, a military spouse of 19 years and mother of two daughters, launched the podcast Military Wife Life (MWL). It helps spouses share stories, find information and services and join a caring community where their voices would be heard.
“For my first 10 years as a spouse, I didn’t feel part of a community or that I fitted in any of the locations we had posted to,” she says. “Once I moved to Nowra, I decided to really throw myself into the defence community. What I found was this supportive group of people that I didn’t even know I was missing. I finally felt part of something. I felt understood and heard. I felt supported and connected. I suddenly felt like I could take on anything military or defence life threw at me.”
Beck began wondering about other spouses who might be struggling in the same way or questioning the defence lifestyle. “I wanted to give them what I had found,” she says. ”To give them support.
“Often the focus is on the military or defence member and the sacrifices they make. I had a burning desire to tell the stories of those who are left behind. Those who move around the country leaving friends and family every two years. Those who often feel disconnected and alone in all they are experiencing and feeling.”
Helping build connections
MLF has reached 85 episodes and more than 40,000 downloads, features interviews with spouses discussing personal challenges sparked by military life, whether they are coping with loneliness, developing new friendships, starting a family or searching for work. Experts such as GPs and psychologists also feature to provide advice.
“MLF is a reminder to spouses that they are important and valued by connecting them to a community of thousands of other spouses who just get it,” says Beck.
She also sends out free “Lots of Love” care packages, featuring self-care products and sweet treats, to spouses nominated by friends or family. “The care package is a reminder that someone sees all that you are doing and juggling and sacrificing and the nominator wanted to let you know you are doing an awesome job,” she says.
Beck says MWL has inspired lasting face-to-face friendships as spouses who have connected via its strong online community meet up in person across the country. Podcast listeners, who include male and female spouses, stem from Australia as well as the UK and Canada.
Beck hopes to expand MWL to advocate for better support, information and services for spouses, and ensure they feel empowered to use that information. “It doesn’t matter if you have been a spouse for two weeks or 20 years,” she says. “There are still twists and turns and points where you just need to feel seen, heard and valued.”
She believes helping others, even in a small way, can have a huge effect. Founding the MWL community and podcast has been as important to her as its thousands of members. “[It was] a feeling of coming home,” says Beck. “Finally feeling as though I had found my place. That I belonged. That I was part of something. It’s like a weight has been lifted and everything just feels easier.
“The MWL community gives back to me just as much as I give to it. I have 5000 spouses who all have my back and that is an amazing feeling. This community is like my family.”