As a military spouse coming up on 18 years, I’ve been through about a dozen deployments, training trips, and unaccompanied tours. I can only speak from personal experience, but I have found that open and honest communication is the cornerstone upon which trust is built. If I’m upset, I let him know. If I’m happy, I let him know. I trust myself to listen to him objectively, really hear what he is saying, and ask him for clarification if I’m unsure. I trust him to act in the same fashion. It sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? But it’s far from it. It’s exciting to know someone really “gets” you.
Keeping that trust alive during long separations is key to a healthy and happy relationship. But how do you keep it alive?
Communication is key. Even before the deployment/separation. Take some time with no distractions to talk about expectations during your time apart. Agree on the types of communication (email, Skype, phone calls, letters) you’ll share. Agree on the frequency of your communications. There is no right or wrong on this, it’s all up to what you agree on as a couple. Create your own schedules and stick to them as best as possible.
Talk about how your relationship will look while you’re apart. Do you agree to be monogamous? Are you open to other partners during deployment? Don’t assume that one of you will act a certain way. Talk to each other about your expectations. Nothing hurts the heart harder than betrayal (and betrayal can take many forms).
During the deployment, do things that cultivate happiness. As the spouse who’s always “left behind,” I take on a new project. One time I learned how to SCUBA dive and got certified; another time, I took motorcycle lessons and got my license. I take weekend trips to see friends. When I start feeling lonely, or abandoned, I go and pamper myself with a massage, or a pedicure. There’s something about human touch to help heal a wounded spirit. I also have friends who are excellent huggers and shoulders. Lean on them, and keep communicating with your partner.
Jealousy tends to be the hardest to navigate for most people. I trust my spouse completely and am very secure in my marriage, so jealousy is rarely an issue for me personally. Except when he gets to go somewhere incredibly cool. Them I’m jealous of his experience in a new place. Be honest about being jealous. Ask yourself why you’re jealous. Jealousy is often based in fear. Try to pinpoint the root cause and then share your feelings. If your spouse isn’t available, a trusted friend or counselor can possibly help you work it out. Don’t be afraid to seek outside help if you’re having difficulties.
My greatest challenge during deployments is to have better adventures than my husband. Then we share our adventures when he returns – after a good week or so spent in the boudoir, of course!
He Said: 20-Year Active Duty in US Navy - Murray
One of the questions I am asked most often by my junior sailors is, “How do you do it? How can you stand to be separated from your wife for so long? Aren’t you worried that she will...(insert random behavior here)?”
Merriam-Webster defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.” The key parts of this for me are “assured” and “belief.” Our shared experiences have lead to the assurance part, and the way I know her soul mirrors mine is what brings me the belief. Knowing the trials we’ve endured together have cemented an incredibly strong partnership. Here are a few suggestions for success:
1. Communication is an absolute must! Lack of communication leads to the unknown, which leads to uncertainty, which leads to fear, which leads to distrust. Partnerships each have their own barometer for communication, and sadly enough, in this day and age of instant communication with e-mail, text messaging, social media, and virtually everyone having a cell phone, waiting for an answer has become like an insult. The more electronically connected we’ve become has led to a lack of true communication. There are far too many “Yeah,” “OK,” and “Sure” answers. One doesn’t need time to think and compose an answer, because you can always follow with “What did you mean by that?” I recommend letter writing, because it leads you to put complete thoughts together and encourages you to ensure you’ve said everything you meant to say. This is not to say that communication starts when the deployment begins! Many conversations must be had prior to departure. This is where you need to put our pride and fear aside and have very real discussions about all the, “what ifs” and worries you have. As uncomfortable as this may be, it’s still MUCH easier than sitting alone and wondering. Needless to say, this requires you to be honest with yourself about your fears, and maybe to do a little soul searching as to where they might have come from.
2. Allow your partner to be a whole person! It is unrealistic and selfish to expect them to sit alone in the house and not have any friends or fun for the entire time you’re gone. After all, you get to go see the world! Keep in mind that each of you will have to develop a routine for yourself and some people cope by throwing themselves into their work.
3. Find something that belongs to just the two of you. It could be a photo of a shared moment, a perfume that’s special between the two of you, an item of clothing, a song, or even just a little saying. Find that one special little thing, and ensure you both have a piece of it. It will go a long way in making you feel like you’re not too far apart from each other.
Good luck and enjoy the homecoming!