Advocating for Cultural Curiosity

By Bri Kriley

Two days after my husband left for a month-long training, I was assaulted.

I physically and successfully fought off my attacker. It didn’t matter though, because I didn’t feel strong, safe, or independent.
I wanted to process this isolating experience. I wanted to feel secure, confident, and self-reliant.

I Sought Counseling

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My counselor assumed I was struggling with my husband’s inability to protect me. She questioned what I needed from him and how he could best support me from afar. She frequently reminded me that he’d be home soon and told me how strong I was to be married to someone who couldn’t be there for me.

I didn’t continue with this counselor.

Another PCS halted my internship and extended my graduation (again). My career goals seemed unobtainable and I started to feel unaccomplished and hopeless. I harbored resentment toward our military journey and began to feel conflicted and disorganized.

I wanted to focus on accepting the things I couldn’t control, while loving the inconsistency of military life.

I sought counseling, again.

My counselor openly admitted she knew little about military lifestyle and didn’t explore it with me. She demanded that I deserved more. She questioned my predicament with judgmental ‘why’ questions.

Why don’t you know where you’ll move next?

Why doesn’t your husband just ask where he’ll be sent?

Why won’t your post-grad hours transfer to another state? Why wouldn’t you just stay here until you finish your license requirements? Why are you letting his career hold you back from yours?

I didn’t continue with this counselor.

Cultural Curiosity

Without getting caught up in semantics, I choose to use cultural curiosity rather than cultural competency, consideration, sensitivity, understanding, awareness, or any other variation. Counselors are expected to provide services that meet the needs of clients, while respecting diversity. Military spouses are incomprehensibly diverse, an inextricable dichotomy.

Anything short of authentic curiosity and radical, nonjudgmental acceptance fails to appropriately support military spouses.

Start the Conversation

I am determined, because of my experiences, to start this conversation about military (spouse) culture at every opportunity. I want to better understand how counselors can best support military spouses and how to share this knowledge with professionals with no military affiliation.

Military lifestyle is complicated. I want both separation from and connection to my role as a military spouse. I desire a fierce understanding of my loyalty to my husband’s career AND my own. I need a place to process the unique challenges and joys of being a military spouse.

I don’t want to have to explain how I do it, defend the time he spends away from home, or renounce knowing what I was getting into.

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I invite you to consider your own stories, your own recommendations, and your own answers or responses to this topic—and share them. This conversation will raise awareness, promote understanding, and encourage acceptance. This conversation can prevent broken therapeutic relationship among military spouses and civilian counselors.

This conversation, alone, advocates for military culture. 


Bri Kriley is a National Certified Counselor, Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate, and a doctoral student at Capella University. She has worked with active duty service members, military spouses, and military couples. Currently, she works as a Child and Family Therapist in the Wrap Around with Intensive Services (WISe) program.

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